The average American consumes 152 pounds of sugar and 133 pounds of flour per year, says Mark Hyman, MD, in Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?
That’s nearly three-quarters of a pound daily, or as Hyman notes, “a pharmacologic dose our bodies were not designed to handle.”
We eat too much sugar, and this is especially true for kids and adolescents. Many eat far more than the American Heart Association (AHA)’s daily recommended amount — 25 grams (that’s about six teaspoons) for all children two to 19 years old.
Most people don’t think in grams, so consider this: a regular-size 3 Musketeers bar contains about 1.5 times the AHA’s added-sugar recommendations (36 grams, to be exact). A 12-ounce can of soda contains about eight teaspoons of sugar (more than the AHA’s recommendations) and absolutely zero nutrients.
In other words, even one “regular-sized” food or drink can provide more sugar than most organizations recommend in an entire day. Even foods and drinks marketed as healthier aren’t off the hook — 100 percent fruit juices can contain more sugar than soda.
Health Effects of Sugar
Altogether, their cumulative effect — the amount of added sugar your kids consume during the day from processed foods — might be dramatically more than you realize. Sugar is found in sodas, fruit juices, and hidden-sugar sources like marinara sauce.
Research shows the highest intakes of added sugar are among adolescents. However, studies find every demographic consumed more (including sugar-sweetened beverages) than the 10 percent The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends.
Added sugars provide absolutely no calories while also crowding out more nutrient-dense foods. Children and adolescents who consume high amounts of sugar are also less likely to choose nutritious foods overall. Most processed foods are loaded with high-fructose corn syrup, which sugar researchers link with obesity, diabetes, and so much more among children.
“High-fructose corn syrup is an industrial product that’s metabolized differently than sugar and does even more harm, including damage to the gut and liver. It may also contain mercury as a by-product of how it’s produced,” says Hyman in his book.
Different Names for Sugar: Where Sugar Hides
Knowing that you’re savvier to high-fructose corn syrup and other forms of sugar (anything ending in -ose is sugar), manufacturers have developed clever and even “healthy” disguises for sugar. Researchers found at least 61 different names for sugar hiding in 74 percent of packaged products! One study found about two-thirds of the packaged foods and beverages in American and Canadian grocery stores contain added sugars.
Sugar is sugar, whatever its disguise (even sugars marketed as healthy including agave), contributing to all the health problems sugar creates including obesity. Overweight or obese kids and adolescents are more at risk for dental cavities as well as chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, some types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
Nowhere is this added-sugar overdose more prevalent than during Halloween, or more precisely, the Halloween season.
Sugar Intake and Halloween
Once upon a time, kids got their treats on Halloween day, ate one or a few, and that was that. That’s the argument some experts use today — let kids be kids and enjoy their Halloween treats.
The problem is, Halloween isn’t just October 31. Today, the season starts in late September and goes through the winter holidays. School celebrations often entail a sugar-heavy snack. Visit your doctor, dentist, or other practitioner and you might find a bowl of candy sitting at the receptionist’s desk.
12 Tips to Have a Healthy Halloween
Options to have a healthy and safe Halloween don’t need to involve sugary snacks. They don’t even need to involve desserts or other foods at all. Halloween doesn’t have to become a civil war between you and your kids. Foremost, be the example you want them to be — make healthy snacking choices and present those same options to them.
For kids, that might be a gentle requirement to try new fresh fruits. With adolescents, you can still be firm yet teach them that nutrient-rich options will help them feel and look better. You can be influential without being pushy or demanding.
Halloween presents the perfect opportunity to do that. These 12 strategies can help you have an entertaining holiday season without letting your kids lapse into a sugar coma.
- Focus on festivities and food rather than food.
Manufacturers have made the Halloween season about food (specifically, junk food), but Halloween is about scares and spectacle, right? Encourage creative costume contests, spooky stories, and other entertainment that doesn’t focus exclusively on food (and definitely not junk food).
- Don’t keep Halloween candy in the house.
Yes, your kids and adolescents have many other junk food access venues such as friends’ houses. However, keeping those giant Halloween candy bowls and other sugary temptations away from your home means minimizes how often your kids indulge.
- Give out smarter, healthy Halloween snacks.
Consider handing out healthier Halloween treats including dark chocolate or a healthy Trail Mix. Kids might be pleasantly surprised to find one healthy treat among their sugary stash!
- Exposure equals preference.
Put fresh fruit, veggies with hummus, nuts, and seeds out in your home throughout the month. Your children might surprise you Halloween day by opting for a healthy snack like raw almonds rather than something sweet.
- Make Halloween treats a day-only indulgence.
While you can’t control what happens beyond your vicinity, you can make Halloween treats a one-day rather than a month-long experience. Consider smarter sweet options on Halloween Day (such as dark chocolate) rather than the high-fructose corn syrup candy they’ll likely get in their trick-or-treat bags.
- Have dinner before trick-or-treating.
On Halloween, kids want to dress up and roam the neighborhood. You know that you can’t control most of their junk-food gorges, but you can control what they have for dinner before they head out. Provide a healthy meal that includes plenty of protein, healthy fats, and high-fiber, non-starchy plant foods and they’re less likely to binge on Halloween candy afterward.
- Have your own Halloween party.
You might not earn cool-mom or cool-dad status, but having your own gathering guarantees the Halloween desserts won’t be high-fructose corn syrup catastrophes. Bonus points if you have a contest for, say, bobbing for apples or best costume (you know, old-school Halloween!) and offer a non-food prize to the winner.
- Keep healthy Halloween snacks around.
Research shows kids go for fresh fruit, crunchy vegetables, and other nutrient-dense foods when they’re nearby. Our Essential Bar makes a great grab-and-go snack when you and your kids are short on time. Rich in fiber and nutrients, it packs healthy ingredients including flax seeds, chia, hemp, coconut, and cocoa in a gluten-free, dairy-free, low-sugar delicious bar.
- Buyback or swap out their Halloween treats.
What do kids love more than candy? Money. Give them a quarter for every bit of Halloween candy they sell back. Younger kids might enjoy stickers, erasers, and other non-candy swaps. And promptly dispose of that candy so you won’t be tempted with their stash!
- Make healthy eating cool.
Teach your kids to cook with simple dishes, fill up on healthy protein shakes that include grass-fed whey protein powder, opt for smart snacks rather than junk food, and treat sweet treats as a very rare indulgence. You can also bake and prepare healthy desserts with your kids like Gluten-Free Blueberry Muffins, Avocado Chocolate Pudding, and Coconut Almond Cookies. They’ll thank you as adults!
- Get your kids involved with easy Halloween treats.
Rather than nosh on whatever sugar-loaded Halloween sweets they find at the local mall or in their trick-or-treat bag, encourage your children to partake in their own Halloween desserts. You’ll find some amazing ideas here, including an easy pack-and-go Trail Mix recipe.
- Manage lifestyle factors.
Optimal levels of sleep, stress management, getting the right nutrient foundation (including a multivitamin and fish oil), and regular exercise also contribute to healthy kids. They might be less inclined to hit the Halloween junk bowl when they’ve cultivated healthy habits. Even if they do, that sugar impact won’t be so dramatic after they’ve, say, played soccer for an hour or lifted weights rather than watch TV or play video games all day.
Halloween doesn’t need to become an all-or-nothing ordeal, but neither should you give your kids or adolescents permission to indulge in sugary junk food that satisfies for a few minutes but creates long-term health issues including obesity, diabetes, and cavities. Have a safe, healthy Halloween season!