Sugar might be the scariest thing about Halloween

Sugar might be the scariest thing about Halloween

New Wave Nightingale(Oct. 3, 2023) — The fall holidays will soon be upon us, and Halloween is a favorite for many.

Halloween grew from the Celtic harvest celebration known as Samhain, celebrated at a time when the veil between worlds is believed to be just a little thinner.

But I digress. This is a health column not a discussion of comparative religions.

Halloween, of course, means sugar – which is a problem in the United States. In and of itself, sugar is not evil. It occurs naturally in all things containing carbohydrates, including fruits, vegetables and grains.

Consuming whole foods containing natural sugar is not problematic for most people, and these foods are generally rich in fiber, minerals and antioxidants. As they are generally digested slowly, the sugar supplies a steady stream of energy to the cells. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains is associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.

Added sugar

Sugar might be the scariest thing about Halloween
Photo by Caitlyn de Wild on

The problem comes from added sugar, which is used liberally in manufacturing to increase flavor. In the United States, the prime sources of added sugar include soft drinks, fruit drinks, cereal, pastries, candy and most processed foods. Added sugar is also found in bread, soups, cured meats and ketchup. As a result, Americans consume a staggering amount.

According to the National Cancer Institute, the average adult male consumes 24 teaspoons of added sugar daily – which is an extra 384 calories.

“The effects of added sugar intake – higher blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes and fatty liver disease – are all linked to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke,” says Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

How much is too much?

So how much is too much? The Institute of Medicine, which sets Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) of nutrients, has no recommendations because sugar is not a nutrient. The American Heart Association sets the maximum consumption for healthy women at 6 teaspoons per day (100 calories). For healthy men, the upper limit sits at 9 teaspoons (150 calories) – roughly the amount in a 12-oz. can of soda.

Many of us (me included) have a serious sweet tooth and dislike deprivation. My advice is to be mindful of the sugar in everything and to read labels. Sugar has many guises: high-fructose corn syrup (the worst), invert syrup, malt sugar, brown sugar, fruit juice concentrate, etc. If it appears as one of the first three ingredients, think twice.

When having a high-sugar snack, do so intentionally and within reason. Avoid the empty calories of soft drinks and watch what you add to coffee and tea. Many of those delicious frozen coffeehouse concoctions have more than 1,000 calories per serving. I substitute carbonated water for soda and add just a bit of honey to tea or have it plain. One gets used to it, believe me.

That said, it is nearly impossible to celebrate Halloween without some candy. So have a couple of pieces – provided you have no health condition that increases your risk above that of a normally healthy adult. Enjoy … just keep it minimal and mindful.

Please send comments and ­question to Nathalie Montijo at

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Nathalie Montijo
Nathalie Montijo
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Nathalie Raven Archangel-Montijo holds a rather interesting array of degrees and certifications, including master’s in nursing and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). She has post-master certification as an adult geriatric primary care nurse practitioner (AGPCNP) and a license to practice acupuncture in California (L.Ac). To round all that out, she is certified in infection prevention and control (CIC) and as an advanced certified Hospice and palliative care nurse (ACHPN).

She also performs in the outlaw country band, Nineteen Hand Horse.