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Healthy alternatives to Halloween treats

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Halloween is just around the corner, bringing with it candy, costumes and the commencement of the holiday season that runs through New Year’s Day. It’s easy to allow good habits to fall by the wayside, but establishing your positive intentions early on during this most tempting time of year will help you – and your entire family - stay healthy into 2013 and beyond.

Though Halloween likely originated as a pagan festival centered on the harvest, it has mutated over the centuries into an annual celebration of sugar. As you take your kids trick-or-treating this year, remember that the scariest things are often the ingredients in the food being dispensed by your neighbors.  

Not only is processed candy made almost entirely of highly refined (and difficult to digest) sugars like high fructose corn syrup, they are rife with artificial colors, fat, sodium and other worthless components. These foods, or food look-alikes, will ultimately make your child feel lethargic, and provide no nutritional value whatsoever.

But that doesn’t mean Halloween can’t be delicious – rather than dispense meaningless provisions, offer up items that simultaneously promote you children’s health and satisfy their sweet tooth! I like to give out Yummy Earth organic lollipops, Xocai chocolates with probiotics and any brand of organic, dark chocolate-covered goji berries.

The benefits of dark chocolate are well-established, and they are many: Dark chocolate contains compounds called flavanols, which are packed with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. One study showed that dark chocolate helped lower people’s blood sugar levels and contributed to lowering LDL (bad cholesterol) and raising HDL (good cholesterol). Similarly, goji berries are rich in antioxidants, and may help ward off cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s, according to research. As with any food, moderation is key, and make sure your dark chocolate of choice is organic as well.

If you’ve got time, another wonderful alternative is making your own Halloween-inspired snacks from scratch, using organic ingredients. Bite-sized granola bars, whole-grain oatmeal raisin cookies, and dark-chocolate covered organic strawberries or other fruits are all easily executed options that won’t leave your kids with bellyaches, or bouncing off the walls.

Beyond the dangers of a candy overdose, be wary of your children’s Halloween get-ups. Like cleaning supplies and personal care products, the masks and makeup children adorn for Halloween are full of toxic substances. Rather than buy a brand new costume made with endocrine-disrupting phthalates or other plasticizers, go green by reusing clothing and other supplies you’ve already got on hand in the house, or stop by a secondhand store to pick up whatever accessories you may need. It’s a great way to conserve resources, and also money.

If you must buy something new, the website GreenHalloween.com recommends costumes made from organic cotton or silk; though they’re more expensive, chances are your little ones will wear these items on more than one occasion. The Environmental Working Group notes the importance of avoiding face paints and lipsticks that contain lead and can cause cancer or skin irritations. They also suggest steering clear of hairsprays and nail polishes that can aggravate asthma and other respiratory allergies.

Halloween is one of the most fun and festive holidays for kids of all ages. With just a little bit of effort, you can help make it a healthy, eco-friendly event that will set the tone for the festive, food-centric months to follow.

Deirdre Imus, Founder of the site devoted to environmental health, www.ImusEnvironmentalHealth.org, is President and Founder of The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center® at Hackensack University Medical Center and Co-Founder/Co-Director of the Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer. She is a New York Times best-selling author and a frequent contributor to FoxNewsHealth.com, and Fox Business Channel. Check out her website at www.ImusEnvironmentalHealth.org  and 'Like' her Facebook page here.