Urban legends aside, do most parents know what’s really in that bag of candy their kids haul home on Halloween night? Take a typical serving of peanut M&Ms. The peanut provides three grams of protein, but with it you get 180 calories – 80 of which come from fat – as well as a selection of red, blue and yellow dyes. Consumed in moderation, none of these substances is particularly unhealthy, according to Barry Swanson, professor in the Washington State University Department of Food Science & Human Nutrition.

But as most parents know, moderation isn’t a hallmark of the Halloween season. Swanson said the primary downside of allowing children to eat all that candy – particularly if it becomes habitual – is the excess sugar they consume.

 “Along with calories and fat, sugar is a major contributor to the childhood obesity epidemic,” he said. “Researchers tell us 20 percent of American children are obese, and 50 percent are overweight. Also, the rate of Type 2 diabetes among

’s children – rare 50 years ago – is rising alarmingly. Consuming large quantities of candy composed mostly of sugar contributes minimal amounts of nutrients and places growing children at risk of both conditions.”

Recent research concludes that dark chocolate may lower blood pressure and act as an antioxidant, which may lead some to believe a chocolate bar is a guilt-free treat. But Swanson said that even dark chocolate generally contains sugar as well as fat – meaning that moderation remains important.

So what’s a parent to do? Halloween provides a chance to discuss the importance of good nutrition with your children. Talk with them about the health risks of consuming too many sugary foods and encourage them to routinely eat healthy snacks such as fruits, yogurt, cheese, nuts, or raisins. Allow them only a few pieces of candy daily from their treat bag.


Professor Swanson can be reached 509.335-3793 or at swansonb@wsu.edu.