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Keeping Your Gut Healthy During a Sugar-Filled Holiday: A Parents Survival Guide to Halloween
Halloween is a fun-filled holiday dedicated to costumes, tricks, and treats (especially treats). While a recent nutrition study in children and adolescents has not yet tracked the amount of sugar consumed on this one given holiday, a deep dive on the internet revealed that children, on average, consume about three cups of sugar on Halloween.1 That is the equivalent to just over 600 grams of sugar or about 15 cans of a standard serving of Cola….yikes!
This exceeds public guidance from the Dietary Guidelines which recommends that Americans 2 years and older keep their intake of added sugars to less than 10% of total daily calories; this translates to no more than 200 calories from added sugars, if you were following a 2,000-calorie diet (this is equal to about 12 teaspoons or 48 grams of added sugar daily).2
If you are a parent and worried about how much sugar your child typically consumes on Halloween or seem unsure about how to let your child/children enjoy the holiday without coming across too restrictive, then you may want to consider these tips from the perspective of a registered dietitian, because let’s face it, we all want to enjoy Halloween even with a sensible amount of sugar.
Top Halloween Tips for Parents:
Create a Healthy Non-Restrictive Food Environment
For example, cook well-balanced dinners together that include lean protein, fruits, fiber-filled vegetables, whole grains and set a few pieces of candy out for dessert to let the child decide if they want it or not. When you make candy the “forbidden food”, your child is more likely to overindulge and feel like it is off limits. Ultimately, this means your child will want and eat even more candy.
Involve Kids in Halloween Food Preparation
Remember that Halloween is not just about candy, there are many holiday fun-filled foods that can be celebratory and nutritious. Try getting your children involved in making nutrient-dense recipes that carry a Halloween theme.
Some examples are:
- Pumpkin Pancakes (loaded with beta- carotene, a form of Vitamin A and rich in fiber)
- Dried Fruit Jack-O-Lanterns (use dried apricots, a hint of chocolate icing to decorate the eyes and mouth, plus sprigs of mint or another herb to mimic the pumpkin stem)
- Frankenstein Guacamole (use fresh green, ripe avocados for your recipe and serve with blue corn chips and fibrous veggies to dip).
All of these foods contain a matrix of nutrients including beta-carotene (a form of Vitamin A), Vitamin C, fiber, monounsaturated fat, potassium, and zinc to name a few.
Incorporate prebiotics prior to, during and after Halloween to keep your gut healthy, by packing prebiotic ingredients into Halloween treats that can be used at a party, for after school or even for trick or treat bags. Prebiotics can naturally be found in oats, bananas, onions, garlic, and artichokes, but adding other fiber-rich foods and beverages can help.3
Check out this prebiotic-packed energy ball recipe with oats as an example. If you are looking to choose a prebiotic filled beverage, try OLIPOP™ with 9g of prebiotic fiber per serving and just 2-5 g of sugar compared to 39 g in a standard cola.
Hint: The grape flavor would make for an awesome kid-friendly and non-alcoholic Halloween drink.
Make Halloween an Active Holiday
To help burn extra calories consumed from sugar, make Halloween an active day! Depending on the age of your child, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends sixty minutes of daily aerobic activity that include running, walking, or anything that makes their hearts beat faster.4 This is easy to achieve during the beautiful Halloween fall weather. Take part in local Halloween parades, go for a family walk, bike ride or enjoy a local pumpkin patch with kid-friendly activities.
Rethink Trick or Treat Bags
Limit the size of the trick or treat bag to something more sensible than a pillowcase. No need to supersize it! Pick a trick or treat bag that is reasonable in size and that does not encourage overindulgence in candy. At the end of trick or treat time, sit down with your child to sort through pieces and make a donation pile for a local shelter.
Closing thoughts on Halloween & Gut Health
Halloween can be sensibly enjoyed by incorporating some fun-filled candy pieces when balanced with nutrient-dense foods that include fiber and prebiotics. Keeping your gut healthy and child’s gut healthy prior to, during and after the holiday, by offering diverse meals and snacks that include prebiotics, can help support overall microbial diversity in the gut and regulate immune function.5
Enjoy and Happy Halloween!
- Halloween Candy Consumption in the US. Business Insider https://www.businessinsider.com/halloween-candy-consumption-usa-facts-statistics-2019-10 Accessed October 6th, 2021.
- Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee 2020. Scientific report of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee: Advisory Report to the Secretary of Health and Human Services. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Washington, D.C. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-07/ScientificReport_of_the_2020DietaryGuidelinesAdvisoryCommittee_first-print.pdf. Accessed October 5th, 2021.
- International Scientific Association for Prebiotics and Probiotics. Prebiotics. https://isappscience.org/for-consumers/infographics/. Accessed October 10, 2021.
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). How much Physical Activity Do Children Need? https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/children/index.htm. Accessed October 11, 2021.
- Mohammadkhah A, et al. Development of the microbiome in children, and lifetime implications for obesity and cardiovascular disease Children 2018; 5(12): 160.
- A deep dive on the internet revealed that children, on average, consume about three cups of sugar on Halloween.
- Halloween is not just about candy, there are many holiday fun-filled foods that can be celebratory and nutritious.
- Incorporate prebiotics prior to, during and after Halloween to keep your gut healthy.
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