When your child has type 1 diabetes, Halloween might give you shivers for all the wrong reasons. Unless your child is very young and stays close, evening hours spent collecting sugary ‘treats’ with a group of friends and little to no adult supervision can be an open invitation to ‘cheat’, sometimes with very scary consequences.
If your child with diabetes will be surrounded by Halloween excitement (and candy) this year, carry on reading. You’ll discover plenty of ways to make this October holiday just as thrilling without the added fear of hyperglycemia.
Children With T1D Can Still Enjoy Halloween
How a child or adolescent copes with unsupervised sugar on tap can be very different. That’s why most pediatric diabetes clinics spend a lot of time teaching children about glucose control from the moment they are diagnosed. Knowing about different forms of carbohydrates and how the hormonal system deals (or doesn’t deal) with them is a powerful, lifetime tool for better glucose control. In the world of diabetes, this knowledge truly is power.
Banning your child from all candy risks pushing them into the dangerous realm of deception. Good diabetes control requires a high level of honesty, and when certain foods and experiences are banned, it’s normal for children to react. Whatever your Halloween agreement, it will probably have to allow some sugar. If your young teenager agrees to look at his or her CGM results every hour or carry out a fingerstick test every hour, this is a very positive move.
Another way to keep an eye out for your kid’s BGL is to use Gluroo. Gluroo is a free collaborative diabetes management app that integrates with your child’s CGM and allows you and other caretakers to keep track of your kid’s real-time BGL data. It also has a ton of other features that make managing diabetes as a family so much easier.
Just keep in mind that a child with type 1 diabetes (or that child’s parents) should be extremely wary of using boluses during an evening of trick or treating. The combination of running around the neighborhood with friends, perhaps getting scared by mechanical spiders and cackling mannequins, uses up a lot of energy. In fact, sudden fear burns lots of calories. One entertaining study calculated that watching The Shining burns an average of 184 calories (51 calories more than the average horror movie)! So, it’s often best to correct high blood sugar results once your child is back home and in a more relaxed state.
Throughout life, your child with T1D will be faced with carb-packed temptations. Rather than teach them the candy-strewn dangers of Halloween, show them how they can enjoy it to the fullest.
Tips for a Diabetes-Friendly Trick or Treat Evening
It’s easy to arrange a diabetes-friendly trick or treat evening for your kids, especially when they know all about how rapidly absorbed carbohydrates affect their body and even mood. If your child has experienced the uncomfortable feeling of hyperglycemia, they’ll be as enthusiastic as you are about trying these trick or treat tips.
1. A Good Meal Before Trick or Treating
Not only does a healthy meal reduce an appetite for Halloween candy, but it also slows the effects of ‘fast carbs’ in the blood and helps prevent sudden dips in blood sugar.
Blood sugar dips on Halloween night?! That’s right. When we eat candy, and then run around outdoors shrieking with excitement or terror, the sugar in that candy is rapidly used. In the case of a child with an insulin pump that delivers basal insulin day and night, that candy high can quickly turn into a hypo.
To soften dips and peaks, tweak traditional Halloween menus to lower the carb content. Proteins and fats slow digestion. That means a flatter glucose curve for the next few hours. Here are a few ideas:
- Use bigger pieces of pumpkin in your pumpkin pie (bigger pieces mean the digestive system needs more time to break them down) and leave out the pastry casing underneath – just put the crust on top.
- Raw cauliflower brains and carrot fingers served with blood-red beetroot or gunge-green avocado dips go down a treat!
- Include a healthy portion of cheese, meat, or vegetable protein in the pre-trick or treat meal.
- Keep portion sizes small. A little protein goes a long, long way.
2. When’s the Right Time for Candy?
Your healthy Halloween meal is a great opportunity to talk about the right time for candy. A sudden sugar rush isn’t healthy for anyone, after all.
Studies show that the later you snack on sugary foods, the bigger the effect on the blood glucose. So, the earlier your child goes trick or treating, the better. And the earlier you eat your Halloween meal, the better, too.
