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Have you met the Switch Witch?

By Catherine Burns Uh oh, Halloween candy has hit the stores and I just can't keep the rant in anymore! There are only so many weird ingredients and food dyes a girl can take. By the time I'd made it from one end of Phoenix to the other I was positively sweating. Seeing so much junk being sold as either “treats” or “food” makes my mind boggle.

Now don't get me wrong, I am not anti-treats! My kids absolutely love Halloween and for as long as they would like to take part, I will help them enjoy the whole trick or treat adventure. Of course you could argue that sending kids out in the dark to ask for candy from strangers is a Bad Idea (and goes against everything we usually teach them) but I think most of us parents are able to help our kids do it safely. Of course, from a nutrition perspective, I can't help trying to make it a bit more healthy.

If you read this column regularly you'll know that I think sugar is the most dangerous drug on the planet. It's a bold statement I know, but read back through the archives if you are curious. However, that doesn't mean I don't let my kids have sugar, but I do try and provide “better” versions.

In my view there is candy, and then there is candy. There is the sugary stuff made with natural ingredients and then there are brands stuffed full of petrochemicals (food dyes) and other things even I don't understand. It's the food dyes I have a major problem with, although — as is often the way — it's a contentious issue.

The natural healthcare industry is quick to condemn artificial food dyes and chemicals in our food. Unfortunately websites, blog posts, journalism and mass e-mails often “alert” the public to “dangerous” or “cancer causing” ingredients with references to unsubstantial evidence or bad science. This allows the mainstream profession to have a field day, pointing out flaws in the research and using those flaws to discredit the concept.

There are two problems here: firstly, sometimes the science really is there (but it just gets ignored) and secondly, we have to acknowledge the monumental power and influence of the food industry when it comes to Government regulation and funding. The fact is, setting up legitimate scientific trials requires years and a mega budget. So isn't it possible that the natural healthcare field and food industry is just under funded?

But back to the facts. When it comes to food dyes, the fact is that artificial colours are made from petrochemicals. Many are also linked to hyperactivity in children. We know that the hyperactivity issue is based in solid science because the UK has completely banned six artificial dyes from the shelves for that reason. See the list for details. Food and drinks containing other artificial dyes must have a warning label identifying them. That should be good news … and it is if you live in the UK. The problem is that although Europe has applied mandatory warning labels to items containing these chemicals, the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) in the US has not followed suit. This means that many of the processed foods and drinks we buy here, contain ingredients that are illegal in other countries. How comfortable does that make you feel?

To me, if we strip it back to basics, I think it's a simple as this. If you can colour candy with a vegetable-based dye, why do we think it's OK to colour it with a chemical dye instead? Sure it's cheaper — but just have less, or find other non-food treats. Can we really put a price on health?

I realise that every parent and every household will have their own views and rules. I am by no means saying that my way is the only way. But as a nutritionist and mummy, I handle Halloween with the Switch Witch, and I thought you might like it too.

The Switch Witch is not an original concept, but I wrote this poem to help my kids reduce the volume of candy and also to help them sort the natural from the artificial colours. We started this tradition last year and they absolutely loved it. The idea is that after trick or treating, your kids pick out the things they'd like to keep (you can set a limit on this if you wish) and then they put the rest — especially the more brightly coloured artificial junk — in a bucket for the Switch Witch. They can leave the bucket at the end of their bed (like a Christmas stocking) or downstairs (if they are scared) and in the middle of the night, the Switch Witch comes. The Switch Witch takes away the candy and leaves a little gift in return. It could be a book, a toy, some stickers, a few dollars — whatever your child would be excited by. As for what you do with the candy — that's up to you, I do suggest you get it out of the house quickly though as god forbid you should be caught!

This idea is just one way to help you make Halloween that little bit more healthy, whilst still taking part in all the fun. I know it's devious, but no more so than Santa or the Tooth Fairy. My kids listen to the poem wide-eyed and are so excited to separate everything out. But in case that idea is not for you, or if you would just like some extra tips, read on for more ideas on managing the Halloween sugar rush!

1. The protein trick

Curb that sugar rush by filling your kids up with quality protein before they trick or treat. Grilled chicken, healthier nuggets, Applegate sausages, bolognaise or a bean chilli would all work well. Even a whole-grain nut butter sandwich would help. They will be less hungry and the protein will also steady the release of sugar into their bloodstream.

2. Healthier treats

If you are giving out candy yourselves, go for the more natural treats rather than the artificially coloured and flavoured junk. These include mini Smarties (M & Ms contain artificial dyes), the Cadbury's treat size collections (buttons, Dairy Milk, Crunchie, Twix, etc), Yummy Earth lollipops & gummy bears and Surf Sweets (Down to Earth, Peoples), Organic chocolate Bug Bites (Down to Earth) and Jelly Babies, Dolly Mixture. Whatever you do, try and avoid the six in the list at all costs. If you want to buy online or overseas, check out: www.naturalcandystore.com

3. The healthiest treats

I kid you not, last year we had kids running up our drive asking for the small boxes of Sunmaid Raisins, so consider including these! You can also decorate tangerine oranges as pumpkins with a black marker, which looks super cute too.

4. Toys not treats

Of course you have the option to give out tiny toys in your neighbourhood, instead of candy. Tattoos, bouncy balls, stickers, fun pencils, glow sticks and plastic jewellery all go down really well too.

The advice given in this article is not intended to replace medical advice, but to complement it. Always consult your GP if you have any health concerns. Catherine Burns BA Hons, Dip ION is the Managing Director of Natural Ltd and a fully qualified Nutritional Therapist trained by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in the UK. Please note that she is not a Registered Dietitian. For details, please go to www.natural.bm or call 236-7511. Join Catherine on Facebook: www.facebook.com/nutrifitandnaturalnutritionbermuda

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Published October 10, 2013 at 8:36 pm (Updated October 11, 2013 at 11:18 am)

Have you met the Switch Witch?

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