Halloween & Sugar Addiction

By Tania Tetrault Vrga

Halloween can be tricky for health conscious parents.

Call me your friendly neighbourhood Halloween buzzkill, but here’s a reminder that this holiday tradition is a recipe for addiction on a massive scale. Many health and nutrition practitioners have long suspected that sugar has addictive properties. I’ve certainly seen many clients battle with sugar addiction, along with the symptoms of withdrawal once they try to eliminate added sugar from their diet.

Sugar is addictive, and there is an increasing body of research to back this up.

A 2007 French study in Bordeaux by Lenoir, Serre, Cantin, and Ahmed found that rats chose sugar over cocaine, even when they were already addicted to cocaine, suggesting that intense sweetness surpasses cocaine reward. Difficulty stopping after “just one piece”, headaches or mood swings when abstaining from sugar for a day, and daily rituals requiring sugar such as needing a treat while watching TV are all classic signs of addiction.

If it’s a hard truth for you to handle, imagine how difficult it must be for a child at this time of year.

If you don’t plan to limit your child’s intake, be prepared to deal with the fallout when you find them sneaking into your purse to find spare change to feed their addiction. By the time you get around to reading this, you will likely have a closet full of sugary treats from this year’s festivities.

So what is a health conscious parent to do?

Here are a 10 strategies you can try to mitigate the damage…

  1. Make it about the experience, the fun of it rather than the candy haul. Carve some pumpkins, find a haunted house, or some other fun community activity, and then Halloween doesn’t have to be just about the trick or treating.
  2. Invite the Switch Witch over.  If you know your kids won’t lose interest in the candy so quickly, try the Switch Witch strategy.  The Switch Witch is the Tooth Fairy’s Halloween counterpart, who takes candy instead of teeth and leaves toys instead of money. Some kids will gladly give up some candy in exchange for that special toy or book they’ve been eyeing.
  3. It’s not a contest. Keep neighbourhood kids healthy by giving out small amounts of candy. Don’t feel the pressure to outdo your neighbour with excessive candy bags. Kids don’t need a whole candy bag from each house.
  4. Freeze some of the loot. Candy lasts a longer time in the freezer.
  5. Pick your battles. Artificial colours are very problematic for some kids, as they can cause hyperactive reactions. Some studies have shown them to be carcinogenic and therefore they are banned in most of Europe.  If your child has issues with artificial colours, or any other allergens such as nuts, you may want to exchange these candies with others that do not contain problematic ingredients.
  6. Save their teeth. Make sure that no matter how tired your child is coming home from the candy-fest, she will thoroughly brush her teeth and drink some water.
  7. Be charitable, kind of… Throw out the excess candy after a few days, or donate it. Young children tend to forget about their huge hoards of sweets. Simply discard them when the young ones are not around.
  8. Think outside the box. There’s nothing wrong with giving out toys, stickers, or other non-candy treats at Halloween.
  9. Keep it moving. Physical activity can help mitigate the effects of that sugar rush, so make sure to plan some fun movement based activities with the kids on the day of, and particularly the day after high sugar intake.
  10. Mind your timing. The terrifying effects of sugar on kids’ health and behaviour can be significantly mitigated if the sugar is ingested in the presence of protein or fibre. That means that a piece of candy post dinner will have an entirely different effect than that same piece of candy as a stand alone snack in the middle of the afternoon.

Want to learn more about how you can adopt a healthy lifestyle and be a role model for your kids?  Come in for a complimentary Help Session at North Star Fitness.