Your child (and you) should also understand how large portions and small portions affect blood sugar. A small, sweet treat won’t have the same effect on blood sugar as a large portion. The effects won’t last as long, either.
In all honesty, there’s never a perfect time to eat candy, because candy isn’t a natural food. But the best time for a PWD to eat candy (in small quantities) is always after a protein- and (healthy) fat-containing meal.
3. Better Candy
Is there such a thing as better candy? Kind of.
The worst candy we can eat is candy made primarily from sugary syrups. Second on the list of worst ingredients for PWD is sugar. The higher these are on the candy ingredient list, the greater the spike. The simpler sugars there are in proportion to other ingredients, the greater the spike. The larger the portion of simple (and complex) sugars, the greater the spike.
One 10g (0.35oz) serving of Skittles contains 9 grams of pure sugar and glucose syrup. That’s 90% rapid sugar that needs very little digestion. Everyone’s blood sugar goes up after a serving of Skittles. Even people without diabetes absorb the sugar from a pack of Skittles a little more quickly than the pancreas reacts.
Eat the same tiny portion of Reese’s Pieces and you’ll absorb ‘just’ 5.2 grams of combined sugar, corn syrup and dextrose. The peanut butter filling is made of fat and peanut protein, which lowers the sugar percentage. The protein and fat in that peanut butter also slightly slow the rate of stomach emptying and glucose absorption.
And the same portion of chocolate-covered Brazil nuts? You absorb 3.5 grams of sugar. One-third of the sugar in 10g of Skittles or similar glucose syrup-laden candy. That big nut isn’t sugary at all. The chocolate coating is sweet, but nowhere near 100% sugar.
What about candy made specifically for diabetics? In small portions, these are a good alternative. But when larger quantities are eaten (like at Halloween), synthetic sweeteners are notorious for causing digestive complaints. Your child’s Halloween could turn into a literal nightmare.
Whichever candy your child eats, portion size is critical. It’s better to have a small daily serving of candy after a healthy meal than a sudden, no-holds-barred Halloween candy binge.
4. It’s Not All About Candy
That candy binge brings us to our next tip. Halloween isn’t all about candy. Plenty of kids enjoy the experience over the sweet stuff. Halloween is about dressing up, decorating the house with webs and witches, being a little scared, being a lot scared, spending time with friends and family, watching horror movies, and just being a kid.
As a parent, you can help make these aspects way more important than candy. Opt for apple bobbing fun instead of passive candy apple stickiness. Spend time making costumes together. Sit around the fire and tell each other ghost stories. Plan pranks. So many of our national holidays are centered around food that we often ignore activities that are so much more fulfilling (and less likely to cause a blood sugar spike).
Full trick or treat baskets can be donated to food banks or shared between the entire family or classroom. If your child insists on keeping (and eating) that candy, make Halloween night into Halloween week or month. Saying no to all candy isn’t preparing your child with diabetes for adulthood. Teaching your child how to eat candy sensibly is.
5. Moderation is for Everyone
Spending Halloween together as a family shouldn’t mean different rules for diabetics and non-diabetics. It’s unfair (and unrealistic) to expect a young child to watch their siblings eat every piece of their trick or treat stash when they can’t.
Older children might rebel against the different rules they are expected to follow. Everyone around them is eating what they want when they want, so they’re going to, too. Because it’s not fair.
To make Halloween into diabetes-friendly Halloween, ensure everyone follows the same rules. Lower- or low-sugar candy alternatives are tasty and sweet – the whole family can give them a try. If lots of candy is collected by all your children, let them pick out their favorites and give the rest to your local food bank.
There’s not much time left to prepare for Halloween 2023!
I hope the above tips will make for a fantastic holiday for the entire family. One that doesn’t place the emphasis on candy or diabetes, but on all the spooky thrills All Hallows’ Eve has to offer.
Don’t forget, the Gluroo app is here to help. Integrate your child’s CGM and keep an eye on their glucose levels as they go trick or treating. You can download it for free today on Android and iOS.
Have a Happy Halloween!