Ask a Nutrition Student: Tricks for choosing Halloween treats

AddThis

I have a dilemma: I want to partake in Halloween’s frightening festivities, but don’t want to be cursed by candy calories. What’s a ghoul to do?
— Healthy Ghoul

Healthy Ghoul, although we may not encounter trick-or-treaters skipping from dorm room to dorm room, there is certainly not a shortage of candy on campus. 

But don’t let the calories completely scare you away from enjoying a few Halloween snacks. All foods are fine in moderation – including candy. In fact, a study published in the journal Appetite shows evidence that restricting yourself from a specific food results in a “rebound” effect: an increase in the cravings, and ultimately the intake, of the forbidden food. You always want what you can’t have.

So bypass the hex on all candy, but keep reading — I have some tricks for your Halloween treats.

My first may seem somewhat intuitive, but as inhabitants of a supersized society, we fall victims to portion distortion everyday. We all loved the houses that gave us the king-sized candy bar when we were young monsters, but as aspiring adults, it’s time to trade in the big bar for the “fun” or “mini” option. 

You may be thinking that there isn’t anything fun about a fun-sized candy bar, but how sweet is it to save yourself 180 calories? That’s the difference between a normal, 1.5-ounce chocolate candy bar and a mini 0.3-ounce version.

Science backs that when candy is in smaller units, you consume fewer calories too. In a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers gave subjects the option to eat as much candy as they wanted, giving one group regular-sized candies while the other group’s were cut in half. They found that people ate the same number of candies, regardless of size. 

If fun-sized isn’t your favorite, hard candies such as lollipops, peppermints and jawbreakers are good options. Stash them in your desk drawer or purse for a sweet treat. Since hard candy involves more licking and less chewing, it takes longer to consume the candy and therefore, the calories.

Choosing between sugar candies (think taffy or gummy candy) and chocolate? Go with chocolate – the darker the better. That’s where all the good-for-you nutrients are. 

Most gummy candy is straight sugar with little nutritional value. And don’t let packages that tout “fat-free” fool you. They may contain zero fat, but their sugar content is the main monster under the bed.

A typical serving size of gummy bears (17, if you were unaware) has 21 grams of sugar – that’s over five teaspoons! The Academy of Nutrition Dietetics now recognizes high carbohydrate intake, which includes refined sugar, as a greater risk for heart disease than saturated fat. A paper published in Progress of Cardiovascular Diseases suggests that dietary guidelines should shift their focus from decreasing saturated fat intake to reducing refined sugar.

So this Halloween, feel free to eat, drink and be scary. It’s all about moderation. Ration out one to two pieces of candy per day for about a week, and then toss (or donate) the rest. You can get your sugar fix without feeling haunted by your health.