Can Halloween Be Healthier?
Halloween may be fun, but nobody would call it the healthiest holiday. Along with the costumes and community-building, kids each year mark the occasion by binge-eating dozens of sugary, unhealthy candy bars. It’s an age-old tradition that can’t really change… or can it?
To learn if Halloween can truly become healthier, we enlisted the assistance of Valery Andrade Pachano, R.D.N., L.D.N., a Clinical Dietitian with the University of Miami Health System. She gave us practical tips to find balance on Halloween without taking away what your kids enjoy the most.
Should I give out sugar-free candy on Halloween?
If you’ve been to a grocery store recently, you may have seen many sugar-free versions of your favorite candies. Every major candy category, from jelly beans to gummies to chocolate, is available from many prominent brand names.
While sugar-free candy seems like the potential solution to an unhealthy Halloween, Andrade issues a word of caution here.
“I would not recommend that parents give out sugar-free candies for Halloween because, as of now, there are no clear guidelines for consumption when it comes to non-nutritive sweeteners like sugar alcohols.”– Valery Andrade Pachano, R.D.N., L.D.N., UHealth Clinical Dietitian
“Given that tolerance to these sweeteners varies from person to person and the type of sugar alcohol, more research is needed to establish a safe limit,” she says.
Andrade adds that these sugar-free candies, when consumed in moderation, are preferable to sugary sweets for people with diabetes. She also suggests sticking to the serving recommendations when consuming these sugar-free candies to ensure that you don’t give yourself an upset stomach or other digestive issues.
Practical tips for a healthy Halloween
Sugar-free candy is not the solution for a healthier Halloween. However, the American Heart Association has provided tips to make the night healthier without ruining the fun. A straightforward step they recommend, for example, is simply having a healthy, balanced meal before heading out for trick or treating. This can help tamp down your kids’ appetites and prevent overeating later in the evening.
Other solid steps include bringing a smaller candy bag and only taking one item from each house. Suddenly, your trick-or-treat expedition is more about exercise and walking around the neighborhood than collecting as much candy as possible.
If you don’t like having all that candy to give to kids in your own house, the YMCA has some “treat” ideas that kids still enjoy that aren’t food. Some suggestions on their list include stickers, glow sticks, bouncy balls, small toys, plastic jewelry, and other fun items not laden with unnecessary calories.
Emphasize moderation instead of using negative language
The bottom line regarding Halloween, says Andrade, is that it may be unrealistic for you and your family to cut out candy entirely. After all, that’s part of the tradition and the fun. A better approach, she says, is to create healthy attitudes about food in general so that the candy at Halloween does not become a point of obsession.
To do this, Andrade recommends not banning sweets entirely. Instead, she recommends allowing one serving daily as part of a whole meal with protein and fiber. Instead of using language like “candy is bad” or “candy is junk,” try to emphasize that it’s quick energy to be enjoyed in moderation so that kids do not feel guilty when eating them.
“Remember, food is not only fuel for our bodies but also an expression of cultural traditions that are meant to be enjoyed,” says Andrade. “The secret to healthy eating habits is to make them enjoyable and prevent anxious thoughts around food. Happy Halloween!”
Wyatt Myers is a contributor for UHealth’s news service.