Tag Archives: halloween sugar

Halloween: Deconstructed

When it comes to Halloween candy, how much is too much?

Halloween is over, but the memory lingers on. You can find it in the form of new residents of kitchen counters across the land: bags, pillowcases and plastic pumpkins full of added sugar. Have you ever looked at one of these bags and wondered: So. How much sugar is in there?

I mean, sure, it’s a lot. A ridiculous lot. But how much of a ridiculous lot?

Three pounds of candy

While looking at my daughter Ilsa’s haul soon after it appeared, it suddenly occurred to me to wonder this very thing. So, in the name of questionable, nosy-parent, food-nerd science, I set about to find out. Ilsa’s candy bag weighed in at just over three pounds. I dumped the contents onto a blanket and sorted it just like the kids do after coming home with it, grouping by type… Kit Kats over here, Sour Patch Kids over there, weird off-brand candy no one will trade you for over there.

The real question: does Ilsa realize how nerdy her mom is?

I compiled a list of all the different candies. And then it was time to figure out the sugar content of each and every piece. (After checking many sites, I found this one to be the most useful: https://www.nutritionix.com.) Once I added it all up, Ilsa’s fairly average candy haul turned out to contain approximately: 795 grams of sugar.

To put this in context, on their website, the World Health Organization currently recommends added sugar not exceed 10 percent of daily calories, or 25 grams per day. So, if we divide the amount of sugar in Ilsa’s Halloween bag by the WHO’s recommendation per day— 795/25— Ilsa’s candy is enough to provide her with all her added sugar for 31 days.

Interestingly, though, there’s more. The WHO website then goes on to further recommend that, actually, it would be even better if people restricted added sugar to 5 percent of daily calories, or half the amount they recommended just a minute ago, in the previous sentence. http://www.who.int/elena/titles/guidance_summaries/sugars_intake/en/

By this new and improved standard, of course, Ilsa’s candy lasts twice as long, or about two months. This assumes, of course, that she hasn’t eaten added sugar anywhere else in her diet.

But even if one never eats any dessert at all, we know that most people are getting added sugar from other sources in their diet. From juice. From ketchup. From store-bought chicken broth or salad dressing or crackers or mayonnaise or bread or flavored yogurts… you get the idea. What this means is that having more than one piece of candy per day is extremely likely to make you exceed your recommended daily limit of sugar. So if you can manage to limit your kids candy consumption to one piece per day (dare we hope for every other day?) that’s best. That’s the first take-away.

But there’s another, more important take-away; it starts with the fact that one pound of sugar is equal to approximately 454 grams. If Ilsa had brought home a three pound bag full of sugar- just sugar, without nuts or rice crisps or additives or any other ingredients- it would amount to… 1362 grams. So, working backwards, knowing that her bag actually contains 795 grams of sugar tells us that her bag is just over fifty percent pure sugar.

Caution: feet are not edible

I promise not to ask you what time the two trains will meet. But here’s the kicker: weighing in at three pounds, Ilsa’s bag contains, roughly, a pound and a half of pure sugar, right? As we’ve already concluded, this means that the WHO would recommend she eat her candy over the course of a month or two, but really more like three or four if you include the fact that she will very likely be getting added sugar from some other sources in her diet.

Meanwhile, according to Livestrong.com, the average American eats three pounds of sugar per week. https://www.livestrong.com/article/474832-recommended-grams-of-sugar-per-day/  So what the WHO is recommending Ilsa eat in one or two months, the average American is consuming it’s equivalent in… (wait for it)… three and a half days.

Let me say that once more, because it’s important:

The amount of sugar the WHO recommends we eat in one or two months, the average American eats in three and a half days.

 Try to imagine eating 95 pieces of candy, an entire trick-or-treater’s bag, in three days. That’s about 27 pieces of Halloween candy a day. This level of sugar consumption is not theoretical- this is what the average American already does, Halloween season or not. So. Does the obesity epidemic make a little more sense now? (Not to mention the diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, liver disease, and hypertension epidemics?)

In this light, the statistics bear revisiting:

  • Right now, sixty percent of Americans are overweight or obese; if nothing changes, within two decades it will be ninety percent.
  • Already, being a healthy weight in the United States is the exception, not the rule.
  • Perhaps worst of all, this generation of children will be the first in modern history to live shorter lives than their parents.

We’d like to think that Halloween is a special time of year when we indulge in sugar a little more than we should. The reality— and the real lesson of my nosy-parent science experiment— is that those big bags of added sugar do not represent the exception. They represent the rule. It’s Halloween in America- Every. Single. Day. And the consequences of our unwillingness to recognize this fact are enormous.

Thank U Smarties! The one candy that has no fructose– the bad guy of added sugar

I know no one wants to be the dorky parent who hands out erasers or nickels at Halloween, or the no-fun parent won’t let her kid have more than one piece of their hard-earned candy every day or two, but you know what? I, for one, am embracing my dorkiness. Also, I’m hiding Ilsa’s candy bag in the freezer.

A Year Of No Sugar: Post 80

Ah, Halloween. Parents have developed many strategies for dealing with it, this mother-of-all-candy-holidays. Let me count the ways…

  • My friend Miles says that in Dayton, Ohio the “Switch Witch” comes to visit many of her fellow parents houses the night after Halloween, leaving toys in place of sweets.
  • There’s always bribery. I hear many parents follow the example of the dentist I heard about on NPR: offer to buy the crap to keep it out of their kids tummies. In the case of the dentist, the going rate was $1 per pound, up to 5 pounds. Not bad!
  • I’m pretty sure my Mom adhered to the “Out of sight, out of mind” policy, in which we would eat one piece of candy after dinner for a week or so, and then we’d forget all about it. The remainder would, I’m quite certain, end up in the trash well before it was time to worry about pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce.
  • I know at least one family who simply opts out altogether. They stay home and pick a special family dessert to make instead.

