Spookier than Halloween in a Pandemic

What’s scarier than Halloween in a pandemic?
A few clues: It’s mass-produced and chemical-laden. 
did we mention ‘bite-sized’?

It’s that time of year again…

Soon lil’ ghouls and gobblins may be at your porch or COVID-safe station for Halloween treats.

Each year I feel for parents dealing with the aftermath of kids who power through an insane load of sugar in one sitting.. or the nightly negotiations and tantrums over treats rationing… 

Why do we keep doing this to ourselves?!

What’s a health enthusiast to do?

Our guide to a healthier Halloween includes key considerations when picking up “treats” and includes a few alternatives we’ve discovered over the years.

As it turns out, there are implications for both health and sustainability.

5 tips for healthier Halloween treats and why we avoid commercial candy

# 1: Shun Sugar: Offset sugar with fiber, protein... anything

Look for fiber and other nutrients, not just Sugar! 

So much commercial candy is devoid of any nutritional value – that’s why we call it ‘junk food’! 

Steer clear of sugar-laden candies like Smarties, SweeTarts, Skittles, AirHeads, Starbursts, and the like. Look for options that include whole grains, fiber, and/or protein, in addition to ‘sugar’. 

Keep in mind “sugar” means all types of sugar, including corn syrup, fructose, sorbitol, sucralose, high fructose corn syrup, and all forms in between – even natural sugars like honey and maple syrup. All sugars affect our bodies and our brains. Artificial sugars like high-fructose corn syrup and sucralose (Splenda) are especially notorious. 

Too much sugar leads to blood sugar dysregulation, mood swings, weight gain, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and more. Such health crises hit our adults and our children. 

Solution: Look for options using more natural, unrefined sugars and/or look for options with real ingredients beyond just sugar. Consider savory options, like non-GMO popcorn or pretzels where you can find mini-packs. Take a stand against the proliferation of sugary candies by mindfully selecting your Halloween treats this year. Lest you create more sugar monsters! 

# 2: Avoid Additives: Chemical colors, flavors, preservatives...

When candy – or your kids – become a lab experiment. 

Most commercial candies contain artificial flavors and/or colors. Avoid the below like the plague. 

THBQ (aka tert-butylhydroquinone): Preservative linked to tumor growth and neurotoxic effects in animals. Found in Reeses PB cups, Butterfinger, Baby Ruth.

Artificial Colors, especially when you see “Blue”, “Red”, “Yellow”, “LAKE” – consider these red flags. They can cause hypersensitivity and migraines, may be implicated in causing tumors in organs, and are likely to contain carcinogenic contaminants. Found in M&Ms, Skittles, AirHeads, Starbursts, Lifesavers, and more.

Artificial Flavors and Artificial Sweeteners “Flavors” in the food industry are synonymous with “Fragrance” in the beauty industry – using one of these terms protects companies from disclosing chemical formulations, as they can be considered “trade secrets”. Since up to a hundred or more undisclosed chemicals can be used, we steer clear of “artificial flavors” altogether. Found in most all candies.

Artificial sweeteners like Aspartame, Acesulfame K, Saccharin, and Sucralose all have toxicity concerns and are also believed to encourage over-eating. Typically found in “sugar-free” candies.

While the FDA regulates safety in the industry, it often takes many years and much troubling evidence to finally ban a chemical. Be proactive and protect your family’s health. 

# 3: Forget unhealthy Fats and unsustainable Fats

Saying no to itself... via GIPHY

Avoid ‘trans fats in disguise’, unhealthy, and unsustainable fats.

Though banned, trans fats can still be found in circulation. Always check the label for “partially hydrogenated” and “hydrogenated” oils – even if the product claims “Zero trans fats”! Some sneaky labeling loopholes allow this even when trans fats are present.  

We also avoid the run-of-the-mill cheap, refined oils like “Vegetable Oil”, “Corn Oil”, “Cottonseed Oil”, and especially “Palm Oil”, which is refined and highly unsustainable (bad for our Earth) – unless certified by a reputable sustainable palm growers authority. 

# 4: Chocolate: the problem with Alkali and the challenge of sustainable production

A high-quality dark chocolate may be just what you crave. So long as it’s not “processed with Alkali”!

“Processed with Alkali” means: the “goodness is gone”

Chocolate in moderation provides antioxidants, but these antioxidants are mostly destroyed when the chocolate or cocoa is processed with alkali.

If you see “alkalized” or “alkali” listed, know the goodness has largely been stripped away. 

If that’s not enough – most of the chocolate processed with alkali (because it’s quicker & cheaper for scaled production) has an even dirtier supply chain with harshly treated workers exposed to unsafe pesticides and working conditions – including child laborers. (not to mention the environmental impact of flagrant pesticide use in such cocoa farming) 

When it comes to chocolate, look for smaller-scale production and Fairtrade certification at a minimum. 

Healthier Halloween Treats: Our Favorites

It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom! Support a more virtuous cycle by choosing “better” treats to hand out at Halloween. Below are a few examples we’ve used over the years.  

(note: we are in no way affiliated with any of these – just sharing favorites)

Better-option 'nut butter cups', with several variations

Justin’s Nut butter cups

The reigning champ of a ‘healthier’ tasty version of those other peanut butter cups. We love Justin’s for their commitment to Non-GMO verification, Organic ingredients, conscious sourcing & sustainability + social impact. 

We adults use these on longer hikes and bike rides.

Clif Kid Organic Z-bars, not just for kids! 

With 100% whole organic grains, there’s 2g of redeeming fiber – plus a pinch of protein (2g).  The bar size is just right, and the flavor’s great. “Chocolate Chip” and “Chocolate Brownie” are favorites with our trick-or-treaters. 

Adults be warned: keep few of these in sight, they’re addictive!

 Annie’s Organic Bunny Grahams

With certified organic ingredients, no artificial dyes or preservatives, these deliciously cute bunny Grahams are pure delight. There’s also a Halloween version if you can find them. 

Justin’s Chocolate Hazlenut & Almond nut butter packs

We like Justin’s for the fiber (3g), protein (4g), and relatively lower sugar (7g) and also for their conscious sourcing of sustainable palm oil. Other options include honey and peanut butter.

Fitjoy Grain-Free Pretzels (gluten-free)

These gluten-free pretzels could be an option for those who need to avoid gluten and/or grains. They’re light as air and feature Himalayan mineral salt. We’ve tracked down mini 18-pack sets, at 100 calories each. 

Find delicious, healthy, sustainable eats near you.

While we’re poking fun here, we spend serious time reviewing menus, ingredients, sourcing, and more. All so you can find your best options for meals that are delicious, healthy, and sustainable.

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