Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Health: Best Picks for Nutritious or Alternative Treats

Halloween is just around the corner. Soon you'll see ghosts and goblins lined up with their Halloween bags held open. Traditionally, candy has been the treat of choice, but do kids really need another sugary treat dropped into their bags? According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, kids get between 13 and 16 percent of their total calories from added sugar. That's not very reassuring from a health standpoint. If you're concerned about how much sugar kids are getting these days, there are some healthier Halloween alternatives that won't decay teeth or send kids' blood sugar on a rollercoaster ride. Here are some healthy Halloween treats to offer kids that ring your doorbell this year.

Fruity Snacks

Skip the candy entirely and hand out fruity snacks instead. Rolled fruit, dried fruit without added sugar or freeze-dried fruit aren't as healthy as eating whole fruit, but some parents won't allow their kids to eat Halloween candy that isn't packaged. Do the next best thing and give out individually-packaged fruit roll-ups or other fruit snacks without added sugar -- but watch out for yogurt-covered fruit snacks. They often contain hydrogenated oils, a type of trans fat. Read the label carefully.
Packages of Seeds

Sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds are a good source of vitamin E and minerals like magnesium, iron and zinc. Look for small packages of roasted pumpkin or sunflower seeds to drop in Halloween bags in place of candy. Nuts are also a good source of vitamins, minerals and healthy fats, but they're not a smart choice for a Halloween treat since nut allergies aren't uncommon. Fortunately, allergies to sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds are rare.
Sugar-Free Gum
Sugary candy and gum leads to tooth decay, but sugar-free chewing gum sweetened with xylitol, a sugar alcohol, protects against dental decay. Some parents don't want their kids exposed to synthetic sweeteners like aspartame, but xylitol is safe for all age groups, and kids won't notice a taste difference. They'll just enjoy blowing bubbles! Even dentists recommend that kids and adults munch on xylitol gum to prevent dental caries.

Cereal or Cereal Bars

Hand out boxes of whole-grain cereal in single-serving boxes for a "better for you" Halloween treat. Read the label and choose one that has no more than 5 grams of sugar and at least 5 grams of fiber. Pre-packaged cereal bars that are low in sugar are another alternative that kids and moms can both agree on.
Dark Chocolate

If you still want to stay in the Halloween spirit by handing out candy, choose dark chocolate with as little added sugar as possible. Dark chocolate is a good source of heart-healthy antioxidants as long as you choose one with a high cacao content. Look for one with a cacao content of 70 percent or greater for maximal health benefits. Dark chocolate is a healthier choice than milk chocolate for kids -- and for adults.
String Cheese

Buy individually wrapped strands of string cheese for a Halloween handout that's high in bone-building calcium and protein. Kids enjoy string cheese almost as much as candy and it won't cause tooth decay -- but be aware that some kids have allergies to dairy products.

Popcorn without added butter is low in calories and is a whole food that's high in antioxidants. Surprised? It's also a good source of fiber. Look for small snack-size packages of popcorn to drop into Halloween bags when the ghoulish day arrives.
The Bottom Line?
Break out of the candy mold, and choose healthier treats to give out this Halloween. If you're sticking with the candy theme, look for dark chocolate with as little added sugar as possible. The kids decked out in their Halloween finest will enjoy it -- and their moms will be forever grateful.

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