Halloween marks the time of year when stores line their shelves with seemingly endless bags of candy and flaunt countless promotions that make buying giant bags of sweet treats that much easier.
Parents send their children out with king-size pillowcases and giant bags, sometimes bigger than the kids themselves, to partake in the customary tradition of trick-or-treating, hunting down the best and most candy in the neighborhood. Yet with diabetes and obesity on the rise and a major concern nationwide, routinely consuming seemingly endless piles of candy is not recommended.
“In the last couple of years, dietitians that are out there counseling on an outpatient basis have seen a huge increase in the amount of children who are overweight or are obese,” said Mona Therrien, registered dietitian and part of the University of Maine’s Food Science and Human Nutrition faculty. “The CDC [Center for Disease Control and Prevention] has said that one third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese.”
Moderation is key in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Kids who have learned how to exercise and apply moderation into their eating habits, which they can learn that at a very young age if that is what the parents teach, will be able to moderate their candy, too, Therrien said.
Therrien added that when you repeatedly tell your child that they cannot have candy or another sweet treat, you create the urge to want what you cannot have. This results in sneaking candy and overindulging, which isn’t healthy.
When you overindulge in high-sugar, high-fat foods, this can increase inflammation in your arteries.
“Think before you eat,” said Dorothy Klimis-Zacas, a clinical nutrition professor in the University of Maine department of food science and human nutrition. “When you eat high-sugar and high-fat foods you increase inflammation, which if it becomes chronic, can lead to diabetes and heart disease.”
One night out of the year, however, isn’t going to hurt.
Both Klimis-Zacas and Therrien said that it is not what you eat but the amount and how often that counts. Candy isn’t the enemy, and nutritionists are trying to get away from the concept of good food and bad food — all food can be enjoyed occasionally.
“If you crave sweet things, things like grapes, pears, apples and dry fruit are very good for you and provide nutrients to your body,” said Klimis-Zacas.
As a mother of two, Therrien provided some parental and nutritional advice for surviving Halloween without a bellyache.
First, feed your children something healthy before they go out trick-or-treating.
“Give them a healthier meal, something with protein that keeps them going, and get some healthy snacks and have those available so they don’t feel like they need to wolf down all this candy when they get back home,” Therrien said.
Second, pick an appropriate-size container for them to carry house to house. There is no need to send your child out with a giant pillowcase or trash bag, that’s just overkill. A small pumpkin or bag will work.
Third, freeze the surplus candy and put it out of sight.
“I’ll let them have a little at night and throw the rest in the freezer … full-size candy bars, I break them up, then wrap them and put them in the freezer,” Therrien said. “Kids forget about them … I still have candy from last year.”
Therrien also recommends bringing excess candy to work and even putting a piece of candy in your child’s lunch box along with a healthy snack. When they see a piece of candy with a healthy snack, moderation is being promoted.
Fourth, limit the area where your children are allowed to trick-or-treat. Stick to a couple of houses, pick small neighborhood or go to houses of family and friends.
Fifth, hand out healthy snacks, such as prepackaged trail mix which is full of dry fruit and nuts that provide fiber and good fat. There are also fun nonfood items to give out, such as Halloween pencils with fun spooky erasers, or bubbles and sidewalk chalk that provide an incentive for children to go outside and play.
“If you have children and focus on healthy eating all year round and you are able to find a good balance and do things in moderation, then Halloween … is just another nice treat,” Therrien said.
Working off those fun-size treats
All those extra Halloween treats easily can become excess body fat, which is a major risk factor for seven of the most common cancers, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research.
Given that most “fun-size” Halloween candy doesn’t come with nutrition labels, it can be hard to know which treats are more calorie-dense than others. So how much walking do you really need to do to burn off just one fun-size candy bar?
AICR has broken down some of the best-selling holiday candies to show just how long it would take for a person weighing 150 pounds to schlep through their neighborhood at a moderate pace (3 mph) and burn off a single serving.
Serving: 1 pumpkin
At 170 calories per candy (more than almost any other branded candy bar), you’ll have to put in some effort to keep these decadent pumpkins from ending up on your waistline.
You’ll have to pound the pavement for 42 minutes to burn off just one of these calorie-dense treats.
Serving: 19 pieces
Candy corn is a staple of the season and one serving — 19 kernels — weigh in around 140 calories. That’s about 7 calories per candy.
It’ll take you 35 minutes to burn off a single-serving handful of candy corn.
Serving: 3 ghosts
Like their spring counterpart, the peep, these marshmallow sweets are mostly sugar. A serving of 3 clocks in at 110 calories.
It’ll take you 28 minutes of brisk walking to burn off these sugary bits of fluff.
Serving: 1 fun-size bar
A fun-size Kit-Kat has about 70 calories and less sugar than the mallows.
For each one of these you sneak from your kid’s bag, add another 18 minutes to your walk.
Serving: 3 pieces
Love them or hate them, Tootsie Rolls have been found in candy buckets for generations. A serving of three weighs in at 70 calories.
It’ll take you 17 minutes of walking to burn them off.
Serving: 1 fun-size bar
One of the lowest calories per serving, this candy bar will satisfy your sweet tooth without adding too many extra calories.
You can burn that bar off in just 16 minutes.