The average American “eats approximately 25 pounds of candy per year with the highest intakes during the holiday season.” Candy tastes delicious, conjures up childhood memories of fun times including dressing up in costume and collecting sweets around the neighborhood. Unfortunately, candy is just empty calories offering no nutritional value. It is mostly made of sugar, food dyes, artificial colorings and artificial flavors.
Eating candy can have an impact on your dental health, waistline, increase the risk of obesity, add to systemic inflammation and ultimately help along the process of developing type 2 diabetes. Eating too much sugar does not cause diabetes. Being overweight with too much body fat, especially around the belly, adds to insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes. Eating sweets can start the cycle of craving even more sweets.
A food craving is an intense desire for a specific food that generally happens after eating sugar and fat. Cravings most commonly center around junk food and processed foods which are high in sugar, salt and fat. Cravings for these foods can cause a roadblock to healthy eating for many people and ultimately result in forming chronic illnesses.
What is the craving cycle?
Sugar cravings are extremely common among both men and women. “97% of women and 68% of men report sugar cravings at some point in their lives.” When cravings hit, you begin to binge eat which leads to even higher calorie, fat and sugar intake. This is dangerous for anyone, especially when you have diabetes. Learning to fight and vanquish cravings for sugar is possible when you use the right techniques and make healthier food and snack choices.
How do you stop the sugar craving cycle?
Food cravings actually begin in the brain, not the stomach. Not eating enough, eating poor quality foods, emotions such as stress, anxiety, depression, boredom and hormone imbalances can be triggers. The areas in the brain that cause cravings are responsible for memory, pleasure and reward. Understanding the sensation, the ability to make better decisions and avoiding trigger foods can help stop the cravings and the cycle. Simple measures include daily exercise, eating on time and using healthy fats for satiation. Other positive ways to eliminate sugar cravings include getting enough quality sleep, eating proper amounts of high-quality lean proteins such as poultry, eggs, fish and drinking lots of plain water to feel full for longer periods of time and to prevent dehydration. Avoiding sugar will lower the cravings.
What are some Halloween candy alternatives for me?
- Fresh fruit is a winning choice even with diabetes when eaten in proper portion size. Permission is not granted to eat a pound of cherries, but fresh fruit is packed with antioxidants which provide anti-inflammatory properties and is naturally sweet and satisfying. Some fruits are sweeter with more sugar than others such as the tropical fruits like banana, papaya, mango, grapes and pineapple. Certain fruits have less sugar per serving including apples, pears, citrus fruit and berries. Berries are high in fiber which means they are lower in sugar. Pick fruit to match the season for the best flavor and lowest price. Strawberries, blueberries and raspberries blast with taste in the spring and summer and are low in calories with an abundance of vitamin C. Substitute frozen berries with no syrup or juice in the winter when berries are expensive and tasteless. Making your own fresh frozen fruit is a yummy and easy treat. Place 10-12 green, red or purple grapes in small snacking bags and freeze overnight. Let them melt in your mouth after dinner for a cool and refreshing dessert. Add a handful of walnuts or almonds for a well- balanced snack.
- Even in the winter and fall, an icy and fruity popsicle can help end a meal without a lot of sugar and little or no fat. You just place fruit with water or low-fat milk in a blender, pour the mixture into plastic popsicle molds or a paper cups with Dixie sticks and freeze overnight. You can add cut up berries to the fruit before freezing for even more fiber. A creamier popsicle can be made by adding plain yogurt instead of low-fat milk or water.
Alternative ice creams
- Regular ice cream is high in sugar, filled with saturated fat and cream content. The fat won’t spike blood sugars, but the total calories will definitely add pounds on you. Frozen yogurts, sorbets and sherbets are much higher in sugar and rarely contain fat. The market is now filled with alternative ice creams that are lower in saturated fat and sugar compared to regular ice cream.
