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Healthy eating can become habit at ballpark

My Grampa Joe was a pretty good baseball player in his day. He was a center fielder on his company baseball team back in the 1930s. His nickname was "Sticking Plaster," which is an old-timey name for a Band-Aid. It was a reference to his ability to make tough catches and have the ball stick in his glove. He loved the game.

When he and I made a trip to Fenway Park one afternoon to see the Red Sox, he was as excited as I was. He concentrated on the game, watching every pitch, swing and throw with keen interest. I concentrated on the vendors in the stands and watched the money I had saved be converted into hot dogs, Cracker Jack and ice cream. So when he called out "Quit your belly-aching!" in the top of the sixth I thought he was talking to me. I didn't know the runner was arguing a close call at first because I was doubled over in a bit of pain.

While Grampa Joe wasn't all that sympathetic to my predicament (OK, I did ignore his raised eyebrow when buying that second ice cream), I recently found a sympathetic ear when I had a chance to chat with Dr. Ram Chuttani, director of interventional gastroenterology and endoscopy at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

"We just have to be smart about it because there are a number of foods that cause some digestive issues. Especially if you over-indulge," Chuttani said.

Dr. Chuttani is speaking both as a physician and a fan.

"I love my Fenway Franks! I have to have my two franks -- but that's my limit," he said. "Any more than that and I'll be paying for it later."

It's the fat in foods like hot dogs, fries or onion rings that cause problems for many. As Dr. Chuttani explained, fat will slow down the process of your stomach emptying. That can lead to a feeling of bloating and cramping. For me it was probably the ice cream. I've come to find out that I have lactose intolerance -- an inability to digest milk sugar. I should have listened, Gramps.

"People have varying sensitivities to foods and as we are seeing more and more, many people have full-blown allergies to certain foods that force them to change not only their diet, but their lifestyle as well," Dr. Chuttani said. "My son has a severe peanut allergy. He can't go to the ballpark because even being near to somebody who is opening peanut shells can trigger a reaction."

Of course, fans have come to expect a great deal more than peanuts and Cracker Jack on ballpark menus these days. And they do have plenty of options. For example, at Fenway you can now find pizza or pulled pork, whole fruit or hummus, even sushi or salads. There are also gluten-free options. Eating healthy and enjoying a ballgame are not mutually exclusive.

"Hummus may be a better nutritional choice than nachos, but eating a pint of it in one sitting is probably not a wise idea," Dr. Chuttani said. "When you know there are certain spices or foods that cause you problems you'll want to avoid them, or at least limit the amount. It's about moderation, whether you are making choices at home or the ballpark."

Coming to learn your limits -- two Fenway Franks for the good doctor, one ice cream and some lactase pills for me-- is all "part of the ballpark experience," according to Dr. Chuttani, and I would have to agree. I know that my memories of an afternoon with my grandfather lasted a lot longer than my stomachache. I'd go back and do it again in a heartbeat.

Gary Gillis is a contributor to The BID Injury Report is a regular column on Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is the official hospital of The Boston Red Sox.
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