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How to Handle Halloween Candy According to a Dietitian

Halloween candy might not be known for its health benefits, but some treats do pack nutritional benefits that others lack.

Something about Halloween makes us all feel like kids again—whether it’s coming up with the perfect costume or visits to pumpkin patches to carve jack-o-lantern. For some, tearing into the bounty of candy you collected trick-or-treating as a kid was a unique kind of magic.

Nowadays, if you are trying to maintain or reach health goals or need to monitor your sugar intake, Halloween can feel off-limits. We are more aware now more than ever of the nutrition of what we eat—whether it is sugar levels, questionable ingredients, or food allergies.

In the spirit of the spooky season, we connect here with clinical dietitian Emily Rubin, RD, to sort out candies that provide zero nutritional value and the ones that pack some healthy benefits. Plus, how to make sure kiddos and adults with food allergies can still enjoy Halloween.

What are some of the worst candy choices if you’re trying to maintain or reach health goals?

It’s important to note that no one candy is better than another – candy is candy, and moderation is key. Even if your favorite doesn’t offer any nutrition, enjoy a couple of pieces mindfully, so you do not feel deprived!

Can you recommend healthier candy choices?

Candy is all sugar, so there may be no real “healthy” candy choices. If you’re looking for healthier options, you can find varieties that are 100-calorie sized or only have 10 grams of sugar per serving, which are great options if you want to set limits on what you’re consuming. Any candy with nuts and/or dark chocolate will be more satisfying, like Hershey’s Special Dark, Snickers, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, PayDay, Peanut Chews, and Mounds candy bars. Other lower-calorie candies include Tootsie Rolls and 3 Musketeers.

If you buy the minis, remember that they can add up very quickly. My best advice is to take a few out and then put the bag out of sight. If you have kiddos trick-or-treating, I encourage serving a healthy balanced meal before they head out, so they’re not starving when they dig into their candy collections!

How do we help kids that have food allergies still enjoy Halloween?

Keep your eye out for those teal pumpkins! With the rise of food allergies, like nuts, gluten, milk, soy, The Teal Pumpkin Project was inspired by a local awareness activity run by the Food Allergy Community of East Tennessee (FACET) and launched as a national campaign in 2014. Homes marked with a Teal Pumpkin will hand out non-food treats, such as glow sticks, stickers, or small toys, as an alternative to candy to trick-or-treaters.

[Editor’s Note: To find participating locations near you or to mark your own home as a part of the Teal Pumpkin project, click here.]

What kinds of candies are best for kids and people with gluten sensitivities or allergies?

Even though The Hershey Company provides a comprehensive list of gluten-free candies, it does not recommend any Halloween-specific varieties. Including the snack size and mini options due to the risk of gluten cross-contamination—this also goes for nut and lactose allergies/intolerance. It is no fun to have GI issues after eating the wrong kind of candy. There are also children with diabetes who may have to follow strict guidelines on how much candy they can have. If your child has any health condition associated with eating candy, it is important to talk to the doctor for guidance on handling Halloween treats.

If you or your child has any allergies, be sure to have allergy-free options at home so you can still take part in the fun.

Any other tips?

If you happen to have a lot of leftover candy that you don’t want to keep in the house, remember you can donate it to our troops, local homeless shelters, or food banks! If you’re in an office setting, bring it to the office to share with your coworkers—although they may not want the extra calories. Be sure to check for any COVID-precautions prior to donating! Also, skip the Halloween candy sale on November 1. Cheap bags of candy may seem like a good buy, but who needs the extra sugar and calories—coming into the holiday season full of delectable food?

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