First, you can create your own by mashing and freezing bananas, slightly thawing, adding a handful of mini chocolate chips and chopped nuts and refreezing. If buying store brands, look for those that are sweetened with Monk fruit, Stevia or sugar alcohols. Some kinds add extra fiber and protein. Remember, portion size still does and always will matter. Add nuts as a topping for a bit of protein and good fat. According to Medical News Today and Women’s Health Magazine, there are several brands to try and evaluate when you have diabetes. Some are listed below:
- Halo Top. Halo Top is low in calories and made with artificial sweeteners. Interesting flavors like Birthday Cake are offered with added protein.
- Blue Bunny. Chocolate and vanilla options offer great flavor with only 20 grams of carbohydrate per half a cup serving.
- Artic Zero light ice cream. It comes in light and non-dairy varieties as well as non-dairy bars. Each serving (½ cup) is approximately 80 calories.
- Ben and Jerry’s. Even B and J came out with a line of flavors called Moo-phoria with less calories and fat than traditional ice cream. They do not contain sugar alcohols, just less sugar than regular ice cream.
- Skinny Cow. This brand has the highest name recognition and is said to have a delicious taste. The single servings are small portions, low in sugar with no sugar alcohols. They comes in various flavors, both in cups and bars.
Veggie chips & roasted chick peas
- Veggie chips are easy to grab off of super market shelves, but they are high in sodium, hidden sugar and preservatives. A better choice is to make your own. It is very easy! Slice vegetables extra thin with a Mandoline for crunchy texture. Boosting your vegetable intake is a win-win situation since it lowers your risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and possibly cancer. Examples would be:
- Pink Himalayan salt spinach chips
- Kale chips
- Sweet potato chips
- Radish chips
- Beet chips
- Use fresh beets that are uncooked. Peel and thinly slice the beets with a Mandoline. Put into a bowl and add 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and 3 tablespoon of wine vinegar (you could substitute apple cider vinegar). Spice it up with garlic or chili powder and blend with your hands. Place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet in a pre-heated oven at 300 degrees. Bake for 45–60 minutes. Check often to make sure they are not burning (depending on how thin you make them). Let cool and enjoy. They tend to lose their crispness if left over night.
Roasted chick peas
- Garbanzo beans or chick peas are a staple in the Mediterranean diet which is now considered a top eating style for people with diabetes and heart disease. They are high in protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals and considered legumes. Legumes (lentils, beans, chick peas) should be a part of any eating plan. For ease, use a can of garbanzo beans, rinse thoroughly with water and drain. Air dry for about 20 minutes. Mix with a tablespoon of olive oil in a bowl. Place on baking sheet lined with parchment paper in a pre-heated oven at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove, stir around, add another ½ tablespoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of flavored salt (Truffle salt is delicious). If you worry about hypertension, use Mrs. Dash which is a salt-free seasoning mix, instead. Bake another 15 minutes. Let cool and enjoy.
- Energy balls come in many variations and are best when made by you, at home. They do not require heating, cooking or baking. Most are made with a mixture of high-quality ingredients that contain fiber, nutrients and good fats. They can easily take the edge off hunger and are a wholesome snack. Remember, they are dense and do contain a lot of calories per energy ball, so limit portion size. An example would be energy snowballs.
White snow-covered energy balls
- Mix 1 cup of uncooked oat flakes, 2 tablespoon each of chia, hemp and flaxseeds, 4 prunes or pitted dates (mashed up), 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract, ground cinnamon and chopped peanuts.
- Finely grind the mixture in a food processor until it becomes a sticky mixture.
- Remove and form into small balls, roll and coat in raw cocoa powder.
- Then roll in shredded, unsweetened coconut for an awesome snack.
The prunes are high in fiber, the chia seeds are full of Omega 3 fatty acids, the cocoa is filled with flavanols and the dates are rich in iron and potassium. A perfect food to cure your sweet tooth and a very healthy choice. This is better than any candy!
Homemade trail mix
- Store bought trail mix can be loaded with sugar, salt and artificial ingredients and hydrogenated fats. Once again, it is cheaper and more healthful to make your own. Use dried fruit that is not coated in added sugars. Take a handful of dried cherries, cranberries and yellow raisins and mix together. Add some roasted pecans, unsalted pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, carob or dark chocolate mini-chips and un-salted pretzel sticks. Add a pinch of nutmeg for that holiday flavor. You have a great tasting treat that you can bag into individual portions and freeze. Thaw as needed.
