Sugar: The Scariest Part of Halloween?

Children in the 50's posing in Halloween costumes at a school party.
Now I know, this might seem an odd topic, given how much we love sharing sweet treats here. It's no secret that I love them. We all do! But when Halloween comes to mind, beyond the costumes, trick-or-treating and bobbing for apples (no? too old school?) I find myself thinking of all. that. candy.

Admittedly, I didn't always, at least not in my pre-mama days. But fast forward to one daughter, one autoimmune disease and much research later, and my feelings have changed. In the words of Maya Angelou, "When you know better, do better". And I know a thing or two I didn't five years ago about candy.

The Food Dyes Used in Candy Can Cause Hyperactivity and Cancer:

The three most widely used food dyes in candy - Yellow 5, Yellow 6 and Red 40 - were found to cause cancer in mice and rats by the CSPI, Center for Science in the Public (report). While Britain and the European Union have virtually eliminated the use of these dyes in their food, the US continues. In other words, that bag of "M & M's" your child eats in Britain has radish and red cabbage for coloring, while here in the US she'll be munching on Red 40 and Yellow 5.

Worse yet, children are targeted by marketers who pour millions of dollars each year into advertising, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information report).  So children are both more likely to want to eat the kinds of foods (mostly sweets) that contain these additives.

And while hyperactivity in children is sometimes chalked up to just "something they do", there is plenty to suggest that food dyes could play a role. The FDA explains, "For certain susceptible children with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and other problem behaviors…the data suggests that their condition may be exacerbated by exposure to a number of substances in food, including, but not limited to, synthetic color additives."

And, scientific arguments aside, doesn't it just make intuitive sense to avoid giving our children synthetic additives like dyes??

Also Consider Body Size:

It may seem obvious, but the smaller a person is, the less sugar he/she can consume. According to the American Heart Association, children should only have 25 grams of sugar from all sources, including fruit, in a day. Consider this: that box of raisins you're sending with your child to school? 29 grams. Almost the same amount is found in a can of Coke! Halloween-sized chocolates quickly add up, with three pieces easily surpassing the recommended amount.

Sugar, to be blunt, is flat out toxic when consumed in excess.

But before you start accusing me of being a killjoy, check this out: there are so many super simple, easy ways to make this Halloween a healthier holiday!

1. Know the Sugar Content in Common Halloween Treats.

That mini Almond Joy has how much sugar?? If you have a sense of how much sugar there is, you are better equipped. This article does a nice job breaking it down - how many calories a child needs, calories in typical candy, and some candy calorie and sugar comparisons.

2. Hand Out Other Treats!

Halloween Stickers - always a favorite
Stamps - another kid favorite, and less expensive than candy!
Clementines, apples
Fake mustaches - how fun are these?
Glow bracelets
Play-Doh Halloween Trick or Treat Bag
Bags of homemade trail mix
Organic naturally-colored lollipops!
Individual bags of popcorn
Target or Walmart often carry healthier options
Buy local: I'm buying healthier chocolates from a local WAHM who specializes in wheat / dairy free options!!

3. Get Creative with All That Candy

- Save it for decorating gingerbread houses to give to friends and family!

- Donate it to troops: Soldiers Angels' is a popular and well-known resource

- Switch it out: either for a smaller amount of treats that don't contain the additives or for a small gift, from a dollar or toy store

4. Educate Children Throughout the Year About Food

Granted, if kids go crazy eating candy on Halloween but the rest of the year have sensible limitations on sweets, the experience isn't going to kill them. At the same time, explaining WHY eating all that candy isn't so great is the best way to help them make food-smart choices long-term. And let's be honest: it's not just at Halloween that kids have an opportunity to over-eat sweet. It's become a regular part of their world: play dates, parties, all the advertising they see on a daily basis. This is why I think it's important not to go crazy with sweets on Halloween.

I talk to C regularly about food ingredients, why I don't keep certain foods in the house, etc. She also sees me avoiding a number of foods due to autoimmune disease so I talk to her about that as well.

We bake throughout the year together, including around holidays like Halloween. I like to make one treat per season from scratch with C and then ask her how it tastes in comparison with other treats. She's only four, I don't expect her to give me a drawn-out explanation - but it plants a seed.

What about you - what tips or tricks have you learned to make Halloween a healthier holiday?

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