What day do teachers call “the worst day of the year”? It’s the day after America’s biggest candy holiday. But if you think we’re talking about too much sugar as the cause of Halloween Hangover, please think again. Sugar certainly can make kids “hyper,” but for the majority of children, its effects are not likely to last into the next day and beyond. And forget about the theory that your kids are being difficult simply because they’re excited. (Excitement would also wear off sooner.) So, if it isn’t sugar or the festivities that are to blame for your child’s November 1st hangover, then what’s the culprit?
Take a close look at the tiny print on those candy wrappers and look for color + number. Do you see things like Yellow #5, Red 40 or Blue No. 2? These are the names for the colorings added to candy and other foods. Synthetic food dyes are the most likely suspects when it comes to triggering behavior problems in children. For decades allergists have reported that food dyes can trigger reactions like hives and headaches in sensitive people. The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Drugs found that they can cause respiratory problems like asthma. And researchers in many countries have shown that these dyes can bring about behavior and attention problems, even when a child only eats a small amount.
Here are some of the problems that have been attributed to eating food dyes – attention deficits, irritability, restlessness, sleep disturbance, aggression, and hyperactivity. But what could be so monstrous about those colorful little confections? It’s not like food dyes are new; our grandparents ate artificially colored candies, too. Food dyes have been around for well over 100 years. They were first made from coal tar oil and are now synthesized from petroleum. (The same stuff that makes your car run can result in high-octane kids!)
However, in past generations, artificial dyes were a “sometime thing” – something children ate occasionally. Back then, most of our food came in a fairly natural form. Many candies were made with natural ingredients like real chocolate and pure vanilla (not the fake “vanillin” so widely used today). Children were given dyed lollipops at the bank or the barbershop. They ate candy corn, jelly beans and candy canes once a year, and schools were not in the business of selling soft drinks and junk food.
A child growing up in the 1940s and ’50s did not start his day with petroleum-based dyes in his toothpaste, medicine, vitamins, imitation juice and cereal. Lunch was not the highly processed, chemically treated, food-less edibles served in most school cafeterias, so when he did eat candy corn and other dyed things he was able to handle it better than today’s chemically-saturated child.
Hangover Prevention Hints
- Feed them first. Be sure your kids go out trick-or-treating with full stomachs to discourage snacking en route.
- Consider a swap. Some parents buy natural candies and trade them for the unnatural ones. Other parents have a highly desired toy on hand to offer in exchange for the stash. They take the child shopping for the toy before Halloween, and it stays with Mom until trick-or-treating is over.
- Just like the Tooth Fairy. Young children are told that if they set their bags of candy outside their bedroom door when the go to bed the Halloween Witch (or the Great Pumpkin) will come by to collect the candy and leave a toy in its place.
- Consider a buy-out. Many kids sell their candy back to Mom. It’s a great money-maker!
- Limit the damage. If you and your child go through the stash and toss out the most brightly colored candies, and eat only a limited number per day, you will probably be able to weather the event. Afterward, keep the candies out of sight (and out of mind). Toss out a few each day, and try not to eat too many of them yourself! Petroleum-based additives cause harm for people of all ages.
- Consider giving out non-foods. Balloons and trinkets might be a welcomed change by the trick-or-treaters who come to your door.
- Switch to better versions. The Feingold Association researches brand name foods and publishes books listing thousands of products of all types that are free of the unwanted additives.
- Visit the natural foods section of your supermarket, a health food store, or healthy market. They offer natural goodies that won’t turn your kids into monsters. And don’t overlook the big box stores. Many Target stores have a natural candy section during the holidays.
- See if your kids would prefer a home party with snacks and scary movies instead of the neighborhood trek.
Halloween doesn’t have to be a horror, and children don’t have to experience behavior or learning problems for the days that follow. The non-profit Feingold Association has been showing families how to bring the fun back to holidays since 1976. See www.feingold.org for more information.