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Asheville's Bele Chere can be a healthy experience



7/26/2011 - Asheville's Bele Chere can be a healthy experience
by Casey Blake - Asheville Citizen Times

BELE CHERE - THE BIGGEST STREET FESTIVAL IN THE SOUTHEAST - IS ONLY 4 DAYS AWAY!!  Use these tips to help make your trip to Asheville's largest street festival a more pleasant one!


ASHEVILLE -- Bele Chere purists can rest easy this year knowing that the old-fashioned funnel cakes and Philly cheesesteaks of yore will be as available as ever at this year's festival.

And while there's nothing wrong with indulging some of your guilty pleasures in moderation -- share that funnel cake with a few friends -- it's also good to keep in mind a few healthier habits.

The risks aren't just in the food courts and at the beer stands. Festival organizers and local dietitians offer up a few tips and tricks how to stay safe and be well at the big Bele.

Beat the heat

While the forecast promises a slightly less scorching weekend than last year's, overheating tends to be the primary health concern at the festival each year.

"We're hoping to catch a break this year, but it's July in North Carolina, so obviously there are no guarantees," said festival producer Diane Ruggiero, Asheville's superintendent of cultural arts.

"People getting overheated is fairly common, but we were pleasantly surprised at how well people responded (to the heat) last year and how few incidents we had," she said. "People were aware of the heat and taking measures to stay cool."

Ruggiero recommends taking regular breaks from strolling the streets in high heat, catching a spot in the shade when possible and taking advantage of the festivals misting stations, which will be in their usual spots on Patton and Biltmore avenues. Look for information booths and festival volunteers to grab a map showing misting and first aid locations.

The Senior Oasis and children's area at the Civic Center offer an air-conditioned respite with activities for the family. Take the kids down to geysers at Splasheville in Pack Square Park for an outdoor cool-off, which will be open for all three days of the festival.

Ruggiero noted that many canine companions are especially susceptible to heat exhaustion. Dogs are not allowed into the festival area in any case, so be sure to leave four-legged friends at home.

Remember that sunscreen will not be widely available for sale, so be sure to slather it on and bring some along, as most of the festival is uncovered.

Move it

One way to ease the guilt of a few too many festival food treats is to join in on Western North Carolina's biggest footrace.

The 32nd annual Bele Chere 5K starts at 7:30 a.m. Saturday and the Fit Families Fun Run will start at 8:30 a.m. The entry fee is $30.

If pounding the pavement isn't in the cards, don't fret. Walking around the festival will burn some calories on its own, and dancing to a band or two can be an added workout.

Parking some distance away -- say, in Montford, or well south of the fest -- and walking to the festival can also be both good exercise and thrifty, since you could score a free spot.

Eat smart

Lesley Edwards, a dietitian and coordinator of Mission Children's Hospital's child weight-management program, said it is OK to indulge in a funnel cake or a hot dog while at Bele Chere.

"I think when people think splurge, they think it's a free-for-all, and it's not. It's one thing, maybe two," she said. "People think, 'I'm not going to have it for another year, I've got to have it,' and then it turns into not just one bad meal, but a bad day all in one hour."

Be aware that some foods at the festival are supersized and watch your portions.

Instead of eating a whole tub of french fries or an entire funnel cake, think about splitting the treats among friends.

Drink up

Ruggiero said that water sales at last year's festival tripled from Bele Cheres before and that beer sales were slightly down, likely due to the sweltering heat.

Staying hydrated can help to beat the heat and combat some of those junk food cravings, Edwards said. Try drinking a bottle of water at least every hour, and amp up the H2O especially for seniors and children.

To save money, bring your own water in sealed, unopened bottles -- although it will heat up as the day goes along.

Chilled water is $2 a bottle at designated beverage stands and is sold anywhere that alcohol is.

Keep in mind that sodas, sugary drinks and especially alcohol may be refreshing at first sip but won't hydrate you as well as water.

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