“Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat!” We all know this poem. It is recited over and over again on the doorsteps of America, by eager costumed children on the eve of Halloween. For as long as we can remember, Halloween has been a time for family fun, involving costume preparation (and parental stress relating to costume preparation!), pumpkin carving, festive home decorating, and of course, lots and lots of candy!!!
Everywhere we turn, we see a plethora of grocery specials on large bags of sugary sweets. It’s difficult to turn a blind eye to this tradition which leaves us feeling bloated and sickly following an excessive period of artificially sweetened and processed candy eating.
And can moderation be reached during this fun and challenging (for parents!) holiday? I have two beautiful, young children and they (obviously) love candy. In past years, we have allowed them some candy during Halloween and for a few days following… then the candy gets ‘put away’ (indefinitely!!!) until, of course, they forget and then I get rid of it (with a dramatic flare).
A couple years back, I said to my son who was wondering what my deal was with candy…”Honey, it is absolutely fine to have some sugar from time to time. The problem arises in our body when we have sugar all the time– this can cause diseases like diabetes (cue the dramatic music!). So I am fine with giving you candy every now in then, but I need you to know that it is physically impossible for me to do so without a severe scowl on my face– so, just saying…!”
Yes, I got a chuckle out of him and possible an olympic level eye roll out of my daughter who tends to be a little sassier (and adorable!). But in truth, sugar is not good for us. It causes problems. But eliminating it entirely for our children and ourselves would make living in society very difficult. So… moderation…
As a family we are gluten free and at home, generally paleo since that is the way I eat (and I do most of the cooking!). I try to modulate sugar intake outside of the home but at home, everything tends to be naturally sweetened. It definitely helps that I love to bake and baking with natural sweeteners is pretty easy.
So, here is me on the soap box of our current state in this beautiful country of ours… The number of children in our country that are overweight has nearly tripled since the 1970’s. We all know that childhood obesity is linked to diabetes, which is also on the rise. As childhood obesity rates climb nationally, now is the time to make a change. This change needs to be pervasive. The best way to transform our family’s health is to embrace the change as a family. Halloween is a great place to start!
How can we create an environment of health around a holiday that has historically always been associated with sweets? Knowing that moderation is everything when raising small children, here are some helpful steps to create a happy and healthy Halloween.
1. Limit intake of candy: There are many dentists that offer buy-back programs where they will purchase bags of candy from children in exchange for money—you can call your family dentist to inquire. Other options are offering to your children to trade in their candy bags for a toy.
2. Increase intake of veggies. By eating more vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables, it can help to break down synthetic foods with high sugar content, by supporting our liver and gastrointestinal tract.
3. Increase water intake. Water can be very helpful in flushing out toxins and reducing inflammation. Increasing the amount of water that we drink can help us feel better.
4. Drink green tea—ideally, loose leaf and unprocessed green tea. Green tea promotes detoxification by the liver as well as elimination of toxins.
5. When pumpkin carving, save the seeds! There is a lot of fiber as well as other fabulous nutrients in pumpkin seeds. Fiber, in particular, helps to slow down our blood sugar spike. Adding them to your diet during the fall season can be fun! Clean the seeds and dry them, then lay them on a baking sheet, sprinkle on some sea salt, and roast them. A fun snack for all! You can also make pumpkin pie, though you’ll probably find that it is easier to use canned pumpkin rather then fresh pumpkin (the fresh pumpkin can be soggier after baking if you don’t drain out all the liquid after baking). There are many great pumpkin pie recipes on-line that are paleo and therefore, naturally sweetened.
6. For many of us, we are constantly searching for better food alternatives, but what can be substituted for candy? There are several great options for healthier sweet treats. Here are some ideas:
Many processed foods are sweetened with fructose. Often, this fructose is sourced from corn, and frequently from a highly processed form of corn. Corn allergies are on the rise, largely because of the processing and genetic modification of corn in recent decades. Avoiding corn derived fructose may be helpful in reducing a variety of issues in children and adults including problems relating to digestion, learning, behavior, headaches, and more. Sometimes, in particular when traveling, it is challenging to completely avoid processed foods. In these instances, buying foods without added sugars, including fructose, is ideal.
Refined sugars can be toxic to the nervous system—avoiding these processed forms of sweeteners can benefit learning and behavior, which is crucial during the school year. It is helpful to tackle this as a family and remove all refined sugar from your home. Make sure there are plenty of good substitutes such as fresh fruit and healthier candy options (such as those listed previously). If you are a baker, it is pretty easy to substitute healthy sweeteners for refined sugar. Sugars to avoid would include: white sugar, brown sugar, turbinado sugar, sugar in the raw, splenda, aspartame, nutra-sweet, high fructose corn syrup, cane juice, and cane sugar. There are many great alternatives. Some natural sweeteners that can be used for baking include: maple syrup and maple sugar, honey, stevia, coconut sugar, palm sugar, molasses, and fresh fruit (use apple sauce to sweeten). Most of these natural sweeteners are readily available at the grocery store and on-line.
Halloween is a wonderful time to spend with friends and family. You may find that this is the one day of the year that you are not able to make any tangible difference in family sugar intake, and that’s okay. Remember that every small step forward is worthy of a pat on the back!