A Healthier Halloween: Candy Alternatives

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Sweet treats are something that we all love. And I have nothing against them! I also do love the fun of Halloween. But as much as I love the costumes, trick or treating, the games and fall atmosphere, what I don’t love is all. that. candy.

Admittedly, candy ingredients never used to be on my radar, 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:

I know, it’s not a happy topic. And certainly, I’m not saying there is a direct relationship between scarfing down those M & M’s and cancer. But studies have shown that 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).  As if that weren’t disturbing enough, knowing that places like Britain and the European Union have virtually eliminated the use of these dyes in their food certainly doesn’t leave the best taste in my mouth. Yes, they do still have colored candy. But they’re using radish or red cabbage for coloring, not Red 40 and Yellow 5. Unfortunately, in the U.S. the trend seems to continue to be “let the children eat the dyes”.

Worse yet, children in the U.S. are targeted by marketers who pour millions of dollars each year into advertising, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information report).  So not only are these dyes widely available, they are also in foods (mostly sugary) that kids are most likely to want to eat.

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.

Healthier Doesn’t Have to Mean Hard!

Does all this mean I don’t let my daughter have sugar or candy with dyes? Not completely, no. While I avoid both, because it’s no good for the autoimmune condition, with her I try not to be super strict. Which means she will almost certainly enjoy a few pieces of Halloween candy post trick or treating. But at home? That’s a different story. What I keep, and what I serve to friends or trick or treaters, is free of the dyes and regular sugar / soy etc.

Easy Steps to a Healthier Halloween: 

Thankfully, there are some super simple steps you can follow to have a healthier Halloween!

1. Know the Sugar Content in Common Halloween Treats.

That mini Almond Joy has how much sugar?? Knowledge is power but unfortunately, we often don’t know how much sugar is contained in the most popular Halloween chocolate and candy. But there are resources. This article does a nice job breaking it all down: how many calories a child needs, calories in typical candy, and some candy calorie and sugar comparisons. Love it!

2. Hand Out Other Treats!

There are SO many non-candy, or alternative candy options out there! Here are some of our favorites:

Halloween Stickers – always popular!
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

3. Think local: 

In the past, I’ve bought dairy / gluten / soy chocolates from a local WAHM

4. 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, scarfing down a ton of candy one time a year is not a tragedy. But given that treats and sugar are so heavily, widely consumed throughout the year, education (and limitation) is a smart way to go.  And empowering children by explaining the “why” behind your choices (i.e. tell them about dyes, about how the pesticide glycosphate has been found in sugar) you are helping them make food-smart choices long term.

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 at least one treat per season from scratch with C and then ask her how it tastes in comparison with other treats. She’s only four (now five): 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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