The month of Halloween is finally upon us! It’s the time of year when the weather cools, leaves change color, pumpkin spice lattes re-emerge, and at the end of the month, the streets are littered with ghouls and goblins going door-to-door demanding sugar-filled treats. We don’t want you to be ‘that house’ with the lights off and doors locked, but as you tackle Halloween this year, we are going to help keep you and your children’s health in mind.
What does sugar do to my body?
A staggering 17 percent of children aged 2-19 are obese, triple what it was a generation ago.(1)(2) Not only that, for the first time in 40 years, the number of cavities among children is increasing, which many experts believe is related to increased sugar intake. (1) Sugar impacts so many aspects of an individual's health, such as cognitive health, immunity, and energy levels.(3) Studies have shown that one single teaspoon of sugar can shut down a person’s immune system for up to five hours.(4) Consuming sugar increases the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.(3) High levels of cortisol are associated with increased anxiety, weight gain, low mood and poor sleep, all of which are factors currently affecting the younger generation.(12) Eating sugar without much protein or fat also calls on the pancreas for excess insulin to process it, causing a roller coaster effect on the body’s blood sugar levels. Over time, this can lead to insulin resistance and diabetes.
It also affects our mood. When we are feeling down, we know eating a little bit of chocolate can bolster our mood because it triggers the release of neurotransmitters in the brain that make us “feel good”. But all of that may come at a long term cost when the “high” wears off and leaves us craving more and more sugar and simple carbs. Those low levels of serotonin and other transmitters are associated with depression and low mood. The National Health Service states that almost one in four young people will experience depression before they are 19 years old. (3) The research suggests there could be a connection between depression and sugar consumption.
Sugar is also highly inflammatory. It suppresses the immune system and causes internal inflammation (low grade that we may not even feel) that, over time, can lead to chronic illness or degenerative disease. "Basically, the higher the intake of added sugar, the higher the risk for heart disease.(13)"
How much is too much?
“Yale University says that children should get only 3 to 4 teaspoons of sugar per day and that an adult should limit intake to 5 teaspoon(4)” The government recommendations are slightly higher, saying sugar should account for no more than 5% of overall calories, which for most kids is between 19 - 28 grams per day (28 grams is the equivalent to 7.5 teaspoons).(3) The government also notes that calories from added sugars, which give no essential nutrients to the body at all, should be limited to an absolute maximum of 10% of your calorie intake each day.(5) That’s equivalent to about 200 calories if you’re on an average 2,000 calorie diet. While that may sound easy enough, it’s been found that the average child collects between 3,500 and 7,000 calories worth of sugary treats on Halloween night.(1) If they were to consume all that sugar, it could have a detrimental effect on their health. So let’s see how you can make Halloween fun while teaching your child healthy habits that will stick with them throughout adulthood.
Make This Halloween a Healthy One
Halloween doesn’t have to be a night all about stockpiling and gorging on sugary treats. Make traditions that take the focus off of food and candy.(6) Make it about who comes up with the most creative costume, and enjoy the fun that is seeing your neighbors dressed in silly costumes that are only socially acceptable one night a year.
Walk your kids around a neighborhood. Get some exercise. Set a goal on how many streets you can visit in one night.(7) Don’t bring a giant pillow case either. Give your kid a small bag or a plastic pumpkin to collect candy in, so it will fill up all the way by the end, allowing your child to experience the feeling of abundance without going overboard.(8) If you’re handing out candy, hand out one treat per child and not don’t allow self-service.(7) Better yet, don’t hand out candy at all. Remember the kids with food allergies too! Food Allergy Research & Education launched a national campaign in 2014 that’s inclusive to all trick or treaters called The Teal Pumpkin Project.(10) Paint a pumpkin teal and put it in your front lawn so kids with food allergies will see it and know they can come up and receive toys and other “treats” that are not edible at all, such as glow sticks, Play-doh containers, creative pencils with toppers, or temporary tattoos.(10) Even bags of veggie chips are a healthier option and allergy-friendly.
Aim for balance over banishment - restricting candy all together can have the unintended consequence of making it all the more appealing.(9) After trick-or-treating, have your child dump their bag of wonders and separate the candy they want to keep in one pile and the candy they’re willing to part with in another.(1) Take that second pile and donate it (or throw it away). Dentists nationwide are having candy buy back programs where they’ll give your child somewhere around $1 per pound of candy that they bring into their office.(1) Give your dentist a call and see if they participate in this program or type your zip code into this link and it’ll find nearby dentists. They then take that candy and ship it to troops overseas, along with toothbrushes and floss of course, via Operation Gratitude.(1) Other places to donate excess candy include homeless shelters and children’s hospitals.(7) For the candy your child chooses to keep, allow no more than 3 pieces per day, all the while eliminating the extra daily sugar in their normal diet, such as donuts, ice cream or other desserts. The longer a treat stays in contact with the teeth, the higher the chance of cavity formation, so it’s best to avoid lollipops and other hard candies.(8) Saliva production increases during meals which can help aid in rinsing away any candy particles.(11)
Balancing their diet is key to enjoying the holiday without the grave consequences aforementioned. Remember, sugar is highly addictive, so the more a kid tastes it the less they will like other types of food, such as bitter and sour. The sweet taste sensor literally overrides the other three! It is never too late to start a healthy habit not just for Halloween, but one that continues all year long and helps a child regulate his own sugar intake, allowing himself to enjoy the rich flavor of other types of food!
1. Waxman, O.B. (2012, October 30). 5 Tips For a Healthy Halloween. Retrieved From http://healthland.time.com/2012/10/30/5-tips-for-a-healthy-halloween/
2. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (n.d.). Importance of Good Nutrition. Retrieved From https://www.hhs.gov/fitness/eat-healthy/importance-of-good-nutrition/index.html#
3. Drake, H. (2018, November 12). Sugar Intake in Children - More Than Just a Weight Issue. Retrieved From https://www.openaccessgovernment.org/sugar-intake-in-children-more-than-just-a-weight-issue/48472/
4. Addison, N. (2014, October 15). How to Have a Healthy Halloween. Retrieved From https://nutritionstudies.org/how-to-have-a-healthy-halloween/
5. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (2016, March). Cut Down on Added Sugars. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, 8. Retireved From https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/resources/DGA_Cut-Down-On-Added-Sugars.pdf
6. Cleveland Clinic. (2012, October 2). 5 Tips for a Heart-Healthy Halloween. Retrieved From https://health.clevelandclinic.org/5-tips-for-a-heart-healthy-halloween/
7. American Heart Association. (2016, October 17). How to Have a Healthy Halloween. Retrieved From https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/how-to-have-a-healthy-halloween
8. Warren, R.M. (2018, October 30). How to Have a Healthy Halloween. Retrieved From https://www.consumerreports.org/healthy-eating/have-a-healthy-halloween/
9. President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition. (2017, October 24). Healthy Halloween Tips. Retrieved From https://www.hhs.gov/fitness/blog/healthy-halloween-tips.html 10. Myers, A. (2017, September 21). 10 Tips for a Fun and Healthy Halloween. Retrieved From https://www.amymyersmd.com/2015/10/healthy-halloween-tips/
11. American Dental Association. (n.d.). Dental Tips for a Healthy Halloween. Retrieved From https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/h/halloween-tips