- Popcorn has always been a great snack for people with diabetes. It is a complex carbohydrate which is high in fiber. Made the right way, eating a 3-cup serving (30 calories a cup) is the perfect snack. Avoid microwave popcorn which have added salt, artificial colors and hydrogenated fat. Prepare popcorn in an air popper if available. If not, pop kernels in 1 tablespoon of canola oil on the stove in a pot with a cover. Add 3 tablespoon of freshly grated Parmesan cheese while popcorn is still hot. The cheese is very salty so do not add more salt. Sprinkle dried chives in and you have a delicious treat. A sweeter version can be made by sprinkling some cinnamon and cocoa powder on the popcorn while it is still warm. You can make a version with chopped, roasted peanuts, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter (fresh ground) and a dash of honey or 100% maple syrup. Mix together and eat or mix together and spread on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Place in pre-heated oven at 250 degrees for 20 minutes. Gooey and yummy with healthy unsaturated fats and fiber.
Homemade roasted nuts
- Nuts are an excellent snack when eaten in portion size due to their high calories. Nuts are full of good fats and the latest research says, “eating a handful of nuts daily, may aid in weight loss.” The theory is nuts satisfy other cravings due to the fat content. It can usually stop hunger in its tracks. For an even better snack, combine fruit with a handful of roasted nuts. The nuts help prevent sharp rises in blood sugars from the fruit. Purchase raw almonds, raw cashews, raw pecans and unsalted peanuts. Use about 3 cups in total (any nut combination you prefer) and purchase them from bins for a lower cost. Mix nuts with extra virgin olive oil and a bit of sea salt. Place on baking sheet covered with parchment paper and roast in a preheated oven at 325 degrees for about 10 minutes. Stir around and replace in oven and bake until they are golden. If you like, add a dash of cinnamon or chili powder for extra flavor. Cool, eat and store the rest in an air-tight container.
Dark chocolate covered fruit
- Chocolate with at least 60% cocoa (even better 72% or higher) has tons of heart health benefits. It can enhance vascular function and aid in blood pressure control. It contains flavanols which may help with memory. Dark chocolate contains iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc. Melt dark chocolate in the microwave. Place in the microwave for 30 second intervals until melted, while watching to make sure you do not burn the chocolate. When melted, dip in fresh pineapple chunks, apple slices, banana chunks or even kiwi and strawberries, depending on which seasonal fresh fruits you can find. Place on wax paper and freeze for 15-20 minutes. Eat and enjoy! A square of dark chocolate on its own can be perfect. Remember, dark chocolate still contains some sugar and calories so stick to 1-2 kisses or a single square and avoid eating a large dark chocolate bar at a single time.
- One of the biggest food trends out there now is avocado toast and with good reason. Eating half of a mashed avocado (Hass avocados are the most popular) on whole grain toast is delicious and nutritious. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and a dash of garlic powder. Some people like to add thin slivers of red onion. For a complete meal, serve with a sunny side egg on top. Even adding roasted red peppers on top of the toast is a wonderful combination. Avocado is filled with healthy fat making it both satisfying and filling. It contains fiber, provides over 20 vitamins and minerals including vitamin K, vitamin C, folate and potassium. In season, they are reasonably priced.
Homemade baked apples
- Apples are abundant during the fall/Halloween season. There are about 2500 varieties of apples grown in the United States. Choose from Delicious, Cortland, Macintosh, Granny Smith, Winesap, Rome, and Golden, to name just a few. Apples are high in pectin, fiber, vitamin C and polyphenols. Wash and cut off the tops of the apples and then core them. Tart apples, like Granny Smith work better than sweeter apples when baking. Place apples in a glass baking dish. Cover with a tablespoon of melted coconut oil, fresh ground cinnamon stick, a handful of raisins and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. If you don’t like raisins, substitute 3 prunes or 3 pitted dates. Cover everything with a can of diet cherry soda. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 20-30 minutes depending on the consistency you prefer. Serve warm. The house will permeate with the smell of fall.
