By: Robyn Flipse, MS. MA, RDN–
It’s that time of year when our homes and offices become filled with an assortment of chocolatey, chewy and crunchy candies as we approach Halloween and its aftermath. I know I can’t resist grabbing a few fun-sized bags of my favorite M&Ms from the trick-or-treat bowl when I see them. But what does this sugar-laden holiday mean for the 30 million American children and adults who have diabetes? And how much added sugar can the rest of us enjoy without putting our health at risk?
According to a new survey from the National Confectioner’s Association (NCA), Halloween is the top candy-giving holiday of the year with retail sales expected to reach $2.6 billion in 2015! Fortunately, most people understand candy is a treat to be enjoyed in moderation and nearly 80 percent of parents report they have a plan in place to help children make smart choices after bringing home their Halloween haul. Some parents limit the number of pieces their child is allowed per day while others limit the stash to a certain amount and then get rid of the rest. I like to swap out some candy for sugar-free gum since chewing it can help prevent cavities at the same time it eliminates a food that can cause them.
Since Halloween isn’t the only time of year when we eat candy it helps to know how much added sugar we can include in our diets to make room for it when we do. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends we limit added sugar to less than 10 percent of our total calories. This is equivalent to around 50 grams of sugar (12 teaspoons) a day for someone consuming 2000 calories. The WHO suggests further reductions in added sugar to less than five percent of total calories for additional health benefits.
The NCA reported candy contributes about 50 calories a day to the average American diet, which can mean 4-12 grams of sugar (1-3 teaspoons) depending on the type of candy. That would get you approximately 2 chocolate kisses or 2 hard candies, so if your habit is greater than that you may want to satisfy your sweet tooth with the sugar-free varieties.
The good news for people with diabetes is that the day after Halloween is the start of American Diabetes Month. November 1st is a perfect time to refocus on the goals for good diabetes management, including eating a healthy and balanced diet. Added sugars can be a part of it, but the amount is based on individual carbohydrate allowances at each meal and snack. Since many foods that provide essential nutrients are also a source of carbohydrate, such as fruit, grains and vegetables, it is important for people with diabetes to use their available carbohydrate count for those choices first.
Artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, provide a way to sweeten foods and beverages without unwanted sugar, carbohydrates and calories. For example, a packet of Equal® can replace 2 teaspoons of sugar in a cup of coffee, bowl of oatmeal or dish of yogurt. Another option is to make your own sweet treats like these Double Chocolate Brownies and Fruit Kabobs with Coconut Cream Dipping Sauce. They do have calories and carbohydrates from other ingredients, but less than the original versions and still taste great.
Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN is a registered dietitian, cultural anthropologist and scientific advisor to the Calorie Control Council, whose 30+ year career includes maintaining a busy nutrition counseling practice, teaching food and nutrition courses at the university level, and authoring 2 popular diet books and numerous articles and blogs on health and fitness. Her ability to make sense out of confusing and sometimes controversial nutrition news has made her a frequent guest on major media outlets, including CNBC, FOX News and USA Today. Her passion is communicating practical nutrition information that empowers people to make the best food decisions they can in their everyday diets. Reach her on Twitter @EverydayRD and check out her blog The Everyday RD.