How to Navigate the Halloween Sugar Rush
The pumpkins are carved, the trick-or-treaters are ready to bring in the candy, and spooky season is fully underway. Whether you’re handing out candy at the door or chaperoning the little ones as they collect the candy haul of their dreams, or plotting your own indulgent binge, it seems like there is no escaping sugar on Halloween. Instead of avoiding candy, one of the best things you can do is plan for its appearance. Make intentional choices and understand how you can set yourself up for success on Halloween night, and the candy-concentrated days that follow.
It’s not that we don’t all deserve a treat now and then, but bumping up your sugar intake can have consequences to your health. Rather than focus on its potential to increase the circumference around your waist, sugar can cause a strong reaction that bubbles up from inside you. Once we eat it, sugar can have a number of impacts on our body. As soon as it hits our tongue, harmful organisms inside our mouth feed on the sugar inside these treats and respond by making our oral environment more acidic. This promotes cavities and other harmful microbes and their ability to sneak into our bloodstream. As sugar goes into our digestive system, it also supports harmful organisms in the gut microbiome, potentially interfering with our immune system and increasing certain messages to our brain. You might recognize this as a spike in sugar cravings even when you just had a sweet treat, or circulating thoughts late at night for a sugar-sweetened snack.
It can be hard to kick sugar cravings when they hit, but it can also be hard to completely avoid sugar during Halloween (and other Holidays). What is more important is understanding how your body responds to sugar, and how to incorporate balance into your celebrations. And most importantly, how to pass on a healthy relationship with food to our children that embodies balance and bodily well-being.
Just keep in mind that when it comes to treats, some are better than others. We’re going to cover what you should keep in mind when evaluating what you hand out at the door or how you celebrate your holiday festivities.
Treats with Standards
Let’s be real, there are very little redeeming qualities when it comes to Halloween candy. Whether it’s the high fructose corn syrup, the strange chemical ingredients, or the limited, satisfying flavor (looking at you, candy corn), we rather just avoid it all outright. However, balance requires both sides of the scale - so when choosing what sweets and treats you want to incorporate into your celebration, there are ways to make ‘smarter’ choices that can still play into the fun of Halloween.
Here are some green flags you can look for when evaluating your choice of sweets
Natural coloring or flavoring. Look for sweets or candy that use natural ingredients for coloring and flavoring. Some brands will derive color from things like spirulina or beets, or use sweeteners like honey
Dark chocolate. Lower in sugar, dark chocolate can satisfy your sweet tooth without sending you into a major sugar high. Typically, the higher the cocoa content, the lower the sugar. Rest easy as you indulge knowing that “research shows regularly eating a small amount of dark chocolate may help heart health.”
Substantial ingredients. If your treats have peanuts or another kind of tree nut, it could mean higher protein, fiber, and a healthier fat content. This could help maintain balance and prevent a blood sugar spike. The more filling your candy, the less likely you are to over-indulge.
Easy on the teeth. Lollipops and jawbreakers can coat the teeth in sugar for extended periods of time, which could mean a higher chance of cavities. This is because oral bacteria thriving in our mouth can feast on this sugar and use it to build biofilm (dental plaque) and stronger colonies around our teeth and gum. Best to avoid them. The less contact your teeth have with sticky sugar, the better.
When in doubt, make it from home. One of the main problems with candy is that there is little else to them than food coloring, starch, and sugar. Opting for homemade goodies may be more time consuming, but they pack heftier benefits in nutrition and in satiety. Even something like homemade brownies using whole grain or gluten free flour, real cacao, walnuts, and natural sweeteners offer a better ‘sweet’ solution whether you're handing them out or sharing them at home.
What to Avoid
….and the red flags:
Gummy candies. Typically made with glucose syrup, gummy candies like gummy bears or candy corn can easily get wedged in the pits and grooves of your teeth. This makes it more difficult to wash or brush away, which can lead to bacteria overgrowth and cavities.
Pure sugar. Read: empty calories. Avoid candy that leaves you feeling unsatisfied or “sugar addicted.” This is the type of candy that can get you stuck in a cycle of reaching for it throughout the day, which could lead you to overdoing it.
Artificial colors and flavors. Jelly beans and chewy taffy candy can be pumped with artificial coloring and flavoring that could throw a wrench in your routine. Corn syrup and processed sugars deliver something akin to a Frankenstein candy.
