By Monique Richard MS, RDN, LDN
Fall is full of nature’s beautiful bounty, like buckets of crisp glistening apples, artist-palette dipped leaves, and fields piled with giant pumpkins and gourds. But beware. The beast of October can rear its ugly head, snatching up nutrients, crashing blood-sugar levels and overwhelming parents and children alike. It’s not the ghouls and goblins or mysteries of Cabbage Night, but the tradition that happens on Halloween that can zap even the best intentions and become unruly: candy!
Everyone has their favorite time of year, or holiday, and one doesn’t have to be a kid dressed up in a costume to look forward to the spooky spectacle of Halloween, just be sure to use caution. The good news is we can still partake of the stories, magic, mystery, creativity and treats of Halloween, without sacrificing the healthy habits we’ve worked so hard to keep this year.
The American Heart Association recommends women get no more than 6 teaspoons (24g) of added sugar a day and men no more than 9 teaspoons (36g) a day.1 So, what exactly does that mean? To give you an example, five Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Miniatures have about 23g of sugar. Maybe you’re not a master at math, but you can see how easily the sugar, fat, and calories can add up, surpassing the recommendations.
The overflowing candy bowls, break-room novelties, or your child’s pillowcase stash can be tempting, but the added sugar, calories and fat taken in over several days or weeks, even if in a bite-sized version, can add up quickly to no good. The “just one more” mentality may wreak havoc on your blood glucose and waistline, leaving you feeling more like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Go for a small handful, enjoy, then move them out of sight with an ‘abracadabra and alakazam,’ they’re gone, and you’re done!
Non-food items that can be fun to give or receive include:
• fun-sized blowing bubbles
• crayons, markers, pens or art supplies
• rubber spider or bat rings
• mini-toy cars
• bouncing balls
• tokens or vouchers for games or to
• friendship bracelets
• comic books
• water bottles
• grab bags made from $1 store items
Maybe you’re thinking, ‘What happens to trick or treating if all the sugar is banished?’ Nothing. Nadda. Halloween can still be enjoyed and fun is still had, without the excess. It is simply about understanding that occasional treats can be appropriate and can be enjoyed. However, bringing health and wellness to you and your children’s lives or those you interact with, really benefits everyone. Some healthier alternatives for parties, Halloween bags, and festivities may include:
• whole-grain cheddar flavored crackers
• fruit snacks made with 100 percent fruit with added vitamin C
• sugar-free gum
• animal-shaped graham crackers made without trans-fat
• mini rice cereal treat bars
• unsalted bags of pretzels
• popcorn balls
Cutting Down on the Excess
There have been many tactics regarding how much or how long the Halloween candy stays in the house or how much children should be allowed. Every parent may have a slightly different approach. It really is about finding a plan that works for your household. It should be neither super restrictive or overly lenient.
First and foremost, balanced meals appropriate for their needs should always be a priority, but treats can have a place too. Food’s role is to nourish our bodies for growing, healing, functioning, and thriving. We wouldn’t want empty calories and excess sugar to take the place of those important nutrients. It may be useful to set a date for when the candy is to be moved out of the house or set a number on how many pieces allowed in a day. Playing a game with the guidelines or talking about your favorite pieces can be a fun, bonding experience too.
Some additional ideas to cut down on the excess of Halloween and share the wealth includes getting a community group together and participating in a program like Operation Shoebox, which promotes packing up the goodies and sending to troops overseas.2 Many dentists’ offices also encourage kids to bring in their Halloween loot in exchange for cash with ‘buy-back’ programs; often the office will be participating in Operation Gratitude where the candy and care packages will be also sent to soldiers across the globe.3 Check with your local dentist’s office to see what is offered or how you can help.
Don’t forget the power of movement for you and your family as well. Meandering through a corn maze, going for a brisk fall walk, or raking those leaves can help burn some calories, enhance respiratory function, and clear the mind from the ‘to-do’ lists. Use the cooler weather to your advantage to get outside, but then enjoy a cup of spiced cider, homemade hot cocoa, or tea with a loved one. Fall is amazing and so are you. Happy Halloween!
A registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) is able to individualize your nutrition plan based on your needs, goals, environment, genetic predispositions, health condition, physical activity and many other factors. Ask your physician how to schedule an appointment with me or schedule through my private practice by visiting eatrightrx.com for more information.
Accessed September 26, 2014.
2. http://www.operationshoebox.com Accessed August 26, 2016.
3. http://www.halloweencandybuyback.com Accessed August 26,
2016. http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6442458793 Accessed September 26, 2014.