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Healthy Halloween? The Happy Gut Guide [5 Easy Swaps]
October 27th 2021
by: Vincent Pedre M.D.

Have you ever noticed that holidays in America tend to be all about eating, drinking, and shopping? It’s a few of the reasons on a long laundry list of ways that our traditions and habits not only fail to protect our health, but actually put it in peril. A Healthy Halloween? — I think not!

With Halloween come the tendencies to binge on candy if you’re a kid, and candy, alcohol, and other sweets if you’re an adult.

There has to be a better way, right? Right! This week, let’s talk about how to have a healthier Halloween. Sounds impossible? Well, here are my suggestions.

Is a Healthy Halloween Possible? The Reality of Sugar Consumption

Halloween is a fun holiday, especially as a parent. It’s full of spookiness, mystery, and weeks of brainstorming costume ideas and decorations. It’s also full of candy — candy at school, at home, at friend’s houses, and at parties.

As parents, we want to make our kids happy and allow them to experience the full joy of Halloween. But does that mean letting them eat so much candy that they end up bouncing off the walls, or nauseous and sick? I’m sure any parent will agree with me, healthy and happy kids are those with boundaries. You don’t have to say no candy, but you can set a reasonable limit. This is important to do not just for a Healthy Halloween, but all year round. Why? Because sugar consumption among children is a massive problem. And if you teach your kids to reward themselves with sweets, you build life-long habits that will factor into the potential for obesity and hardwired coping mechanisms that are difficult to reverse.

The Facts About Kids and Sugar

According to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC), children and young adults (ages 2 to 19 years old) consume an average of 17 teaspoons of sugar per day, which is more than 70 grams. This is more than the World Health Organization’s recommended amount of no more than 12 teaspoons (or about 50 grams) of added sugar daily. But the truth is, even 50 grams of sugar is way too much, especially for kids. I recommend going even lower, trying to limit added sugar to less than 25 grams a day, or even lower if possible.

The Facts About Adults and Sugar

For adults, the situation is equally bleak. As we learned in last week’s blog about kicking sugar addiction to the curb, adults in the United States get up to 10 percent of their daily calories from added sugar. That is about 19 teaspoons/day for men and 15 teaspoons/day for women, which comes out to 152 pounds of added sugar each year. Many adults rely on hits of sugar throughout the day — often in the form of sweetened beverages in the morning and then candy, cookies, and other simple carbohydrates in the afternoon — to get through the day.

Unfortunately, as adults our sugar habits can rub off on our kids. Habits start young and it’s important to not use candy or sugar as a reward system, or your kids will learn to use sugar as an escape from difficult moments, stressful days, or harder emotions as adults. I encourage parents to talk to their kids about the side effects of sugar, such as fatigue, irritability, and digestive issues. And avoid creating an association between sugar and a reward. That way, your kids understand the longer term effects of sugar — the ones that go beyond how it tastes in the moment — and will learn self-coping mechanisms that don’t involve sweets for treats.

Sugar, Your Gut, and a Healthy Halloween

You might be wondering, why exactly is limiting sugar such a big deal? Isn’t sugar a type of carbohydrate, and that provides you with energy? The truth is that sugar is one of the top causes of disease and dysfunction in both adults and children. For example:

You might be wondering, why exactly is limiting sugar such a big deal? Isn’t sugar a type of carbohydrate, and that provides you with energy? The truth is that sugar is one of the top causes of disease and dysfunction in both adults and children. For example:

  • One study showed that sugar consumption early in life is linked to higher levels of obesity, cavities, asthma, and risk factors for heart disease later in life
  • The rates of type 2 diabetes for people under 20 years old grew 4.8% each year between 2002 and 2015, according to a February 2020 report from CDC.
  • Increased sugar consumption from sugar-sweetened beverages has been linked to an increase in ADHD symptoms in children.

In adults, high sugar sugar intake is linked to:

  • Obesity
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
  • Cognitive decline
  • Cancer

Considering I’m known as America’s Gut Doctor and focused on the interconnections of our total wellness with gut health, it won’t surprise you to learn that the link between sugar intake and disease can often be traced back to the gut. Eating too much sugar changes the makeup of the gut microbiome, allowing sugar-eating bacteria and yeast to overgrow and crowd out beneficial probiotic bacteria. As a result, we experience dysbiosis, candida overgrowth, leaky gut, food intolerances, and chronic inflammation and immune dysfunction — in other words, the perfect storm for illness.

It’s important to approach Halloween — a holiday that is really centered around sugar consumption — with these statistics and realities in mind.

The good news is there are a lot of ways to get through Halloween (and the holidays) without expanding your waistline in the process.

Your Happy Gut Guide to a Healthy Halloween

So, how do you have a Healthy Halloween? It’s all in your power by using simple swaps, creating new rituals, and setting boundaries around sugar intake all year round — with yourself and your family. Here are five easy swaps for a gut-friendly Halloween, and a gut-friendly year after that.

5 Easy Swaps for a Gut-Friendly Halloween

A healthy meal

1. Swap an Empty Stomach for a Nourishing Meal Before Treats

One of the biggest mistakes we make with sugar is allowing sugar to replace or even precede a proper meal. That’s why parents should never allow their kids (nor should you allow yourself, for that matter) to have a sweet or dessert before the main meal. It spoils more than the appetite, since it replaces nutritious calories with empty calories. If you start with a nourishing meal full of satiating protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates, your brain will be satisfied, hunger satiated, and you’ll be less driven to binge on sugar. Try these Back to School Sloppy Joes — one of my favorite recipes!

UNREAL Chocolate

2. Swap High-Sugar Candy with Lower-Sugar Alternatives

One of the best parts about living in the modern world is the amazing number of healthy alternatives we have at our fingertips. For example, try swapping traditional M&Ms with the UNREAL Chocolate Gems. UNREAL makes all types of candy, but with 40% less sugar than the traditional version. Another great swap is replacing Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups with Justin’s Dark Chocolate Almond Butter Cups. They’re made with dark chocolate and have fewer grams of sugar. Or better yet, try making your own treats with this Trick or Treat Almond Butter Bites recipe.

SMART SWEETS

3. Swap Artificial Dyes and Flavors with Natural Ones

One of the reasons to avoid candy this Halloween actually has nothing to do with sugar; instead, it has everything to do with artificial dyes and flavors that many gummies, sour candies, and hard candies contain.  Enter SmartSweet — they make healthier alternatives to traditional candies like gummy bears, peach rings, and Swedish fish, colored with natural fruit and vegetable juices.

Peach Popsicles

4. Swap Lollipops with Fruit Popsicles

Sometimes it’s about more than just a simple swap; instead, why not add an activity to the mix as well? Fruit popsicles are just as fun as lollipops and you can make an activity out of making them. Try different flavors and don’t forget to experiment. Try these HAPPY GUT® Peach Popsicles.

Gluten-Free Pumpkin Muffins

5. Swap Baked Goods with Gluten-Free Alternatives

A few weeks ago I wrote all about gluten-free flours and how to experiment with them in the kitchen. Well, Halloween — and really, any holiday! — is the perfect time to experiment! If you’re not much of a baker, try pre-made healthy mixes like this Simple Mills Pumpkin Muffin Bread Mix. Make sure to use a healthy baking oil in the recipe, like avocado oil.

On Halloween, it’s normal to enjoy some sweets. Making some of the swaps above can cut down on the sugar impact and help you create new rituals. And remember: if you and your kids do end up going sugar-crazy this Halloween, it’s not the end of the world. It’s more important what you do on the other 364 days of the year. And having healthy boundaries with sugar is one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your kid’s long-term health!

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