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Halloween with Diabetes: Navigating the Holiday Safely

13 Minute Read

Halloween can be a tricky holiday to navigate. Here are some ways to make trick-or-treating safe for people with diabetes and some other fun activities to do that don't center around eating candy.

Halloween is upon us, and many are wondering how to celebrate with the special dietary needs that come with prediabetes, type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

While the occasion may leave you a bit anxious about your health, you can enjoy the holiday through a focus on moderation, finding sugar-free options, and knowing when to say no.

For many families, Halloween is about tradition. From a young age, children look forward to the trick-or-treating experience and parents enjoy seeing their kids dressed up in creative costumes.

As a person with a chronic health condition like diabetes, you likely worry about how the festivities (especially candies and treats that tend to have a lot of added sugar) will affect your health.

“Managing diabetes during the holidays or special events can be overwhelming,” says Christine Bendana, nutritionist, trained chef, and founder of PrepYoSelf, a healthy meal-planning platform.

“Fortunately, there are ways to find balance, stay on track with health goals, and still enjoy the holiday cheer.”

Here are some tips for having fun while trick-or-treating and still taking care of your health. 

Trick-or-treating safety tips

Whether trick or treating yourself or chauffeuring kids around town, safety is always a top priority. Having a plan and sticking to it will help keep you safe and healthy.

#1: Plan your day ahead of time

Before you go out to trick-or-treat, plan ahead. Eat a healthy meal at home that contains protein and fiber, which will keep your glucose steady for hours before Halloween festivities begin.

“Having a plan can help you stay on track and help you balance healthy eating and indulging in between. It doesn’t mean you can’t treat yourself every now and then,” explains Bendena.

“Sometimes it helps to map out your events and see when you might indulge. Create a meal plan to keep you on track and help give you guidance in between the events.”

Enjoy a healthy snack before heading out the door so you won't be overwhelmed by hunger. This will help cut back cravings, especially those that may be brought on from sugar-rich treats.

#2: Choose treats wisely

Halloween is all about candy, but unfortunately, not every sweet treat is equal when it comes to glucose levels.

You want to be mindful of what you are eating, so the best thing to do is aim for sugar-free treats or bring healthy foods with you. If your kids are trick or treating, put a few healthy Halloween treats in their goodie bags too – such as fruits (like berries or apples), nuts and seeds, veggie sticks, or one of our delicious pumpkin treats.

Portion size is also important for diabetes care; if you want to indulge in your favorite candies, aim for a snack-size portion that has lower total fat and sugar compared to full-size portions. 

#3: Don't be afraid to turn down candy

Be polite if you decline, but don't expect others to understand everything about your condition or needs.

Even maintaining a healthy lifestyle doesn't guarantee one is in the clear from diabetes complications. If you don’t want to decline a goodie, you can always gift it to a friend or coworker.

#4: Know what your candy alternatives are

There are many healthy alternatives to traditional trick-or-treating candy such as dried fruit, nuts, raisins, jerky, granola bars, and sugar-free gum.

If you have a sweet tooth that can't be tamed, consider looking into some sugar-free candy options that are also low in carbohydrates. Notty is just one brand that offers sugar-free products like double-stuffed peanut butter stuffed cups, which contain zero grams of sugar and zero net carbs. It also offers several flavors making it an ideal alternative.

#5: Take part in the Teal Pumpkin Project

Diabetes isn't the only condition that may change the way you celebrate this Halloween. Many people have food allergies or intolerances that make trick-or-treating difficult to navigate.

The Teal Pumpkin Project is a movement that encourages the community to be more inclusive for their trick-or-treating visitors. This movement urges people to provide non-food items, such as small toys and glow sticks, for those who cannot eat candy or would prefer not to. By placing a teal pumpkin at your door, you are letting potential visitors know that you're taking part in the Teal Pumpkin Project.

#6: Save treats for later

If you have more treats than necessary, save them for when your blood glucose is low.

The 15-15 rule works well for many people. Separate your Halloween candy into servings that contain 15 grams of carbohydrates and prepare emergency kits for when you're experiencing low blood sugar (or hypoglycemia).

