If you’re on a low-carb or low-sugar diet, Halloween is probably your least favorite holiday. What’s there to eat? You look around and see candies galore, and it’s tough to avoid the temptation of digging right into the trick-or-treat bowl.
Luckily, there are still a few ways to appreciate good ol’ Halloween for more than just satisfying a sweet tooth—which you can still do, as long as you’re doing so in moderation and with the right treats.
Be Mindful of the Labels
First off—check those Halloween candy labels to see how many sugar grams there are per serving before biting right in. “According to the American Heart Association, the maximum amount of added sugars you should eat in a day are 150 calories per day for men (37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons) and 100 calories per day for women (25 grams or 6 teaspoons),” says Seattle-based Ginger Hultin, RD and Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
And some candies can be deceivingly high in sugar. For reference, a fun-size Butterfinger has 100 calories and 8 grams of sugar and 8 pieces of Gummy Bears have 65 calories and 21 grams of sugar. (Seems crazy, right?) A Skittles fun size has 60 calories and 11 grams of sugar.
“It’s easy to exceed your limits with just 1 piece,” she says. What’s more, if you’re diabetic or need to strictly monitor blood sugar levels, all that added sugar can cause levels to become out of whack, depending on your medical situation and medications, she explains. “If a person is avoiding added sugars for any reason, these types of foods probably won’t fit in their dietary goals at all,” as well, she adds.
Pick the Best Options
You should go with the healthiest options possible—ones that are lower in sugar and calories, or have high volume for the same nutritional count. Going with fun-sized options will be better than eating a full-sized bar or serving, says Hultin.
“If you want lower-calorie or lower-sugar candy, there are a few better options,” she says. She recommends Smarties, which have 25 calories and 6 grams of sugar per roll; a fun size Starburst, with only 40 calories and 6 grams of sugar in two candies; or one Twix mini bar, which only has 50 calories and 5 grams of sugar.
Don’t Deprive Yourself
It’s fine to eat candy if it fits into your health and nutrition goals. “Each person needs to balance their health goals with what treats work for them,” says Hultin. Some people have medical conditions or special diets that don’t allow added sugar, while others can fit it into their lives.
“I just buy regular Halloween candy. I believe, as a registered dietitian, that all foods can fit into a person’s diet,” says Hultin. Just don’t go overboard and only choose your favorites—the ones you really look forward to each year. If Skittles don’t do it for you, and they’re just sitting on the table, there’s no need to eat them. You might also want to speak to your physician to discuss your specific rules when it comes to any added sugar on Halloween.
You can also give yourself, and your kids, a limit for all that leftover candy sitting in the house. “I like to suggest parents let their families enjoy on Halloween but instill a ‘Trick-Or-Two-Treat’ rule of thumb post-October 31 when your house is filled with T-o-T remnants,” says Chicago-based Julie Pappas, RD.
“Put excess candy in the freezer so it’s out of sight and allow yourself to enjoy two pieces of bite-size or individually-portioned candies from your stash if you’re in the mood for a sweet treat,” she recommends.
Or Stock Up on Candies You Don’t Like That Much
If you’re worried about indulging in moderation—some people choose to just cut it out instead—consider buying candies to pass out to trick-or-treaters that you don’t crave. “When I’m shopping, I see what looks colorful and fun—but to be honest, I DO tend to purchase the kind that I don’t myself enjoy that much so I’m not as tempted to eat it myself,” says Hultin. Your kids will still eat them and you won’t need to worry about resisting temptation.
Have Fun Without Stuffing Your Face
Halloween is a fun holiday—you can dress up, go trick-or-treating with kids, take photos, carve pumpkins, and decorate your home. It’s not all about the candy. If you remember that sentiment, you’ll feel less limited when you can’t eat much sugar.
“There are so many wonderful aspects of Halloween, aside from candy. Enjoy dressing up, walking outside, carving pumpkins, collecting leaves, attending a haunted house, or going to a party—without the added sugar,” says Hultin. These are fun activities for children and adults alike, and they are fun, memorable ways to celebrate the season.
DIY Your Halloween Treats
If Halloween candy doesn’t seem to fit into your low-sugar diet, you can still find healthier (and still sweet and festive!) treats to fill your belly.
“One thing you can do to enjoy autumn flavors—without any sugar at all—is to indulge in some festive tea. Look for flavors like pumpkin spice, chai, apple cider tea, and cranberry tea for that comforting taste with zero calories and zero sugar,” says Hultin.
If you’re hosting a party or taking snacks to school for kids, get creative with Halloween-themed foods, instead. “Little tangerines that look like pumpkins or string cheese disguised as a ghost or even caramel apples—at least there’s some healthy, high-fiber apple in there for nutritional value,” she says.
For sweets, try this hack: “I find most recipes too sweet, so I always start with half the sugar and taste it to see if I need to add more,” says Hultin. If you do need more, use banana or applesauce in place of sugar for some natural sweetness, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
You can also whip fruits into fall cupcakes and breads to give people for gifts or to have at parties, which can still offer dessert without tons of added sugar. “There are a lot of fun, creative ways to lighten up Halloween and slash the sugar if you’re willing to step outside the candy box and use healthy foods in fun way,” Hultin says.