Even if you’re not convinced that sugar is a toxin, most parents seem to get that consuming candy on Halloween-scale is not good. Maybe it’s because of the unfortunate kid every year at the parade or the party who overdoes it and throws up, or maybe we just know, instinctively that consuming a pillowcase full of anything, anything at all, can’t be good.

Of course, nobody eats ALL their Halloween candy, do they? Here’s what we always used to do when I was a kid: after trick-or-treating till our lips turned blue from the late October air (“Mo-oooom! If I wear my coat no one can see my costume!!”) we’d all congregate on the floor of someone’s living room and pour our bags of cheap treats out on the floor to sort and count and trade. I always liked this part the best- we were like little pirates, or maybe bankers, gleefully portioning out the gold coins.

Greta’s Halloween Haul

And now that I have kids, they do this. Monday night our gaggle of kids racing ahead and dutiful parents lagging behind all trooped back to my friend Katrina’s house where the kids immediately took over the living room by unceremoniously dumping several tons of high fructose corn syrup in a variety of colorful wrappers onto her carpet. A frenzy of sorting and showing off and bartering began.

“I have NERDS!”

“Look! A mint-flavored Milky Way!”

“What are these?”

Who gives out BBQ chips?”

“Oo! What do you want for your Sour Patches?”

Meanwhile, Katrina’s dog Inky was wasting no time. Ignoring the candy completely, he made like a Hoover vacuum when an entire baggie filled with popcorn ended up on the floor, deftly maneuvering around the Tootsie Rolls and tiny boxes of Junior Mints.

I laughed when I saw that our friend Robin had brought homemade mini-cupcakes along for everyone. It reminded me of the Farmer’s Market last weekend when virtually every vendor was plying my children with candy- pressing Starbursts and — into my hand before I could say no… of course they went directly into the trash when we got home.

School Halloween “Snack”

Nonetheless, I have to admit I was astounded on Halloween day to walk into my older daughter’s sixth grade classroom to find all the kids having a Halloween treat consisting of a sugar doughnut and a large handful of assorted candy. My eyes got big. What, did they not feel tonight was going to be sufficient? Did they have to be primed with sugar, pre-event too?

People just can’t seem to help themselves when it comes to the idea of making a child happy. And what easier way to make a child happy than with an inexpensive little bit of sugar? Of course, the problem is, it’s too easy, so everyone everyone EVERYONE wants to get into the act. Robin’s adorable, homemade cupcakes aren’t the problem, it’s all the junk which likely came before that, and will likely come after that too. I know I sound like a broken record, but I truly do think that we’ve simply forgotten that everyone loves to see that smile on that kids face… everyone loves the feeling of making a kid happy. What we need to realize is that it has become SO cheap and SO easy to hand a child a treat, that inflation has set in. No longer is it sufficient for the teacher to bring the kids doughnuts- there has to be a pile of candy next to it. No longer is it sufficient for kids to get a single treat at each house, now many houses go to the trouble of packing little paper candy bags full of several treats each. No longer is it sufficient to have a treat or two (or fourteen) from the candy bag that night, we have to provide dessert on top of that. Because, what else do you do? It’s Halloween! Or Christmas! Or Valentine’s Day! Or somebody’s birthday! Or you’re just feeling depressed! Or happy! You see what I’m getting at here.

Sweet Poison author David Gillespie told me that he’s always interested to watch what happens to American kids after Halloween: they all start getting sick. Sure, you could blame it on the change of temperature, but what if it’s not just that? Would we all be so quick to dole out those easy-to-come-by bits of happiness to children if we knew it was going to hinder their immune systems? Would we view it the way we view handing out free cartons of cigarettes to soldiers now?

Then again, I still love Halloween. I spend much of the month of October getting ready for it, picking out costume patterns and fabric with my children, and then sewing like a madwoman. When the appointed night comes, we venture forth, armed with flashlights and reflective tote-bags and cameras, not to mention the optional umbrellas or long-underwear . We tromp around West Pawlet Village with our friends, often running into other groups and joining up like packs of amiable, gaudily-dressed and highly-supervised wild animals.

Then, this year, the most amazing thing happened. Early on, our group had effectively snowballed to an impressive size- perhaps thirty or more adults and kids found ourselves congregated in the parking lot of the West Pawlet Fire Department. Out of nowhere something was happening. Grown-ups were yelling “Stop! Stop! Everybody come over here! Everybody join hands!”

As we all looked around blankly, trying to discern what exactly was going on, it became clear that my friend Sue was orchestrating something. All thirty or so of us large and small and costumed and not put down our flashlights and bags of candy and joined hands.

Once we were all in an enormous circle, Sue let go hands at just one spot so we formed a curved line. Then she began walking around the interior of our circle, making a spiral inward, inward. And because we had all joined hands, we were all walking too, following her, passing each other, giggling and making faces and talking to one another animatedly.

Once she got to the middle-middle-middle and could go no further she turned 180 degrees and began to walk a spiral back out again. Have you ever done this game? It seems like something I must’ve done at camp or elementary school or something, but never, never had I done it on a moonlit night in the parking lot of the West Pawlet Fire Department with a group of parents and children I love so well. And never before with a group of tiny Mad Hatters and queens and monkeys and fairies and zombie monsters. As we spun around and around the wheel of our friends and children, it felt like we had joined the witches themselves to perform a rite of autumn. It felt positively pre-Christian.

Isn’t it something like this- that is so much harder to achieve than that fleeting bit of happiness that comes in a plastic wrapper- that we really want from our holidays? A sense of connection, of community, of ritual, of transformation? You can’t buy that by the bag down at Rite Aid, and I suppose that’s how it should be.