Oct. 29, 2010 -- The scariest thing about Halloween may not be the little Palins and Obamas who will appear on your doorstep begging for handouts. It's the 2.2 pounds of extra weight the average child gains gorging on trick-or-treat candy.
This is according to a seven-year study by the University of Colorado, which also found the average Halloween haul of sweet stuff in a single evening is 22 pounds, about the candy limit most experts recommend for one year. And that doesn't even address the parental weight gain that results from dipping into the treat basket.
Read on for expert tips on how trick-or-treaters of all ages can enjoy a healthier, lighter Halloween.
"I can give you a list of healthy trail mixes, raisins and Power Bars but the truth is kids want the real thing," registered dietitian Lauren O'Connor says. "That being said, your best weapon against gluttony is educating them with good health values."
One game O'Connor likes for teaching moderation is numbering small pieces of paper from one to five and placing them into a hat. Every day for two weeks, have your children pick a number and whatever they choose, that's the amount of candy they may have for the day.
When sorting out which goodies, O'Connor says, let your kids keep the dark chocolate because it's packed with healthy antioxidants and magnesium. Also, the candy with the shortest list of ingredients will generally be a healthier choice than one that contains a laundry list. Try to toss anything that contains hydrogenated oils or high fructose corn syrup.
It may not be easy but Martica Heaner, a behavioral nutritionist, exercise physiologist and author of "Cross-Training for Dummies," says to try shaping at least part of your kid's Halloween experience around something other than candy. Invent some new games to play, throw a party featuring healthy snacks, plan activities that involve art or a haunted house.
Paige Parker, a registered dietitian with Structure House in Durham, N.C., advises setting limitations by discussing ahead of time how many houses you'll hit and filling one moderately sized trick or treat bag.
It's also wise to limit the number of items per door rather than grabbing an entire handful as children tend to do with candy, or anything else they're given for free.
Dentists Weigh In
Here's a tip from dentists everywhere that may seem counterintuitive: To save your kid's teeth, let them eat their candy all at once directly following a meal.
Spreading out snacks throughout the day means teeth are continually bathed in acid, while eating them within a short period of time cuts back on acid exposure. Once the child has eaten the candy, have them swish a liquid in the mouth to wash away the acid. Avoid candy before bedtime at all costs.
For adults, Halloween may not necessarily be confined to a door-to-door candy grab. To prepare for work mates who bring their kid's leftover candy into the office, registered dietitian and certified personal trainer Alysa Bajenaru of inspiredrd.com recommends stashing healthy snacks in your desk drawer to help resist a binge or chewing gum to keep your mouth busy.
If there's a party, stick to water or low-calorie drinks since you'll probably be overdosing on candy-and-sugar calories throughout the day anyway.
Before you pop that innocent looking fun-sized Snickers bar into your mouth, says Cynthia Sass, co-author of "The Ultimate Diet Log," it helps to put the calorie count in perspective. A 150-pound person burns about 60 calories during a 15-minute, moderately paced walk.
That means you'll have to stroll for at least 30 minutes to cancel out two of those tiny treats. Can you really stop at a couple? And is the splurge really worth it?
Sass also recommends buying candy you don't like to limit the temptation. For example, if you're a chocoholic, give out Smarties instead. Just don't go too repulsive with your selection, or you risk the egg-and-toilet paper treatment.
Have absolutely no willpower when it comes to sugar? Then consider handing out something non-edible but cool. Heaner suggests items like glow necklaces, mini crayon packs, stickers or temporary tattoos. These are a big hit with Halloweeners but still allow everyone's costume to fit next year.
Buy Late, Give Away Pronto
And as soon as your kids shed their costumes for the night, allow them to select a limited amount of their favorite treats, then donate the rest to charity. Whatever you do, don't let piles of sweets linger until Thanksgiving. That's a holiday with caloric issues all its own.
What do you think? Do you have any helpful tips for keeping Halloween snacking under control? Has Halloween candy ruined your diet? Or have you discovered another Halloween trick that has worked for you? Please post your comments below.