Let's face it, the dressing-up part of Halloween is all fine and good, but the kids are in it for the haul. The sweeter, the gooey-er, the better. In fact, at no other time in the year do kids eat more of it! Up to 8% of annual candy sales happen at Halloween, which is slightly more than at Easter. Should parents worry about their kids' annual sugar bender at this time of year? Elizabeth Somer, registered dietitian and author of Eat Your Way to Happiness joined us to set the record straight on the Halloween candy glut.
Should we be concerned about the candy our kids are eating on Halloween?
Absolutely not. I’m not concerned about sugar at Halloween. This is a wonderful, whimsical night for kids. Most of us have fond memories of the candy haul at Halloween. If we limited our sugar binges to just Halloween and Easter, we’d be fine. But we don’t. Our children are eating excessive amounts of sugar all year around.
How much sugar does an average American child consume per day?
While sugar consumption has dropped slightly in the past few years, Americans still consume almost 100 pounds of added sugar each year and high-fructose corn syrup has increased from 0 to 38 pounds a year in the past few decades for every man, woman, and child. Between 15% and 20% of children’s calories come from refined sugars. While at the turn of the century, most people consumed about 4 teaspoons of sugar daily and all of that was added in the kitchen when mom made jams or pie, today we average up to 50 teaspoons a day and most of that sugar is added for us by industry before the food ever makes it into our kitchens. Children are eating sugar in not only candy and desserts, but in baked beans, catsup, fruited yogurts, granola bars, frozen entrees, and cereals, to name only a few.
How bad is all that sugar for our kids?
The fattening of American mirrors this nation’s consumption of added sugars, which has increased more than 50% since the 1980s, according to a study from the University of Minnesota. Kids fed fatty, sugary, processed junk food had lower IQs, while healthy diets rich in vitamins and minerals improved IQ, in a study from the University of Bristol. The only other proven link between this excessive sugar intake and health is with tooth decay. A few studies have suggested that sugar intake might be linked to heart disease and colon cancer, but there really isn’t enough evidence to make these accusations stick. The belief that sugar causes hyperactivity hasn’t been proven in scientific studies.
When it comes to sugar, the biggest concern is that every time a child reaches for candy, that child is missing the opportunity to eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nonfat milk, and other foods that reduce his/her risk for developing heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, and obesity later in life. One study from Tulane University in New Orleans reported that children who ate lots of sugar consumed significantly lower amounts of protein, vitamin E, B vitamins, iron, and zinc. A study from the American Association of Pediatrics reports that 99 out of 100 children in this country do not get enough of the fruits and vegetables. So, even if sugar isn’t directly linked to disease, consuming too much could be undermining your children’s health today and in the future.
So, what do we do?
Children's tummies are small, but their nutrient needs are high. That means every bite counts.
∙ First, avoid sticky, sweet foods, such as processed fruit bars, candy, and caramel, since they are the worst offenders of tooth decay. Stay around the tooth longer.
∙ Second, limit soft drinks from the typical 1 gallon a week to something a child has on occasion, say at a baseball game. Certainly, never should soft drinks be brought into the house or served with meals.
∙ Third, cut back on sweets, such as doughnuts, pies, cakes, cookies and ice cream, since these foods are doubly harmful because of their high sugar and high fat content.
∙ Fourth, read labels. Although manufacturers are not required to list the percentage of sugar calories, you can get an idea of the sugar content by reading the ingredients list. A food may be too sweet if sugar is one of the first three ingredients or if the list includes several sources of sugar. Also, keep in mind that sugar comes in a variety of names, such as glucose, brown sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, dextrose, and fructose, turbinado. And watch out for honey, it’s just sugar, too. Honey is sugar with little nutritional value other than calories (it would take 1200 tablespoons of honey for a total of 76,800 calories to supply your child's daily requirement for calcium or 100 tablespoons and 6400 calories to supply enough iron.
∙ Fifth, use more spices. Cinnamon, vanilla, spearmint and anise provide a sweet taste to foods without adding sugar or calories.