10/19/2015 05:38 EDT | Updated 10/19/2016 05:12 EDT

The Health Nut's Halloween Dilemma

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African woman giving candy to trick or treater

Kids love Halloween. Whatever it can be for mischief and scares, Halloween can be a blast for families with imaginative play and time together. It's a blast -- until you start to learn more about healthy eating. Now what? Do you make an exception or refuse to participate? What's a health nut to do?

Halloween's Health Impact

If we're honest with ourselves, it doesn't take a health nut to acknowledge Halloween's more indulgent nature. Buckets and bags are filled with candy -- remember the kid with the pillowcase full? Were you the kid with the pillowcase full? We'll assume that this isn't an everyday occurrence for you or your kids, so of course it's going to alter your day to day diet and have an impact on your health. The question a health nut asks is how health is impacted.

While most parents think of the oral health concerns or the sugar rush and hyperactivity that seems to follow candy, the health nut parent thinks of the long term effects. The body's internal response to all of that junk is not a small concern. Sugar can be brushed and flossed and rinsed off of the surface of the teeth, but once you've chewed and swallowed, your body is left to pay the consequences.

A study earlier this year found that preschoolers who consumed ultra-processed foods had higher blood lipid levels, a marker for many health concerns including cardiovascular issues later on. Amassing candy, and keeping it around, isn't exactly the foundational habit that the health conscious parent wants their kid to develop, knowing that each bite plays a part in their future health.

Navigating Halloween as a Health Nut

Still, knowing what's good for you and implementing it are two very separate things. Most adults struggle with healthy habits and avoiding tasty temptation, so of course kids are prone, as well.

Every day, all year long, kids are bombarded with images and ads selling them product after product, with sweet treats among them. Attempts have been made to curb this kind of marketing toward children, with limited (if any) success. Then, when an entire holiday is targeted toward habits you're trying to break, things get tricky. Throw in allergies and food intolerance, and Halloween starts to feel like one giant trick.

One of the first things you can do to navigate the candy-corn-maze is to become a stronger voice in your children's lives than the bombardment of advertisements. No, don't yell in their ear about 2 for 1 deals on baby carrots or give an infomercial rundown on fruit. But make sure you're talking with your kids and including them in the reasons behind your health nut ways.

Kids crave boundaries, and if they are on your journey with you -- the younger the better -- they will begin to see through targeted ads and Halloween hype. It might not happen overnight, but teaching them to think through these decisions with you sets them up for a strong, health-aware future.

Have Fun Without Compromising Health

Just because you want what's best for your family's health doesn't mean you want to keep them from all the fun! Halloween candy shouldn't be scary -- that's best left to the decorations and haunted houses. When you're teaching kids about healthy eating and healthy living, it should be to increase the good -- and there is plenty of good to be found.

Researchers from Yale set the bar for a happy and healthy Halloween when they found that kids are just as likely to happily take a toy as they are to take loads of candy. In other words -- candy is not the end game here!

  • Check for dentists who trade bags of candy for cool toys
  • Offer to buy your kids' candy from them so they can pick something from the store
  • Discover the "Halloween fairy" -- kids set candy out and you swap it for a toy overnight

If you're home on Halloween but don't want to hand out junk-filled candy, consider buying healthy versions, handing out fruit, or buying bags of small toys for kids to pick from instead of bags of candy.