Halloween can be a scary time – and not just for the ghosts and ghouls that come out at night.
If you have diabetes all the extra sugar that’s part of the festivities can lead both children and adults into temptation overload.
“For someone with diabetes, managing food intake requires self-discipline and planning,” says Brenda Braslow, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in Indialantic, Florida, and a consultant for MyNetDiary. “When surrounded by mounds of Halloween candy in the stores, workplace and home, it’s especially challenging to be disciplined.”
For children with diabetes, it can even become upsetting as they watch friends eat candy without thinking twice about how much they eat, says Sandra Arévalo, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator and director of nutrition services for Montefiore Health System’s Community Programs in Bronx, New York.
The good news is that if you have diabetes, you don’t have to feel left out of the Halloween fun. You can have some candy – you just have to give some thought to how you’ll indulge. Here are some ways you can mindfully master Halloween’s sugary, high-carb temptations.
Stick to a limited number of snack-size candy bars. Many snack-size candies have 15 to 30 grams of carbohydrates, and that’s equal to one to two carb servings, Braslow says. “Many adults with Type 2 diabetes aim for about 30 to 60 carbohydrates per meal, depending on their body height and weight. They can then lighten up on the carbs at dinner to make room for a little extra carb from the candy,” she says.
If you’re a parent of a child with diabetes, you can ration snack-sized candy in a similar way. Lighten up on their lunch – making sure to add more vegetables and fiber – and let them have a piece of trick-or-treat candy after the meal, for example. If your child has Type 1 diabetes, remember to adjust insulin accordingly based on carb consumption.
One caution: Ellie Kagan, a pediatric nurse practitioner and diabetes educator at Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital in Baltimore, notes that with snack-size candy, it sometimes can be hard to track how much you’ve eaten. “Don’t forget to add up the bite sizes,” she says.
Savor your Halloween treats. When you decide on a Halloween sweet treat, fully enjoy it without feeling guilty. “Depriving yourself when you really want a treat never works,” Braslow says. In fact, depriving yourself can lead to overindulgence and then feeling lousy afterward.
Choose your trick-or-treat giveaways carefully. That can help you or your child avoid too much temptation with extra candy around the house. Some candy ideas that are more diabetes-friendly include sugar-free lollipops, gumballs and small candy bars with dark chocolate and peanuts. (Arévalo suggests the latter because it at least provides antioxidants with the chocolate and protein with the peanuts.) Other healthier trick-or-treat options include whole-grain cheese crackers, pretzels, popcorn and trail mix. Toys such as small rubber balls, containers of play dough, glow sticks, stickers, colorful pencils and similar items could also make your house popular among trick-or-treaters.
Keep it out of sight and out of mind. Don’t buy Halloween treats until the last minute if you know you’ll be tempted. “The problem is not the candy itself but how much of it we eat,” Arévalo says. “If we have one piece just to kill the craving, we’ll be OK, but if you’re the type that once you start, you can’t stop, put the candy out of sight.” This could be in a hard-to-reach location and in an opaque container. The worst place for candy? In a candy jar near the TV, Kagan cautions.
Plan with your kids. “Role play and discuss situations about how your child can handle treats where you may not be around,” advises Los Angeles-based Vandana Sheth, a registered dietitian nutritionist, certified diabetes educator and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Help them identify the right amounts, how to read labels and the importance of a small quantity.”
Allowing your child to have some treats responsibly often prevents sneaking it on the side, Braslow says. Another way to monitor portions is to divide the trick-or-treat stash into smaller bags and let your child know the candy should last a certain amount of time, such as two weeks, Kagan suggests. Of course, that candy shouldn’t be consumed all at once. “That’s when your blood sugar becomes impossible to control,” she says.
Encourage your child to save the candy wrappers so he or she knows (and you know) how much was consumed. If your child doesn’t yet know how to count, you can show him or her with pieces of candy how much is enough, Arévalo suggests. Even if your child slips up a bit, Braslow advises not shaming your child. That can often backfire and lead to rebellion later on.
Emphasize the noncandy fun. This could include carnivals, rides, a costume contest, pumpkin carving and similar ideas, Sheth says.
Donate candy. There are online programs and dental offices that will offer to buy back candy and send it to the troops overseas. In return, users may get small amounts of money, toothbrushes, gift cards or just the reward of knowing they’ve helped others. “Sometimes, the feeling of satisfaction of a good deed tastes better than sugar,” Arévalo says.
Try some homemade healthier alternatives. A fruit pizza station can take the place of cookie decorating, Sheth says. A fruit salad can include your favorite fruits as well as a half tablespoon of sweet condensed milk and mint, Arévalo suggests. Or, for a healthier sweet treat, you can just melt dark chocolate and use it to dip strawberries, apples or pears.
Put some strategies in place for any glucose overload. If you check your blood sugar and it’s higher than it should be, exercise is a great way to counteract things, as is drinking more water. “If you are on insulin, make sure you use more insulin based on how high your sugar is and your correction factor,” Arévalo advises.
Watch the alcoholic beverages. Of course, this tip is for adults only. If you’re at a Halloween party and decide to imbibe, eat protein-rich foods while partying and keep hydrated with water if you’re dancing, Arévalo says.
Vanessa Caceres, Contributor
Vanessa Caceres began writing for U.S. News in 2017, originally specializing in diabetes.