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Tasneem Bhatia, M.D. Headshot

Tricks and Treats for a Healthy Halloween -- and Holiday Season

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It starts with Halloween. Halloween, our gateway to the holiday season seems to usher in the official start of cold-and-flu season. Between the sugar overload and non-stop festivities, Halloween can begin a series of harrowing illnesses for the whole family. Preparing for Halloween and the coming festivities with cold-and-flu prevention in mind can help start the season on the right note. Here are 10 living healthy naturally tricks and treats for a healthy Halloween.

Healthy Halloween Tricks

1. Create a sugar budget.
We have talked about the importance of budgeting sugar in past articles, but this is extremely important at Halloween. Sugar weakens the immune system, making us all more vulnerable to colds and other viral infections. (1) Children and adults should keep total sugar under 6 teaspoons per day, or 40 grams. Remember that is the amount of sugar in half a can of coke or in a quarter of a cupcake.

In the days leading up to Halloween, help your children decide where their sugar budget will be spent. We use the concept of "sugar dollars" to help maintain our sugar budget. After trick or treating, put candy away and limit amount consumed per day. Creative ideas include trading candy in for money, giving candy away to those less fortunate and creating a neighborhood "candy bank" that can be used for specific gatherings.

2. Eat before trick-or-treating or parties.
Attending the festivities on a full stomach can prevent overindulgence during trick or treating or holiday festivities. Getting plenty of protein, water and fiber before leaving the house will help control cravings for high sugar foods.

3. Walk throughout the neighborhood.
Make Halloween an active holiday, by walking throughout your neighborhood. Exercise helps to metabolize sugar and activate digestive enzymes. Daily exercise through the holiday season, will prevent excessive weight gain, while boosting immune function. (2) This is true for children and adults.

4. Buy treats other than candy.
Giving out a variety of treats, including toys, crayons, gift certificates and candy will help to minimize everyone's exposure to sugar. Try to pick candy with fewer dyes or artificial sweeteners, since some children may have reactions.

5. Create a neighborhood Halloween / holiday action committee.
Working together in the neighborhood to minimize sugar exposure may also help prevent your children from a candy coma. Maybe only two houses give out candy, while the others give out other treats.

6. Start your cold-and-flu prevention strategy now.
There are many natural herbs and supplements that build immunity and decrease our chances of catching viral infections. My favorite is astragalus, a Chinese herb,that acts as an antiviral and antibacterial. I recommend taking this every day, but increasing to three times per day at the onset of cold symptoms. The average starting dose is 500 milligrams for adults and 250 milligrams for children. Increasing vitamin D3 supplementation may also help. Most adults benefit from daily supplementation between October and March with 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 per day, while children should be supplemented with 1,000 IU per day.

7. Begin juicing.
Juicing is another great trick-and treat to boost immunity and energy. Juicing increases the concentration of antioxidants in the body, resulting in a higher oxygen state. When juicing, I often advise my patients to have fun: mix colors and different types of fruits and vegetables, but always pair any bitter with a sweet fruit or vegetable. My favorites are apple, pineapple and honey or apple, carrot and ginger. I recommend juicing at least four times per week.

8. Prepare your spice cabinet for cold-and-flu season.
So many great herbs and spices keep our immune system balanced and have antiviral properties. Garlic and onions are powerful antivirals, found also in a homeopathic remedy, allium cepa. Soups with garlic and onions often seem to help colds by increasing antiviral activity. Turmeric and cayenne pepper are anti inflammatories and can help thin nasal secretions. Keep these stocked in your kitchen and add in your favorite recipes.

9. Create a stress-management plan.
With holidays, stress often increases and many of us will neglect our self care rituals. Finding 15 minutes per day to "zone out" or relax can help boost immune function. Regular acupuncture, massage and yoga provide immune support by lowering cortisol, our stress hormone.

10. Sleep.
Sleep, finally, is the ultimate protector of the immune system. Both children and adults should maintain consistent sleep schedules through the holidays. Most adults need at least 8 hours of sleep, while most children need 10 hours. "Sleeping in" does not compensate for an irregular sleep cycle through the week.

This Halloween, begin treating yourself to a proactive healthy regimen using these living healthy naturally tricks. Starting now, as we prepare for Halloween, guarantees a healthy winter.

References:
1. "Role of sugars in human neutrophilic phagocytosis 1, 2," The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

2. "Excercise and Immunity," Medline Plus, U.S. National Library of Medicine.

For more by Tasneem Bhatia, M.D., click here.

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