Summer is already over and fall is officially here for us to enjoy. Many great American traditions take place during the fall season: apple picking, pumpkin carving, trick-or-treating, watching football, and eating a big Thanksgiving dinner. However, enjoying the holidays should not come at the expense of your health. As Halloween is approaching, it is important to take a closer look at candy, its health effects, and tips to avoid overconsumption of sweets.
Americans consume more than 7 billion pounds of candy per year, and during the week of Halloween alone, Americans buy 90 million pounds of chocolate. Halloween, along with Easter, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day contribute to the 25 pounds of candy the average American consumes each year. Which ingredient in candy is the most harmful to health? Sugar.
Sugar is known as an “empty” calorie. It contains no proteins, essential fats, fiber, vitamins, or minerals; it is pure caloric energy. Check ingredient labels as sugar goes by many other names such as sucrose, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, cane juice, maltose, dextrose, rice syrup, molasses, caramel, and many others. There are zero health benefits of sugar consumption, while there are an abundance of health consequences. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, depression, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, metabolic syndrome, type II diabetes, cancer, and heart disease are just a few of the major maladies that regular overconsumption of sugar can contribute to. Fortunately, there are strategies to avoid eating too many sweets this fall.
Avoiding candy and sweets can be difficult during the holidays, but there are a few strategies that can mitigate consumption:
1. Leave it at the store. It is easier said than done to not buy sweets, but by not keeping the fridge and cupboards stocked at all times, temptation and accessibility are greatly reduced and cravings can be outlasted. Wait until it’s almost Halloween before buying candy for the trick-or-treaters so it is not sitting around the house all month.
2. Keep it out of sight. Having candy and cookies sitting out means seeing it more frequently. Seeing it means thinking about whether to eat some or not. If it is out of sight, that decision will need to be made less frequently. At the very least, make sure it’s off the desk or coffee table and out of arm’s reach.
3. Choose alternatives. This does not mean eat only fruits and nuts in place of chocolate and candy corn – although that would be optimal – having healthy options will provide an alternative option next time a decision is made. Rather than buying your favorite Halloween candy for the trick-or-treaters, choose something they will enjoy that will not tempt you.
If the plan to avoid candy and sweets this fall is unsuccessful, there are still ways to be healthy:
1. Eat a well-balanced diet of real food. Eating natural, unprocessed foods is important year-round. Fruits and vegetables provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber and can be incorporated into every meal. Protein from lean meats, beans, nuts, and seeds will maintain healthy bones and muscles, and the body will use it to produce enzymes and hormones. Eat healthy, unsaturated fats which are necessary for normal body function; just be sure to limit saturated fats and avoid trans fat, which can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Do not forget to drink plenty of water throughout the day as well! By eating well and staying hydrated, the body will be able to reduce the negative impacts of excess sugar.
2. Get moving. Physical activity is a powerful tool to improve health and should be a part of a normal daily routine. While 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week are the guidelines, any activity is better than no activity. Taking simple steps like walking for 10 minutes at a time is a great start. Moving and sweating more can help control weight, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, and even improve mental health and mood. It is the best way to use up all those extra chocolate bar calories.
3. Get plenty of rest. A good night’s rest is critical to good overall long-term health. Sufficient sleep can help improve mood and lead to clearer thinking, which can help fight off cravings for sweets and promote healthier decision making. Sleep can also reduce the risk for heart disease and diabetes, reduce chronic pain, improve memory, and enhance the immune system.
A little awareness goes a long way. Understanding the long-term health consequences of overconsuming candy and understanding strategies to avoid it will lead to healthful choices in the future. No matter which season it is or which holiday is coming up, eating better food, moving more, and allowing time to rest is the best recipe for a long and healthy life.
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