Let's face it, as a kid; the best thing about Halloween (after dressing up, of course) is the candy. For one evening a year, children prowl our neighborhoods looking for something sweet to put in their pillow cases or plastic pumpkins, and we adults gladly oblige. Perhaps in an effort to make our home the coolest house on the block, we tend to purchase the "best" candy -- the chocolate ones, the king-size bars, the best selection. To adequately prepare, we also are more likely to purchase the candy several weeks ahead of Halloween night. We often tell ourselves that this preparation is necessary -- maybe the candy will be sold out closer to Halloween and plus, right now, there are so many manufacturer coupons available! The truth is, buying candy in advance of Halloween gives us an excuse to have those evil treats around the house. And what parent hasn't confessed to sneaking in a few candy bars prior to Halloween?
You think that's scary? What's scarier is actually reading the candy bar labels. Did you know that 15 popular candy bar brands contain 21 grams of sugar each? I put together an outline of what a typical stash of Halloween candy may look like after a night of trick-or-treating, and the results will scare you. This list, which may dwarf what is actually in the average child's Halloween bag (and does not even include full size candy bars), adds up to about 1200 calories, 177 grams of sugar and 32 grams of fat! Oh my!
Candy Calories Sugar Fat
Chocolate mints: 80 14 1
Candy-coated Chocolate: 73 9 3.3
6 mini lollipops: 100 18 0
2 mini candy bars: 84 8 3
2 chocolate rolls: 100 15 1
3 big gummies: 90 18 0
Mini marshmallow chocolate bar: 63 10 2
Rock candy: 100 24 0
Mini nut and caramel bar: 72 7 3.7
Fun size chocolate bar: 80 8 3
Peanut butter cups (1): 105 10 6.5
Peanut butter cups (mini) (2): 80 10 5
Chocolate covered malt balls (10): 100 14 4
Candy corn (13): 70 12 0
Total : 1,200 177 32.5
Consuming the candy on this list has the makings of an epic sugar rush. Now just imagine that your child is diabetic or has celiac disease. What started out as scary has turned into downright stressful. The sugar or gluten present in candy can make this holiday less than enjoyable for your little one. All is not lost -- there are still many options available, regardless of the limitations he or she may have.
Let's start with the basics. The American Heart Association recommends that most American women should have "no more than 100 calories per day" and "no more than 150 calories per day from added sugars" for American men. To provide some perspective, a typical full-sized candy bar can contain up to 21 grams of sugar. This is problematic because several studies have shown that excess sugar in the diet contributes to increased risk of developing heart disease and diabetes, increased triglycerides, weight gain and malnutrition. Halloween candy is also chock full of saturated and trans fats as well; both linked to increased risk of heart attack and stroke. So what can you do to limit your child's consumption of sugar and fat on Halloween night?
First, keep the candy out of the house for as long as possible. That means you should buy your "pass-out" candy on Halloween and avoid purchasing varieties that you know you or your kids love. Having extras of your favorite candy lying around won't help anyone's waistline. Better yet, pass out non-candy options. No, you don't have to be "that house" passing out pennies or pencils, all the while worrying about post-Halloween adolescent retaliation, but you can buy some cool items that kids will love to see amongst their candy. Stickers, jelly bracelets, fake teeth, jump ropes or eye ball bouncing balls are all items to consider.
Second, on Halloween night, as soon as your child dumps his mountain of candy onto the table, have him/her choose the ones he/she wants to eat and portion off the rest for another time. This allows your child to still experience the fun and memories of Halloween night, but in a portion-controlled environment. The remaining candy can be used in a variety of ways. You can allow your child one candy after dinner a few days a week (if it's a regular size candy bar, cut it in half) or you can establish a "buy back" program where your child can earn small amounts of age-appropriate money, gifts, experiences or privileges for every piece of candy he or she "sells" back to you. Now, that doesn't mean YOU can eat the candy they sell back!
For kids that cannot tolerate gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley and rye), or have celiac disease, the night can be even more challenging. I tell my gluten-free parents to familiarize themselves with gluten-free candy options for 2011. You can find a comprehensive list here. Keep in mind, however, that face paints and other dress-up materials may contain traces of gluten in the product as well. Parents should also consider that some candy, although gluten-free, may have been manufactured in a factory that produces gluten products.
For diabetic kids, Halloween can be downright deadly. After all, the first ingredient in about 90 percent of candy that is distributed on Halloween is sugar. Consumption of tons of candy on Halloween means your little one is getting more sugar and carbohydrate than he or she can handle. The first key is to know the carbohydrate content of your child's candy and how it fits into his or her meal plan for the day. The American Diabetes Association has a fabulous list outlining the carbohydrate content of popular Halloween candies to help get you started. Allow an appropriate amount of candy that fits with your child's diabetic meal planning and swap the remaining candy for fabulous non-food options that will excite your child (play station game, video, books, etc,). Sugar-free candy options may be yet another choice but most are made with sugar alcohols such as maltitol and sorbitol. Since sugar alcohols are non-digestible, excess amount may lead to diarrhea so limit consumption of these to avoid gastric distress (and a horrible Halloween memory for Junior).
One last option may be to host a Halloween party for your child and his/her friends. That way, you have control over food choices and can provide an opportunity that focuses on fun and friends without too much focus on candy and eating.
Halloween is a blast for both children and adults, but as many things when it comes to diet, going overboard today could lead to unwanted health effects tomorrow!
Follow Kristin Kirkpatrick, M.S., R.D., L.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/KRISTINKIRKPAT