The Taming Of The Candy Monster — Or Is It More Than That?

October 31, 2011



Halloween signals the beginning of “food season” for most Americans. As your children go trick or treating or attend a fall festival, developing a comprehensive strategy to lower sugar intake is more effective than focusing in on this day of high sugar feasting. The problem is the candy monster is not just a once a year concern and it is not just candy. As Americans we are drowning in the sweet stuff. The average American consumes approximately 45 pounds of sugar per year. It is the added sugars by the manufacturers that are the real concern. There are natural sugars in fresh fruit and milk that are not a concern. These foods are nutritious and we want to encourage our children and family to consume more of these nutritional powerhouses.

So where can we begin? Should we throw away the candy?

According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the average teen consumes 28 teaspoons of sugar per day or about 21% of their total calorie needs. The major sources of added sugar in the American diet include regular soft drinks (33%), sugars and candies (16%), cakes and pies (13%), fruit drinks (10%), and grains, such as sugar sweetened cereals and bars (6%). In this survey, teens who had the highest intake of added sugar had the lowest levels of HDL or “good cholesterol”, increasing their long term risk of heart disease. Adults are not much better with a total of 16% of the total calories coming from sugar, leading to a decrease in HDL cholesterol and an increase in triglycerides-another blood fat associated with an increase risk of heart disease. So it is not just the children that need a taming of the sugar monster!

A strategy to reduce the total sugar amount in your child’s diet is to eliminate the biggest offender — sugar sweetened drinks. These beverages have little to no nutritional value and often these liquid calories don’t make you feel as full as real food, increasing the risk of overeating. The average soda, fruit punch or lemonade contains approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar where a regular size candy bar has about 7 teaspoons. If you are drinking 3-12 ounces soft drinks per day this contains more sugar than 4 candy bars. Tackling sugar sweetened cereals is another target for reducing sugars. Switching from a highly sugared cereal (4 teaspoons) to a low sugar cereal (½ teaspoon) can make a difference particularly for those children and teens who love cereal and have larger than average portions. By reducing sweet drink consumption and sweetened cereals or cereal bars it is possible to save over 10 teaspoons of sugar every day. Think of the savings, that is over over 3,600 teaspoons per year! This savings is much more important significant than just limiting Halloween candy.

But what can you do about all of those Halloween treats?

After all the candy is collected, sort out 4 or 5 favorite pieces and enjoy. Then, let your child add a piece to their lunch or for a dessert after dinner. Because most of the typical candies are fun size the amount of sugar is limited by the actual portion size served. As for the rest of it, put it in the freezer and the “out of sight-out of mind” concept will reduce the visibility. In addition to reducing the sugar, it also reduces the likelihood of mom and dad having to go head-to-head with the candy monster but still achieving the ultimate goal-reducing overall sugar intake!

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