The Impossible Dream? Enjoying A Halloween Without Sugar


As an adult, the hardest thing about Halloween may be making or renting a costume (hint: if you’re going for originality this year, avoid being a minion). As a child, the hardest thing may be plotting out the optimum candy procurement route (hint: ingratiate yourself to neighbors to ensure any leftovers at the end).

As a parent, however, Halloween presents the biggest challenge of all: what to do with all that dang candy. Approaches vary widely: ration it out over the next month; let them pick only their ten most-coveted items;  donate it; all out binge; or steal the good stuff for yourself).

We can’t tell you what to do, but we have found some helpful ideas to hone your approach.

#1 Curate the stash

  • Lower-Sugar Options: This guide from Cooking Light gives nutritional information on 40 different Halloween candies, ordered from lowest to highest sugar content. Time magazine provides a nice chart of some of the info as well.

  • When Sorting The Stash, Avoid Trans Fats and High Fructose Corn Syrup (HCFS): Remember that products can contain up to 0.5 g of Trans Fats and still place a “0” on their label. U.S New and Reports  lists 10 candies with accurate labels—meaning zero MEANS zero.  

  • “Healthier” Options: Amy Ziff via Huffington Post offers some less-traditional candy options that you might consider handing out.  

  • Non-GMO: If GMOs concern for you, consider checking out the Green Halloween and Non-GMO Project’s Guide to a NON-GMO Halloween.

#2 The Candy-for-toys switch

We’ve heard some great stories from parents who exchange candy for toys. Try negotiating a deal. Or have the candy mysteriously disappear thanks to a visit from a fictional Halloween spirit such as the Great Pumpkin (who replaces it with a toy). Some cultures go the fear-based route and enlist the services of a scary character. For example, Baba Yaga.  

#3 Consider Allergies

It may be too late for this year, but check out the Teal Pumpkin Project by Food Allergy Research Education. We’ve also heard stories of parents circulating safe candy to the neighbors so the child can still have the trick-or-treat experience.

#4 Poach it for yourself

Eat it yourself so they won’t. While we can’t advocate this approach for the health of the caregiver, this “take one for the team” option definitely happens out there.

#5 Consider the ramifications of too much sugar—on one day or any day

With or without Halloween’s excesses, Americans consume, on average, about 22 teaspoons a day. That’s over double what most public health organizations recommend. The documentary Fed Up along with rhetoric from longtime critics of eating too much sugar more than drive home the point  that sugar contributes to the slipping state of America’s health.

Newly proposed FDA food labeling standards will probably include an “added sugar” denotation to help consumers understand how much naturally occurring sugar is in a food product versus sugar added during manufacturing. Food industry trade groups oppose this label approach vehemently. Proponents include Sam Kass, former Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition Policy, who stated  in Politico's Morning Ag:

I think the evidence firmly backs it and I just don't see a good argument not to do it. I think there's fierce opposition because some of these companies are putting way too much added sugar in their products, and they don't want that to be pointed out. ... I just don't see any legitimacy in their pushback."

Our fun-sized Halloween candies won’t necessarily have nutritional labels on them, but it doesn’t take a denotation for anyone to know that they are almost entirely “added sugar.”


Just in time for the candy gorging season, a new study funded by the National Institute of Health and published in the journal Obesity looked at the outcomes of a reduced sugar diet amongst children with obesity and metabolic syndrome. In an isocaloric study (one in which the total amount of calories consumed remains the same), the small group (n = 43) had their standard sugar intake (28% of total daily calories consumed) reduced to 10% with the remaining caloric intake replaced with starch. In a matter of a few days subjects showed reduction in blood pressure, triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, weight and fat-free mass, as well as improvements in insulin sensitivity. The study was headed up by Dr. Robert Lustig, an avid sugar critic.  While some journalistic accounts of the study may have been a little shrill (Sugar is Definitely Toxic, reports Time), the study suggests that reducing sugar intake can improve overall metabolic functioning in obese children. Ariana Eunjung Cha of the Washington Post gives a synopsis:

While the study is very preliminary because of its small size, it has important implications for how we think about the ills of sugars. The researchers argue that instead of thinking about sugar as empty calories that cause weight gain they should be seen as having a more threatening effect on the body's whole metabolic system."

It’s all something not-so-sweet to think about as our children pad their plastic pumpkins with pounds of petite prizes.

Good luck out there Wellness Warriors! Share your wellness solutions for Halloween or let us know your approach to curtailing candy consumption. Better yet, who’s dressing up as a Wellness Warrior?

Image via Flickr 


Read all articles by Damon Cory Watson







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