Maybe the scariest thing about Halloween is all that candy haunting your house, screaming to be eaten!

Lindsay Johnson, a Registered and Licensed Dietitian who works as a Clinical Dietitian at Barnes-Jewish Extended Care, has some ideas that will allow senior adults to indulge a little without compromising their need for a healthy diet.

How Much Sugar is Too Much Sugar?

The answer to that question depends on several variables. If you have diabetes, or your blood sugar levels are higher than normal (called pre-diabetes), your body is not as capable of handling large amounts of sugar. Someone who does not have diabetes can metabolize (the speed at which your body processes a substance) the sugar and thus absorb it better than people with diabetes. A senior who is physically active (and does not have diabetes) can effectively process even larger amounts of sugar.

Lindsay says that people with diabetes need not deprive themselves of Halloween candy, as long as they carefully plan for its consumption. “Through experience and working with a dietitian, seniors can determine what their daily carbohydrate (sugar is a carbohydrate) intake should be and make some trade-offs,” she says. “For example, if the goal is to consume 45 grams of carbs per meal, a person could eat a small apple, which has about 20 grams of sugar in it, OR two to three miniature Three Musketeer bars, which have about the same amount of sugar.”

Lindsay suggests going online to check out the sugar content of your favorite Halloween candy.

Can You Indulge or Must You Abstain?

If you are prone to depression, anxiety, or have issues with compulsive behavior, the first bite of a delicious candy could begin a long slide into binge eating. “If you soothe yourself with food, you should not indulge,” Lindsay says.

But if you regularly eat a healthy diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and you exercise regularly, an occasional sweet can be a welcome break. “If you can honestly say to yourself that you will continue to take care of your body and that you are just going on a Halloween ‘retreat,’ then enjoy the moment,” Lindsay says.

Regardless, a good strategy for seniors is to give away the leftover Halloween candy soon after the holiday. Do not leave it in the cabinet, where you know it is available.

Sweet Strategies During Halloween for Seniors

Other than giving away your Halloween candy, seniors may also opt to choose a healthier treat.

If you love those nut-covered caramel apples, don’t despair. Lindsay says there are some healthy aspects to this treat. “They are covered with nuts, which allows for slower sugar absorption that avoids high spikes of blood glucose levels,” she says. “The nuts also contain proteins and heart-healthy fat. In addition, you get fiber from the apple, which also helps slow the absorption of sugar and can make you feel full longer.”

Another strategy Lindsay suggests, try some extra physical activity before or after eating the candied apple: “Maybe you take a longer walk as a counterbalance to the extra carbs,” she says.

You can also select something out your Halloween candy, like M & M’s Peanut Chocolate Candy. “Peanuts provide protein,” Lindsay says. “If you eat a few of them with a small meal, you are less likely to consume too many.”

Keep in mind that a certain amount of sugar is necessary. “It’s the only thing that actively feeds your brain cells,” she says. “Every carbohydrate you eat—whether bread or fruit or a whole-grain cracker—eventually turns into sugar.”

A Healthy Halloween Alternative for Family and Friends

Other alternatives to sweet treats could include popcorn, which is considered a whole grain. Cheese popcorn adds a little protein boost as well. Try a healthy Halloween alternative, such as the below popcorn recipe.

  1. Choose a favorite popcorn.
  2. Add a sprinkle of cheese (the protein in the cheese will help keep you full longer).
  3. Popcorn is a whole grain, and therefore will break down to a simple sugar slower than candy will.
  4. Try drizzling lightly buttered popcorn with a little caramel and a sprinkle of cinnamon (cinnamon has some supportive research that it may help keep blood sugars more stable).
  5. Get creative and add cayenne pepper to the recipe, creating what is known as “vampire blood popcorn.” (Spicy foods can boost your metabolism for up to 30 minutes after consumption.)

The Tricks About Halloween Treats

  1. Learn your sweet limits to feel your best.
  2. Make smart selections.
  3. Enjoy a happy and healthy Halloween!

Continue reading for more senior health and wellness tips from Bethesda.