When your glucose level drops below 70 mg/dL, pull out your already prepared emergency candy stash. Check your blood sugar level 15 minutes after eating your 15 grams of carbohydrates.

If it's raised to above 70 mg/dL, grab a protein-rich snack to help sustain your glucose level. But if your sugar isn't up to 70 mg/dL, eat another serving of candy and test again in 15 minutes.

Here are some popular low-carb Halloween milk chocolate and candy options with fewer calories and around 15 grams of carbohydrates each:

  • 3 Musketeers (fun-size)
  • Butterfinger (fun-size)
  • M&Ms (fun-sized ba)
  • Milky Way (fun-size)
  • Skittles (fun-size bag)
  • Tootsie Pop
  • 3 Tootsie Rolls (fun-size)
  • 8 Whoppers

If you can find sugar-free candies with artificial sweeteners, that's even better. It's always a good idea to check the nutrition label on what you buy to get an idea of how many carbs or added sugars a product has.

#7: Make a tradition of donating candy

Do you have more candy than you need? If so, don't throw it out.

Instead, make a new tradition of donating your extra candy to organizations in need. Places like Treats for Troops accept your candy donations and distribute them to soldiers and veterans all around the world.

What makes this program even more amazing is that those who donate candy can earn prizes for their efforts, and the donations are even tax-deductible. Talk about a win-win!

Beyond trick-or-treating: 10 alternative Halloween activities

Another way to enjoy the holiday without focusing on your diet is to focus on the events surrounding it. It's a holiday set aside more for the thrill of spookiness, rather than gorging on sweets.

In fact, many Halloween activities can be done with your health in mind. Making new traditions with friends and families can help alleviate the stress of dietary restrictions. You can still celebrate the holiday in a healthy way.

  1. Enjoy the season at a pumpkin patch: Celebrate the season by picking your own pumpkin. Pumpkins are rich in antioxidants and help lower blood pressure, making it a great tradition. You can bring a pumpkin home to carve or make a delicious pumpkin recipe.
  2. Get "spooked" at a haunted house: The scariest part of Halloween may be the haunted houses and mazes. While you might find this too frightening, it can make for an exciting evening.
  3. Make your own treats: You're in control, especially if you bake your own festive concoctions. This gives you the chance to decide what ingredients go into each recipe, swap out the bad, and it can boost your confidence with your skills in the kitchen.

“Since it is the season of giving, give yourself permission to eat your favorite holiday foods but make some swaps,” says Bendana. “Yes, you can still enjoy sweet desserts and those savory comfort dishes, but swap out ingredients and lighten up your recipes.”

  1. Host a Halloween party: Rather than going from house to house, have a party at your own home with your friends. Being the host means you get to choose the food and drink options.
  2. Plan a Halloween game night: The most popular Halloween game is bobbing for apples, which can be done with your health in mind. Other games include decorating pumpkins and taking fun group photos.
  3. Find your way through a corn maze: Halloween isn't just about being spooked. It's also a time to be adventurous and get your hands dirty. A corn maze can let you feel the thrill of the season while making your way through a labyrinth of twists and turns.
  4. Create a Halloween playlist: Use your favorite search engine to create a playlist of Halloween-themed music. Listen while you carve pumpkins, decorate the house, or go trick-or-treating with your friends. You can use apps like Spotify or iTunes to create one on the go!
  5. Invite guests over for a bonfire: Burning a candle isn't the only way to create a warm ambiance. A bonfire is another great choice. This is the perfect time to get spooky with some ghost stories.
  6. Host a Halloween craft night: Whether you want to make painted rocks or put together a Halloween wreath, this is the night to do it. You can pair it with a Halloween game night for the ultimate Halloween experience.
  7. Go on a haunted hayride: If you want to get spooked but don't want to be inside, then a haunted hayride is the perfect activity for you! You can find these in most towns that have enough clearing for a tractor, and it provides a fun way to enjoy the season.

The bottom line: Don't let diabetes ruin the fun

Halloween can be difficult for those with diabetes – but it doesn't have to be.

If you're able to relax and enjoy the holiday by creating new traditions, you can still celebrate the season without feeling left out. You may even inspire others to create their own healthy traditions.

So grab some friends or family members and make an adventure out of Halloween this year. You won't regret it.