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Halloween snacks can threaten dietary limits

MSU Extension Service

MISSISSIPPI STATE – For children with food allergies and sensitivities, Halloween dangers can be lurking in their candy sacks, not just in their imaginations.

Brent Fountain, nutrition specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said people with diabetes or allergies and sensitivities to such things as peanuts and gluten must be extra careful about snacks.

“Dealing with an allergy or sensitivity is always in the hands of the person with the allergy or sensitivity,” Fountain said. “The person giving you candy or serving food at a party doesn’t necessarily know you have the allergy or what to avoid.”

The most serious allergy threats are known as the “Big 8.” The package should provide a warning if a product contains one of these allergens or was processed in a facility that uses these ingredients. The Big 8 allergens are milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat.

But nutritional information is rarely included on the wrappers of treats passed out at Halloween. Most wrappers include the item’s name and manufacturer, and many include a Web site address to consult for a list of ingredients and other information.

“Parents need to take extra precautions and know what candies are safe for their children to eat and which should be avoided,” Fountain said. “If you do not know what is in a candy or snack, it is best to avoid it rather than take a real risk in consuming it.”

Fountain said it is all about being wise and using good judgment.

“Trick-or-treating is fun if kids go in with the right expectations and parents set clear guidelines in the beginning that we’re not going to eat a lot of candy all at once,” he said.

Fountain said neighbors can help battle candy overload by giving out a little less.

“It’s not necessary to give a handful of candy to each child,” Fountain said. “If you get one or two pieces per house and go to 25 or 30 houses, that’s plenty. If parents set the expectation that we’re not going to eat a lot and people don’t give out large amounts, it can help children moderate how much they consume.”

Moderation is a key consideration for health, especially in regards to diabetes.

“You shouldn’t stray too far from your recommended eating pattern,” Fountain said. “The way your food and medication are designed protects you and keeps your blood sugar levels as near normal as possible.

“For the diabetic, Halloween should be treated like other holidays where food is a central component,” he said. “Have a plan in advance and try to avoid any major changes to your normal eating pattern or schedule.”

Dawn Vosbein, a registered dietitian and Extension nutrition and food safety area agent in Pearl River County, said portion control is always important.

“Quality is better than quantity. Eat a small piece of something really good, and don’t eat things you don’t really like,” Vosbein said.

Small candy sizes can fool consumers and make diabetics lose track of carbohydrate consumption, she said.

“Juvenile diabetics are probably on an insulin pump, but parents may need to estimate carbohydrate content in order to determine insulin dosages,” she said. “It’s probably okay to let them have one to two pieces, as they are so small.”

Natasha Haynes, an Extension nutrition and food safety area agent in Lincoln County, said parents of diabetic children can make a few advance preparations to help trick-or-treating go more smoothly.

“Prepare a few snacks ahead of time that are good for the children to snack on while they are trick-or-treating,” Haynes said. “Remind them not to eat any of the treats they have picked up along the way until you can review them to see that they are okay to eat. You could also leave some approved snacks at the houses of a few friends so they can give these to your child when they visit.”

A full stomach makes it easier to resist sweets.

“Make sure to eat dinner before going out to cut down on the urge to snack on the candy along the way,” she said.

Released: October 25, 2012
Contacts: Dr. Brent Fountain
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