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Every Halloween, Cynthia Primeau of Sterling Heights, Michigan, sympathizes with parents of newly diagnosed children with diabetes.
"They probably want to dig a hole in the ground and hide in it," she says.
Having survived a few Halloweens with her type 1 son, McIntosh, now 16, Primeau advises parents to expect a child with diabetes to eat candy on Halloween, and do their best to keep BGs under control.
"If you're too stringent, your child will become a closet cheater," she says.
Primeau feels that parents of children with diabetes should address Halloween with reality and honesty.
"I used to sit down with my son, and say, 'You know all this candy is bad for you. It's bad for everyone. Just try to be as responsible as you can.'"
Jean Betschart, MN, RN, CDE, a pediatric diabetes educator at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, says, "There is no perfect solution to the Halloween predicament, but there can be many successful ways to handle it."
"I always felt like I had to have a healthy snack," says Karen Chalmers, MS, RD, CDE, director of nutrition services at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. "My kids used to be mortified, and beg me to buy candy."
Chalmers has loosened up a bit in the last few years, as has the diabetes diet, which many believe allows for sugar within reason. Yet, with Halloween, reason seems to go out the window. What is a child with diabetes to do with a huge sack of candy? For parents, Halloween offers more frights than a haunted house.
"It's important that they be able to be kids," says Chalmers. "They just happen to be kids who happen to have diabetes. They still enjoy the same things that any other child would enjoy. We don't want to take their pleasure away from them."
This does not mean that children can go home and gobble their entire bag of loot. If you are going to allow your child candy, Chalmers recommends spacing it out.
"They should be allowed to pick out a few things, and have one a day, or one every two days," she says.
Betschart warns that if you allow your child candy, work it into his or her entire regimen.
"If your child is on Humalog insulin and a multiple daily insulin regimen, you will have to take into consideration how much exercise and food he or she will have, to make an adjustment to the Humalog."
Linda Haselman, RN, CDE, of St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital's Joslin Diabetes Center in New York City, believes in limiting candy intake.
"I would never suggest, 'Forget it for the day and enjoy yourself,'" says Haselman. "Alternate treats are the best-fruits, popcorn or nuts. Many candies are just pure sugar."
If you choose to eat sugar, do so in moderation, and pay attention to the type of candy you eat.
Chocolate bars have fat, which can be a benefit: the fat slows down the carbohydrate absorption. Candy without fat raises blood sugars more quickly. What will shoot you up the quickest? According to Chalmers, things like gummy candy, Skittles, Sweet Tarts, Life Savers and jelly beans will cause glucose to peak very fast.
Chalmers adds that peanuts, a popular feature of many American candies, also slows down carbohydrate release.
"Peanuts do have a little bit of protein," she says, "but they are really in the fat category."
Take It Easy
Both Chalmers and Haselman advise prudence about candy consumption for adults and children with diabetes. Everyone should stick to a healthy amount of calories each day, and candy can quickly consume that daily allowance.
"If there's something in your diet that you really want to have," says Haselman, "then you have to compensate by cutting back on something else. Weight gain in and of itself is no good."
Tips for Parents
Chalmers says that when her own children would go trick-or-treating, she would put the candy away where they could not get to it. Even though they did not have diabetes, she wanted them to stick to healthier treats.
"In place of the candy, I would let them each get something else, like stickers," says Chalmers, who thinks that another good trick is to buy back the candy from your kids. "Give them a nickel or a quarter for each piece of candy. Or, maybe five candy bars equal a trip to the movies, or staying up an hour later."
Betschart adds another tip: sharing the candy with others. "I have seen children take their bags to less advantaged children for distribution," she says.
No matter which path you choose, says Betschart, "allowing your child some choices and control over the situation will help him feel a part of the solution, and he may be less likely to resent any decisions."
Diabetes Health is the essential resource for people living with diabetes- both newly diagnosed and experienced as well as the professionals who care for them. We provide balanced expert news and information on living healthfully with diabetes. Each issue includes cutting-edge editorial coverage of new products, research, treatment options, and meaningful lifestyle issues.