Health Column: Exchange candy for healthy treats

Halloween candy displays have been up since early September and you may already have bought your share of goodies for trick-or-treaters.

But if you bought candy ahead and it’s been open in your house, you’ve probably already dipped into it and eaten more than you planned yourself.

Research from Brian Wansink of Cornell University shows that the easier food is to obtain, or if it’s anywhere in sight, the more likely we are to eat it. So the evidence is that the earlier you purchase the candy, the more likely you will be to need to purchase it again before Halloween. Stores and candy companies know this and simply keep their shelves resupplied.

A treat once in a while is fine; that’s why it’s called a treat. But we have so many opportunities to have “treats” — sugary drinks, snacks from the vending machine, office doughnuts and more — that they aren’t just occasional treats. They’ve become household staples.

That means extra sugar, added fat and more calories, which can lead to weight gain, overweight and obesity. Excess body fat increases your risk for several cancers, diabetes and heart disease. Now that’s scary.
So this year, if you participate in giving out candy to little witches, princesses, superheroes or ghosts, think about how much you’ll need and whether you’ll be tempted to eat candy that isn’t part of your eating plan if it’s in your house.

Better yet, try something different. Trick-or-treaters will get a lot of candy from others. Why not be creative and think of other treats that are fun, colorful and don’t involve loads of sugar and fat?

Think about fruit, nuts and other healthier snacks, such as boxed raisins. They’ll not only help protect the health of the children, but help you avoid those extra calories that come with the candy you’d ordinarily have around the house.

There are also inexpensive toys likely to delight the children without filling them with unnecessary and unhealthy calories.

And if you have already purchased candy, get it out of your house once the trick-or-treaters have made their rounds.
Most people buy more candy than they need for ttrick-or-treaters and end up eating it themselves, stretching a one-day holiday into a month-long binge that only leads to Thanksgiving and the December holiday season when much unhealthy food abounds.

That two-month binge can easily result in weight gain of five pounds or more and increase your chance for serious illnesses.

So do yourself and your family a favor now by avoiding the Halloween binge and begin to plan healthy snacks to help you throughout the holiday season.

This column was adapted from a column provided by the American Institute for Cancer Research that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk. The organization funds cutting-edge research provides practical tools and information to help them prevent — and survive — cancer.