It’s that infamous time of year again: Hallowe’en. Forgive me for sounding goulishly doctor-ish with this post…..but from an immune system perspective, Hallowe’en is “the perfect storm”: the perfect costume designed to scare (but not to keep you warm) + cold weather + late nights + SUGAR = et VOILA! Down come their defenses…and down come the kids with colds and flus. This pattern recurs every year, so what’s a fun-loving naturopath to do? YES you can have a fun Hallowe’en and here are a few suggestions for parents to help see your kids through the candy holiday with their health intact:
1. Warm it up. I remember being 4 years old and CRYING because it was actually snowing on Hallowe’en and my parents were insisting I wear my snowsuit on top of my costume (that year I was dressed up as…of all things….a strawberry). At 4 years old, after all that anticipation and excitement preparing for the big tricking-or-treating night, the mere thought of showing up on my neighbours’ doorsteps in winter boots dressed up as “a kid in a snowsuit”, my strawberry-ness all covered up with windproof this and waterproof that, bordered on mortifying. And I know you want to avoid both (1) tantrums and (2) a mortified child (WAY too sad!!)
So why not plan on Hallowe’en being cold (’cause it usually is) and think of costumes that easily accommodate some extra insulation? Think costumes that involve scarves, gloves, capes, hats….you get the picture! Getting a “chill” – which represents a lowering of the body’s core temperature – weakens the body’s defenses and makes trick-or-treaters more susceptible against whichever little bugs are around at any given time.
2. Ration that sugar like it’s the Great Depression. Really, this one is important because sugar not only gets kids bounding off the walls one hour, then cranky and crashy the next hour, but it also depresses their immune function for a period of hours after each sugar ingestion. Not to mention they way refined sugar aggravates behavioural and learning difficulties and decreases their ability to focus at school and disrupts their sleep patterns. To help minimize the effects of sugar, take charge of the candy bag when trick-or-treating is done. You’ll be sorting through the candy to look for risky things anyway…so help kids pick out a few (I’ll leave the interpretation of “a few” to you) favorites to enjoy in moderation throughout the week, and throw the rest away. There, I said it. Phew! And remember….it’s perfectly OK to explain to your kids why they only get a few pieces of candy per week (i.e. so they don’t get and stay sick right through to Christmas holidays) and why the rest is going into the junk can – i.e. because it IS junk!
3. The balancing act. There are a few nutritional tricks that help buffer the negative effects of eating sugar. Have your child eat a meal or snack containing some protein and vegetables before the candy. Because it’s more slowly digested and doesn’t raise insulin levels, protein and fiber help to blunt blood sugar dips and spikes that can turn your child from Jekell into Hyde if he or she eats sugar on its own. Another tip is to have the serving of the select (see Ration, above) Hallowe’een candy all at once, with a meal, and followed immediately by brushing teeth. This beats spreading the same number of candies by themselves and spread over the course of the day, in terms of the impact on your child’s dental health and blood sugar. Be sure to send them out trick-or-treating on a full stomache so they won’t be tempted to sample their goodies before you’ve had a chance to check and sort.
All that said…I am really not into the idea of becoming a Dr. Debbie Downer of Hallowe’en, so…get out there and enjoy the creativity and fun of the event and if the kids get sick….well….that’s OK once in a while, too.
For more on keeping your child healthy through cold and flu season, join our upcoming educational seminar!
Dr. Elizabeth Cherevaty BScH, ND
Guelph Naturopathic Doctor