Unhealthy fats. Keep an eye out for candy that contains trans fats that can raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol. Your heart will thank you.
In addition to making healthier treat choices, set yourself up for success following Halloween night. Be sure to store candy out of sight of your children (and yourself) so that you aren’t tempted to indulge every day, all day. Make a plan for when and how you will work through the candy. Maybe it’s a few pieces after dinner a couple times a week. Depending on how much candy there is, it may make sense to toss some of it after a week so it doesn’t become a new unhealthy habit. Also, talk to your children about candy, pros and cons. Bring them into the decision-making process and provide them with options. Bringing them into the fold allows them to develop healthy habits and understand the need for balance, on both sides of the coin.
Ultimately, Halloween is an opportunity for you to get in touch with your inner-child while today’s children let their imaginations run wild. Stay safe out there and if you are supervising young ones dressed and ready to enjoy the Halloween fun, keep these quick tips in mind!
Ensure your children will be seen by drivers with glow sticks, flashlights, or reflective stickers.
Chaperone any children under 12 while they walk around the neighborhood.
Talk to your children about continuing to follow the rules of the road and crosswalks.
Tasty treats you can enjoy instead of Halloween candy
Baked Apples with Cinnamon
4 whole apples, cored (Galas and Honeycrisps are great)
¼ cup butter or plant-based spread, softened
¼ cup nuts (pecans, walnuts, and hazelnuts are all good)
1 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
2 Tbsp. raisins
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Combine the butter, nuts, cinnamon, raisins and salt in a medium bowl. Evenly spoon the mixture into the cores of each apple. Place apples in a glass or metal baking dish and cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes, and continue for another 20 with the foil removed, until the apples are tender. Remove and cool slightly. Serve warm.
Halloween Popcorn Snack Mix
This makes an excellent candy substitute to share with incoming trick-or-treaters!
6 cups popped popcorn
1 ½ cups mixed nuts
1 cup regular or alternatively sweetened chocolate chips (like Lily’s or Bake Believe)
2 cups tiny pretzel twists or pretzel sticks (gluten-free if needed)
1 cup alternatively sweetened, candy-coated, peanut butter chocolate pieces (like Little Secrets)
Mix all ingredients together in a very large bowl. Serve in Halloween decorative individual foil muffin tin liners.
Berry Parfait with Yogurt and Honey
1 cup plain, low-fat yogurt (Greek or plant-based alternative)
1 cup mixed berries (blueberries, sliced strawberries, raspberries, blackberries)
3 Tbsp. honey, divided
½ cup rolled oats
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Spread the ½ cup of rolled oats out on a baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes until toasted, tossing halfway through to prevent burning. Remove from the oven and let cool.
Mix together your yogurt with 2 tablespoons of the honey.
In 4 single serving containers (about 6 oz. each), layer your ingredients from bottom to top:
¼ cup honey yogurt
¼ cup berries
2 Tbsp. toasted oats
1 tsp. Honey
Serve immediately, or chill until ready to serve.
Mini Crustless, No-Bake Pumpkin Cheesecakes
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup canned pumpkin
½ cup natural alternative sweetener, such as monk fruit, xylitol, or honey
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
2 cups fresh whipped cream, divided
In a medium bowl, mix together the cream cheese and the sweetener until smooth (a hand mixer is helpful for this). Add your pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie spice and mix until combined.
Whip the cream until stiff peaks form. You can add in a powdered sweetener like xylitol or erythritol if you like your whip cream sweeter.
Add the cream cheese mixture to 1 cup of the whipped cream and fold with a spatula until just mixed. Don’t overmix and deflate your whipped cream.
Spoon your cheesecake mixture into a 12-cup lined muffin tin, each about ¾ of the way full. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, or overnight.
Remove the muffin tin from the refrigerator and pull out the cheesecakes, leaving them in their liners. Top with whipped cream and serve.
1 Welch, A., Smith, Z., Welch, A., Colino, S., Rapaport, L., Sullivan, K., Upham, B., & Staff, E. H. (n.d.). What is heart disease? symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. EverydayHealth.com. Retrieved October 13, 2022, from https://www.everydayhealth.com/heart-disease/