Fall is here and the falling leaves and bare stems expose the cores of bushes and trees. The brisk mornings and early sundown only add to the eager anticipation for the celebration to take place in just a few days. Halloween is a close second to Christmas in the hearts and minds of children. Costumes and candy, free candy friends and neighbors eagerly give out is the perfect celebration for a holiday tailor made for children and dentist’s alike.
The first question I am often asked is; is candy bad for my children? The second question is; how much is too much?
No, candy is not good for your child, but it isn’t going to kill them either. Only the father of Willie Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory strictly forbids anything sweet from passing through the lips of their children. There is nothing wrong with a treat from time to time. We get into trouble when we do it too much. Too much sugar causes excessive stress on the pancreas. Studies have shown child who eat or drink excessive amounts of products loaded with sugar are at a greater risk of having type-2 diabetes later in life.
Candy is nothing but flavored sugar products with other ingredients, some of which are healthy when eaten by themselves, i.e. peanuts. Think of these simple sugar treats as Red Bulls for kids. Candy will wind them up like a top which is why they are bouncing off the walls after eating it. The reason teachers have school holiday parties at the end of the day is so the parents and daycare facilities can deal with their sugared up children. Candy along with sweetened beverages are the leading sources of empty calories in children which contribute to the childhood obesity epidemic we have in this region.
So should you let your children go trick or treating? Yes there is no nutritional reason to rob your child the opportunity to dress up and pan handle to your neighbors for their sugary loot. As long as parents act like parents, ration out the fruits of their children's labor, and make sure to brush or have them brush their teeth correctly so any negative affects that the candy causes can be minimized.
So how much is too much?
It depends on the child but a good rule of thumb is no more than two to three pieces at a time. If your child is literally vibrating through your home you have given them way too much candy. It is realistic that the candy legally pilfered from your neighbors on Halloween should last until Christmas. If your little bundle of joy is intent on eating every last piece and will sneak to do so this is a wonderful opportunity to teach that there are consequences for their actions.
It is OK to throw away candy. We throw away things daily that are much more important than free candy and your child’s blood sugar and smile are definitely more important.
William Reid, a former restaurant and country club chef, is a nutritionist with the Edgecombe County Health Department.