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Oh No! It’s Halloween!

Nancy Appleton PhD and G.N. Jacobs

www.nancyappleton.com

(c) 2008

Another version appeared in the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Journal used with permission. 

 

            Candy during holidays seems almost as inevitable as death and taxes. There are candy and sweets at every single one of them. For your poison do you prefer the chocolate Easter bunny, the heart-shaped box of Valentine’s Day, the red, white and blue cupcakes of Independence Day, or the green and red sugar coma that is Christmas? Perhaps, Halloween is the worst of the bunch, because the primary celebration includes sending costumed children out to scam candy from the neighbors, while the culture of the other holidays does include some ability to say No.

            Halloween originated as a pagan holiday meant as both a harvest festival and as a remembrance of the spirit world that pre-industrial Europe assumed lurked just outside your door if you were dumb enough to walk at night. The harvest festival part led to a nice communal meal made of the best produce in the village. This meal consisted mainly of whole fruits and grains, beer, animal protein (if not hoarded by the local lord) and vegetables. This meal is mostly consistent with good eating practice and people were mostly healthy.

            The spiritual side of Halloween included dressing up as whatever scared you the most as either a cathartic release of fear or a sound way to be passed over by the spooks, because you looked like them. This trend led to Trick or Treating where kids dressed up as spooks hit the neighbors up for bribes to keep evil from the door. This was all well and good when the treat was an apple, pear or whatever was the local fruit harvest.

            Somewhere along the line, sugar entered the diet and the celebration of plenty included candy and a whole lot more sugar in children’s diets than nature intended. For most of that time, no one knew that sugar kills. But, now you do and you’re having an attack of conscience if you and your family should participate in the Candy Holiday. With careful preparation, there is no reason why you can’t have a great Halloween.

            Unfortunately, unless you have a note from a doctor or other health professional telling you that you and/or you family are so sick that YOU NEED TO DO SOMETHING NOW, this upcoming Halloween will have to be a right off. It is next to impossible in the space of a few weeks to break children or yourself of the habits of your youth. Sugar is so addictive that going cold turkey this Halloween will fail LOUDLY! Your kids will be cranky; you will dream up enough new methods for infanticide to fill five mystery novels and they will eat all the candy in their bag before they get home.

            Canceling next Halloween will not solve your problems, because kids are intensely sensitive to social pressures. The children of Jehovah’s Witnesses and others who don’t get Halloween for religious reasons will be teased on the schoolyard. Don’t cancel Halloween, shape it to suit your purposes. And make sure that you participate with them, both for health reasons, but also because creepy people do use Halloween for nefarious purposes.

            Our suggestion is that you prepare for next Halloween starting about three days after this Halloween. You will need the three days for your kids to start getting sick of their swag, at which time you can arrange for the remaining candy to disappear. If you do this arbitrarily, you will have the same drama as canceling the holiday in the first place. You can, however, go for the “there are kids that are so poor that they can’t have Halloween candy and I thought it would be good for you to share” trickery. Or you can ride out the angst.

            Once the immediate situation passes, then it is time to start a program of getting them healthy without going cold turkey. You can start limiting your children to less and less sweets per day, while encouraging them to go outside and play more. This education plan requires that you talk frequently with your kids to explain that sugar helps cause very serious illnesses and that it is addictive.

 

            This education plan probably needs to hit these high points:

  1. Sugar is addictive requiring that you come back for more. If you eat more than you can work off you will gain weight.
  2. Sugar suppresses the immune system, which may make the child sick more times during the year.
  3. Sugar can contribute to acne.
  4. Sugar can contribute to falling asleep in class or after meals.
  5. Sugar is empty calories with no vitamins, minerals, protein or anything else healthy.
  6. There are four grams of sugar  per teaspoon. Repeatedly requiring the child to do this math when you shop with them and then tell you how much sugar is in the product is vital. When given a choice between products choose the one with less sugar.
  7. Consistently remind the child that their symptoms may improve if they kick sugar and they will likely be pleased because they feel better.

 

            So now that your family is starting to heal, what now? Halloween and all the other holidays will come around again. Part of the reason that frequent conversations with the kids is vital to this process is that if your children experience less symptoms it is assumed that they will start believing in the program and do the heavy lifting for you throughout the year.

            But, still Halloween is coming back around. What to do?

            The first serious problem is What to Give Out from Our House. Armed with the knowledge that sugar is bad the homeowner doesn’t want to get caught in the ultimate hypocrisy where your own kids won’t eat sugar at Halloween, but we are OK with poisoning the neighbors’ offspring. The first thought will be to revert back to the traditional Halloween fare of apples or some such whole fruit.

            We have all heard variations of the razor blades in the apple urban myth, or the drugs injected into the apple by the creepy man living alone down the street story. Kids are taught to take things that only come in sealed packages, so fresh apples will get tossed.

            Fear not! There are plenty of inedible gifts that are almost as cool as candy and most can be found at the 99-cent store. A child given a pack of balloons will be almost as happy as the child coked up on Snickers bars. Probably, when they look back on your treat they may like it more, because you are knowingly allowing them to keep up with the water balloon arms race that rages every Halloween night.

            Similarly, pencils, pads of paper, and small toys all serve the same purpose of giving out stuff that imaginative kids can make cool simply by doing something with them. However, one class of items that really seem to work are glow bracelets, glow sticks and other forms of the chemical lights used by rescuers. Kids love them, especially if they get a cool color other than that standard Day-glo green. Parents like them because they will think that the Trick or Treating host is being responsible by giving out something that will help them keep track of their kids. Glow sticks are fantastically cheap and they and other novelties are online as well. Two sites to start at are www.flashingblinkylights.com and www.windycitiesnovelties.com.

            The second Halloween problem is the candy your children bring home from their foraging expedition. Our suggestion here is that you allow your kids a few pieces of candy and then take the rest away. Depending on the ages involved, you can probably convince your children that Santa Claus’ sister married the Great Pumpkin and became the Good Halloween Witch who goes around to all the houses and takes candy and leaves a cool present just inside the front door. This story should last as long as it takes your kids to stop believing in Santa Claus.

            There are some cool discussions that will arise here. Your precocious kids will mention that if sugar is bad for you why do we give it to the Good Witch? Your answer is that as a magic creature the normal rules of good health don’t apply to her. You can also tie this fiction in with Christmas and say that Santa will remember if the child pouted while giving his or her candy to the Good Witch. We can’t think of a better way to short circuit the crying jag that results from appropriating a child’s hard won candy.

            Obviously, you’d have to treat Halloween as another excuse to keep our economy going with incessant consumerism and gift buying. But, a Barbie doll or set of Matchbox cars left next to the door are cheap compared to the allergy shots, days out of school and other medical interventions required over the child’s lifetime because of our diet.

            Good health is a long process that requires constant reaffirmation and holidays seem to be the worst. However, there is a reason that the Chinese pictograph for Danger also means Opportunity. With just a little planning the danger of Halloween candy can be an opportunity for everyone to learn and have fun.

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