Halloween is big business. According to a recent report from the National Retail Federation, Americans will spend around $2.6 billion on candy — some of which your kid is eager to land in their orange pumpkin bucket (or the more ambitious pillowcase) tonight. Because we know a diet heavy in sugar can cause health issues such as weight gain and obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, it's a huge challenge for parents to sate your child’s sweet tooth without pulling the plug on the whole post-Halloween binge.
Dentists, as it turns out, aren’t as anti-Halloween as you'd expect — they’re simply anti-gorging on Halloween. Kevin J. Donly, DDS, President of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and Professor and Chair of the Department of Developmental Dentistry at the School of Dentistry of University of Texas Health San Antonio, says one way to try and do damage control is to help your kids avoid prolonged exposure to sugar.
To protect your kids' teeth, manage their sugar binges
It also means doing a little damage control over sugar binges by doling out candy in small amounts over time. “Frequency of exposure to sugar is a big factor (in pediatric dental health), so we recommend that access to Halloween candy be limited and parents give their children the candy when the teeth can be brushed afterwards with a fluoridated toothpaste,” says Donly. He also recommends limiting those “sticky” candies that get stuck in tooth crevices in favor of chocolates, which wash off teeth more easily than other types of candy.
Make Halloween a lesson in making better choices, even if it's candy
Nutritionists are also (realistically) supportive of moderation over denial on Halloween. Jessica Levinson, RDN, a New York-based culinary nutrition expert and author of "52-Week Meal Planner" says, “At the end of the day, it’s about making choices. I don’t believe in parents taking candy away from their kids, but they could help their kids learn to make choices about what they really like — not just eating everything they got. It’s better for kids to have a little of what they actually want then a lot of what they don’t really want.”
So, what are some good options to give out this Halloween?
Many kids with food allergies sometimes miss out on Halloween by default — it can be a dangerous landmine for them. Fortunately, the Teal Pumpkin Project from the Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE), seeks to inspire inclusivity by asking those who give out non-food treats (like glow sticks, bubbles, erasers, etc.) to place a teal pumpkin on their doorstep as a signal to let trick-or-treaters with food allergies that there are non-food treats on hand.
But if you're going for the real deal, Levinson says that whatever you choose for a Halloween handout will be more about you — not the kids ringing your bell. “If you’re a mom who feels better not giving something with artificial flavors and there are choices with a naturally occurring dye or flavor, and if it’s in your budget and you can afford it and find it — go ahead. But if you decide to go into CVS and buy whatever’s there, the amount of artificial colors or synthetic ingredients your child would have to consume is not going to exceed anything that would put them in danger. It wouldn’t be on the market if it did.”
As for the healthier (and least healthy) Halloween candy picks? In an earlier article, dietitians gave high marks to Trolli Sour Brite Crawlers (one serving is 8 pieces and 100 calories) and snack-sized Reese Peanut Butter Cups because they're individually wrapped and have a small amount of protein and even fiber. As for candy corn? Love or hate it, it got the lowest marks on for it's sugar content and the fact that most kids don't stop at a few pieces.
For more better-for-you options, get the full list of the healthiest Halloween candy picks, according to dietitians.
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