All those miniature candy bars lining the Halloween candy section of your local store look so harmless. But will the calories from that candy come back to haunt your waistline in the weeks ahead?
Candy in general is a big trigger for overindulgence, says Jayme Albin, MA, PhD, a cognitive-behavior therapist in private practice. Not only that, but our cravings for carbohydrates tend to increase as the weather gets colder and daylight hours get shorter. These two factors align at this time of year to make Halloween the perfect storm for calorie overload.
As any true candy-craver knows, trying to pass up Halloween candy completely may only make you want it more. But if you enjoy favorite treats in moderation every day leading up to the holiday, you may be less likely to overdo it when you're nose-to-nose with that big bowl of goodies on Halloween night.
"Repeatedly behaving in moderation practices self-control around the stimulus and also encourages mindfulness,” says Albin, who believes that for many people mindfulness (being fully aware of what you're eating while you're eating it) is the secret to managing food cravings.
Lower-Calorie Halloween Treats
And when you're buying Halloween candy or other treats for your controlled indulgences, keep in mind some choices are better than others. Here are some lower-calorie candy and treat choices that will still satisfy your particular cravings.
INSTEAD OF: Chewy candy like Dots (150 calories and 22 grams sugar in two mini-boxes) and Fruit Gushers (90 calories and 12 grams sugar per pouch) …
CHOOSE: A chewy treat that has no calories or is naturally sweet.Try a piece of Ice Breakers gum (with no fat, calories, or sugar) or a mini-box of raisins (45 calories, 0 grams fat, 10 grams naturally occurring sugars).
INSTEAD OF: Chocolate bars with high-calorie caramel and peanut butter added, like Take 5 bars (105 calories, 5.5 grams of fat and 9 grams of sugar per fun-size bar) …
CHOOSE: Chocolate treats with something low-calorie added (like puffy grains). Try mini Quaker Chewy Granola Bars (60 calories, 2 grams fat, and 4 grams sugar per bar) or fun-size Nestle Crunch Bars (60 calories, 3 grams fat, 7 grams sugar).
INSTEAD OF: Chocolate bars filled with caramel, toffee or coconut, like Heath Miniatures with 115 calories, 7 grams fat, and 13 grams sugar for 3 bite-size pieces …
CHOOSE: Plain milk or dark chocolate fun-size bars, like Hershey's fun-size bar (67 calories, 4 grams fat, 8 grams sugar). Bonus: You can also use these for baking or to make s’mores.
INSTEAD OF: Candy bars made with white chocolate like Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme, with 73 calories, 4 grams fat, and 6.3 grams sugar per fun size bar …
CHOOSE: Dark chocolate treats, like 3 Musketeers Mint fun-size bars (63 calories, 2.3 grams fat and 9 grams sugar per bar) and Dove Dark Chocolate pieces (84 calories, 5 grams fat and 7.6 grams sugar for two foil-wrapped pieces). White chocolate not only has more saturated fat than any other type of chocolate, but lacks the healthy phytochemicals found in cocoa and dark chocolate.
INSTEAD OF: Candies with sugar-sweetened peanut butter fillings, like Reese’s Peanut Butter Pumpkins with 170 calories, 10 grams fat, and 16 grams sugar per package …
CHOOSE: Candy with whole nuts, which add protein, fiber and phytonutrients. Try peanut M&Ms, with90 calories, 5 grams fat, and 9 grams sugar per mini-pack.
INSTEAD OF: Snack cakes like Ding Dongs and Hostess Scary Monster Cupcakes (180 calories and 7-9 grams of fat each) or Little Debbie Devil Squares and Cosmic Brownies (260-280 calories, and 11 grams of fat per package) …
CHOOSE: Portion-controlled snack cakes like Little Debbie 100 Calories Chocolate Cakes (3 grams fat and 12 grams sugar) or Hostess 100 Calorie Pack Twinkie Bites (2.5 grams fat and 11 grams sugar).
INSTEAD OF: High-fat crunchy snacks like those in the Creepy Classic Mix with bags of Cheetos, Fritos, and Doritos (about 160 calories and 10 grams fat each), or mini bags of Cheez-It Sponge Bob Square Pants (160 calories, 8 grams fat)...
CHOOSE: Lower-calorie crunchies like Snyder’s 100 Calorie Pack Snaps Pretzels (with just 0.5 gram of fat) or the Smart Mix sack of 20 bags of baked snacks like Sun Chips, Baked Cheetos, Baked Doritos, and Baked Ruffles(with 120 calories and 4.5 grams for the Baked Cheetos).
INSTEAD OF: Fun-size packs of high-sugar cookies like mini Oreos with 65 calories, 2.5 grams of fat and 5.5 grams of sugar per pack …
CHOOSE: Lower-sugar cookie fun size packs like Teddy Grahams (60 calories and 2 grams fat) or animal crackers.
More Tips for Halloween Calorie Control
Beyond making smarter choices on the snack aisle, Albin offers four tips for avoiding calorie overload at this time of year:
- Don’t skip on exercise or outdoor time. Staying active and getting a daily dose of sunlight will help keep your mind and body balanced as the days grow shorter.
- Don’t munch mindlessly. Remove the Halloween candy from your sight. Keep it in the refrigerator or a hard-to-reach cabinet so you'll be fully aware of what you're doing when you grab a couple of pieces.
- Decide ahead of time what your daily treat will be, and how many you'll have. Come up with a concrete number that works for you. Remind yourself that the candy will be there tomorrow if you want more.
- Stock up on healthy snacks and sugarless gum. Have plenty of sugarless gum and healthy snacks (like baby carrots, grapes, apple slices) on hand for when you just feel like chewing on something.
Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, is the "Recipe Doctor" for WebMD and the author of numerous books on nutrition and health. Her opinions and conclusions are her own