“Trick or treat!” We know it feels like you just packed up your shorts and flip flops when summer ends, but pumpkin spice lattes and leaf-scented candles start to take over by September, when it’s already time to get ready for Halloween.
Even if Halloween is not your favourite holiday, you have to admit there’s just something about it: the costumes, the haunted houses, the treats. For many of us, Halloween is a hall pass on our healthy eating habits. One mini Snickers bar turns into two, then four, then suddenly there are angry children standing on the porch because the candy bowl is empty.
Not to be a buzzkill, but those little candies add up to big problems for our insides. Pretty much every organ is affected by a rush of sugar, and they don’t appreciate it. Here are just a few effects of that late night Reese’s binge.
Sugar is Confusing for Our Bodies
When we go all out in a candy binge, our bodies can’t handle all the sugar and must store it for later as fat. Yes, those fat-free fruity candies cause your body to create more fat! Eating an excessive amount of added sugar causes our triglyceride levels to rise. Triglycerides are fats that travel through the bloodstream and heart.
Because the heart is not functioning properly when we’re pumping sugar into our bodies, our blood pressure is affected and goes up. A candy binge even changes our blood cells and causes our bodies to produce too many white blood cells. This then leads to tissue damage and slow repair. Talk about a scary Halloween!
According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, eating excess sugar puts us more at risk of dying of heart disease, even if we are not overweight.
If you’re wondering if the occasional candy binge is really that bad, it kind of is. A Harvard article found that excessive sugar eaters had higher rates of heart disease, even if they were healthy eaters otherwise. This study revealed that participants who took in 25 percent of their calories from sugar were more than twice as likely to die of heart disease as those who took in less than 10 percent of sugar in their diets. In this study, the risk of heart disease went up as the percentage of dietary sugar went up. This trend happened regardless of the participant’s age, gender, ethnicity, activity level, or weight. Basically, sugar is dangerous, even if the rest of your diet and weight is healthy.
Blood Sugar Surge
When candy hits our systems, our bodies have to start pumping out the insulin. This response keeps our blood sugar in a normal, healthy range. When we keep sticking our hands in the candy dish, the pancreas responds by producing more and more insulin to bring down the blood sugar level. At some point, the pancreas simply cannot keep up with the demand and our blood sugars stay too high.
Over time this high blood sugar does not always lead to diabetes, but it is dangerous. Having to always produce more insulin puts the body at risk for heart disease, increased blood pressure, and increased triglyceride levels. It also lowers our HDL, which is known as the “good cholesterol.”
If you notice yourself feeling a little foggy or slower after sneaking into your kids’ Halloween buckets, it’s because candy affects your brain as well. Excessive sugar consumption has been linked to impaired memory and overall brain health. This could explain the “brain fog” so many of us feel after a few days of not eating well.
Eat enough candy year-round, and you won’t need that spooky mask for Halloween. A 2009 study linked sugar consumption (like fistfuls of candy) with the aging of our cells. This leads to changes we can see, like wrinkles, and changes that are more serious, like the development of chronic diseases.
Does one candy binge cause obesity? Of course not, but if that Halloween binge puts you on the road to craving and eating sugar all the time, you will be at risk.
Sugar messes with our bodies’ hunger levels. Eating and drinking added sugars has been linked to leptin-resistance. Leptin is the important hormone that signals to our brains that we’re full and should stop eating. When that hormone can’t work like it’s supposed to, we can’t help but overeat. So when you combine sugar’s empty calories and ability to block your ‘full’ feeling, it’s no wonder you can eat an entire bag of candy and still be hungry.
How to Enjoy Halloween Treats
Now that we’ve sufficiently terrified you, it’s time for the good news. You can still enjoy Halloween and all the glorious candy it brings. When it comes to enjoying Halloween treats, moderation is the name of the game. Even the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that all foods can fit into a healthy diet when eaten in moderation. Know which candies are worth the splurge and which to pass on. If you’re a chocolate fiend, don’t mindlessly snack on Swedish Fish while waiting for trick-or-treaters. Plan ahead and only indulge in the treats you truly love and will thoroughly enjoy.
Of course. no Halloween candy can be considered healthy, but some are definitely better than others. Whether you crave chocolate or fruity flavors, we have you covered.
When it comes to chocolate, 3 Musketeers bars are a great way to go. They’re lighter than the chocolate bars filled with nuts or caramel. One fun-sized bar contains only 60 calories and two grams of fat.
Need something a little crunchier? One small pack of peanut M&Ms has 90 calories and five grams of fat. Plus, the peanuts contain protein, so they will help keep you full.
Not a chocolate fan? Reach for Jolly Ranchers. Three Jolly Rancher candies contain 70 calories and no fat. Because they take longer to eat, they will slow you down and may prevent a full-on candy binge.