Choose to be healthy, all year round!

by Erin Cox, RD

Have you noticed the candies and chocolates crowding our grocery aisles? No doubt your children have! Halloween is approaching and the beginning of the holiday season is here. This is the time of year where Americans splurge, and a couple holiday pounds can be gained. The problem is, most of those pounds don’t come off. According to government statistics, 66% of American adults are now overweight or obese. Our children are following suit. The percentage of children who are overweight has almost tripled since 1980, and now 1 in 5 kids are overweight. Unfortunately, these numbers are climbing. It looks like those holiday pounds are adding up. This is why we need to remember that on Halloween and throughout this season of food splurging, healthy eating choices are as important as ever for you and your family.

Food is a wonderful part of any holiday celebration, which makes it a difficult time to think about cutting back on some unhealthy favorites. To work towards this goal, you and your family can start by deciding on a few goodies and “splurges” that you associate with the holidays. Plan on including these; avoid other treats that you don’t enjoy as much. Work to find other options that are tasty and nutritious in those grocery aisles. While you shop for goodies, there are a few things to look out for on the Nutrition Facts Label. Included in these are Transfat, High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), and Sodium (Salt).

Transfat is considered one of the “bad” fats. It is so labeled because it raises your LDL cholesterol. Increased levels of LDL cholesterol will place you at a higher risk for heart disease and heart attack. It is important for everyone to limit this fat, along with saturated fat, to small amounts in their diet. Foods high in transfat include commercially baked goods, crackers, chips, and other processed foods. You can find transfat listed on every nutrition facts label. You may be surprised to see that the amount of transfat varies even in similar products; reading labels is needed in order to make the best choice. Look for items with 0 mg of transfat.

High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), an added sweetener, began to appear in our food supply around the 1970’s. Its prevalence has been increasing ever since. In fact, the rise in the amount of HFCS in our diet and the rise of obesity have been climbing at a similar rate. Many experts say there is a connection. The highest source of HFCS in our food comes from sweetened beverages such as soda and juice. However, you can also find it in cereals, yogurt, baked goods, salad dressings, candies, and canned fruit, to name a few. To avoid this sweetener look for juices labeled 100% juice, and items stating, “unsweetened” or “no sugars added.” Look for high-fructose corn syrup in the Ingredient List. Items are listed by weight, so the farther HFCS is on the list, the better.

Salt may add flavor, but it can be dangerous. The American Medical Association is calling for measures to reduce the sodium (salt) in our food supply. Why? Excessive salt intake is linked to high blood pressure, leading to heart disease and strokes. Americans consume too much salt, many consume double or three times the amount they should. The goal is less than 2,300 mg a day. On the food label, sodium is listed in both “mg” amounts and % Daily Value (DV). Look for snack foods to be under 150 mg, or under 6% of your DV per serving.

So what treats need to be avoided and what are some better alternatives? Here are some ideas:

Instead of…


Full-sized candy bars Bite sized treats
Packaged cookies Granola bars
Chips and crackers Trail mix or unsalted nuts
Chewy candies (which are bad for teeth) Sugar-free gum

Another way to make healthy eating a part of the holidays is to prepare foods at home. Not only is this a great family activity, it is also an easy way to avoid transfat, HFCS, and salt. By using canola or transfat-free margarine in your baking instead of butter or lard, you can virtually eliminate transfat. Your baked items can go without salt entirely. Use sugar, not high-fructose corn syrup, to eliminate another problem ingredient.

Here are homemade treats you might try:

Popcorn balls

Fresh caramel apples

Mini pumpkin muffins

Spiced apple cider with 100% juice

Trail Mix

Want one more idea for a green Halloween? Try trick-or-treating for your local food bank! Let your neighbors know, and collect non-perishable food items instead of candy on Halloween. As members of the Seattle community we can begin to combat the obesity epidemic by joining Green Halloween and Treeswing in their efforts to promote health and wellness, for ourselves and for our environment. Explore this website for more ideas on how to make Halloween healthier with food and non-food treats!

Erin Cox, RD
Renal Dietitian

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