Energy snack bars
- Snack bars are often another name for candy bars but under a healthier disguise. They may be full of sugar, salt, saturated fat, preservatives and calories. Learn to read all food labels, especially when considering a snack/energy/granola/protein bar. Energy bars are rarely recommended as a snack choice when you ask a diabetes educator, but in a pinch, there are some that are preferred.
Avoid high protein bars. Do not use bars as a meal replacement, use only as a snack. Look for bars with 20 grams or less of carbohydrates, between 150-200 calories, 5 or more grams of protein, 3 or more grams of fiber (more being better) and a low sugar content. Never use any type of bar to treat hypoglycemia as it will take much too long to treat. Use a fast-acting glucose source such as glucose tablets, glucose gel or 4-6 ounces of regular soda. If you need a quick snack with little thought, a 100-calorie granola bar is reasonable.
Some bar choices for those with diabetes include:
- ExtendBar – Extend Nutrition was originally made for people with diabetes. Extend Bars are “a patented combination of proteins, fats and complex carbohydrates. They are clinically proven to help control blood sugars for up to 9 hours and lower the risk of hypoglycemia.” The bars are high in protein and fiber. They have a low glycemic index and contain 20 grams of carbohydrate, just over 1 serving. A typical snack bar does not have the staying power of an Extend Bar. They come in a variety of flavors including lemon, berries, chocolate and chocolate/peanut butter. Extend Bars are used as a bedtime snack to get people through the night without hypoglycemia.
- RX Bars – these are an option for a sweet treat. They are portable and in portion size. RX bars were created by 2 best friends. They are preservative free and, “bars with a few simple ingredients.” RX bars only contain 4 things: Egg whites for protein, nuts for crunch and texture, dates to help the ingredients bind together and fruit or chocolate for taste. Flavors include coconut, pumpkin, cherry, blueberry and chocolate, to name just a few.
- Kind Bars – Kind bars are made from whole food ingredients, are natural and not processed. They are high in fiber, rich in nuts and dark chocolate. Kind bars taste good without anything artificial. Do not purchase the ones coated in sugary yogurt or chocolate toppings.
- Quest Bars – Quest bars are sweetened with Stevia and erythritol. They contain added fiber which helps delay a rise in blood sugars. Quest bars come in many interesting flavors including Cookies and Créme.
Sugar-free chewing gum
- Chewing gum has been around since ancient times. It used to be made from tree sap and today it is made mostly from synthetic materials. Chewing gum keeps the mouth busy and can be used to help avoid cravings, while providing a sweet treat. It may actually aid in brain concentration and focus. Some people chew gum to lower stress and anxiety. Sugar-free gum comes in mint flavors, fruit flavors as well as cinnamon. Chewing sugar-free gum has been effective in keeping dental cares down after eating, when brushing is not possible. It should not be used when you are truly hungry. Chewing too much sugar-free gum may result in gas, bloating and diarrhea from the sugar alcohols used to sweeten the gum. Certain chewing gums such as Biotene, can treat dry mouth, a common problem with diabetes.
- Sugar-free mints are flavored with sugar alcohols as well. They can play havoc with your digestive track if eaten in large amounts. You can use them as an after-meal breath freshener or to finish your meal with a sweet and pleasant taste. Try Altoid sugar-free mints that come in peppermint, spearmint, wintergreen and cinnamon. Sugar-free Life Savers offer fruit flavors and now come in small bags of individually wrapped mints for your convenience.
There are so many easy and delicious treats you can substitute for Halloween candy when you have diabetes. You do not have to miss out on the holiday fun. Avoid excess sugar to help keep your blood sugars in check. Get rid of snacks high in saturated fat. Make your own sweet or savory snacks to save money and tame blood sugars. Avoid the usual weight gain during the Halloween season. Prepare extra snacks for family and friends for even more holiday cheer.