Dr. L. Lee Coyne
Nutrition Consulting
Dr. Lee, the Healthy Professor

Halloween Food Hazards

Written by Dr. L. Lee Coyne

Gone are the days when the “Treat” part of “Trick or Treat” was an apple, home-made baking or bag of popcorn.

The dangers of some “sicko” tampering with a non-commercially packaged items has made these more nutritious treats obsolete.

“Treats” now refer to pre-packaged, special-sized commercial candy products and the measure of a successful Halloween seems to be based on how big was the haul.

The content and quality of this exercise raises some red flags for one who spends his time educating people on the value of consuming healthy food.

When I refer to “healthy food” it means during meals and snacks. Some seem to believe that snacks and “treats” should not nor need not follow any of the rules of good nutrition.

It is possible that when treats occurred on the occasional basis that such an attitude was without harm. However, today the concept of treats occurs daily and in some cases multiple times per day. So ‘what’s wrong with this picture?’ you say? Read on and I’ll tell you.

There has been reported research that the highest rate of school absenteeism occurs during the week following one of our major celebrations (Thanksgiving, Halloween, birthdays, Easter, weddings, etc.)

These events correspond to excess consumption of food and drink not conducive to good health.

4 Red Flags Associated With Excess Candy and Liquid Candy (Sweetened Drinks) Consumption.

  1. Too many ‘empty Calories’ – that is Calories containing few to no nutrients.
  2. Chronically elevated blood insulin levels. Insulin is the ‘storage hormone’ contributing to excess fat storage and a reduction in fat burning abilities. Recent estimates, considered alarming, are that 20% of school age children are obese and nearly 50% are over-weight.
    Chronically elevated insulin also contributes to:
    • Elevated cholesterol (a problem for many over weight children) which has serious long-term health implications.
    • Elevated tri-glycerides another heart disease and vascular disease risk factor.
    • Inflammatory problems ranging from psoriasis, eczema, migraines, asthma, and arthritis.
  3. Hypoglycemia, which is a rapid drop in blood sugar and is characterized by frequent fatigue not associated with exercise, poor concentration, mood swings, irrational behavior and frequent illness due to a challenge to the immune system. There is evidence that many ADD children suffer from hypoglycemia and Yeast infections (which are consistent with high sugar or carbohydrate diets.)
  4. Increase risk of creating a Type II diabetic. We now find a new Diabetic in this country every 8 minutes and just 5 - 6 years ago the rate was one every 23 minutes (a 3 fold increase in 5 - 6 years.) This condition was once dubbed “Adult onset Diabetes” but that tag is disappearing as more and more children are diagnosed with the same condition — totally controllable with diet.

Now many will say ‘what’s the big deal about a kid having some fun with treats at Halloween or any other celebration?’ My answer would be – ‘nothing if it were occasional' but it is not occasional.

In fact the ‘Glycemic’ load (a measure of total insulin response to total carbohydrate consumption) created by a successful Halloween excursion will carry on for days to weeks, depending on how much “stuff” was collected and allowed to be consumed.

Add to that the current routine of frequent treats and we have the prescription for health disaster which is not short term but setting the child up for long term problems.

Enough gloom and doom. There are some steps parents can exercise to minimize the hazards and allow the child to participate without feeling they are ‘weird’ or deprived.

My best suggestion is to ration the treats over a longer period of time and to incorporate them with a protein snack.

The presence of protein – particularly if eaten before the treat - will slow and reduce the rate and quantity of insulin secreted by the Pancreas and therefore reduce all of the risks listed above.

Protein snacks like cheese, milk, nuts and seeds, beef jerky, and of course all of the other familiar protein foods. Encourage the "protein first" habit to precede any high sugar, carbohydrate or even alcohol (for the adults) treat or snack and every one will enjoy more energy, healthy immune systems and long term health.

Have a happy, responsible and healthy Halloween.