Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Healthy Easter Treats?

Easter is arriving on the last day of March this year, and here in the United States people with children (and some who are just kids at heart) are making a last minute scramble to buy trinkets and candy for the traditional Easter basket to be "opened" on Sunday morning.  Since most of the candy/treats that are sold in stores do not usually meet anyone's definition of "healthy," you will probably find a flood of news articles and blog posts on "healthy" Easter treats.  And some of us, even the most rational, might actually believe that some of the treats are "healthier" because well, we really want to have a treat and not have to answer for it.  How can we figure out if an item is actually better choice?

1) The item is non-food.  Yes, that may seem obvious, but some people seem to forget that kids (and kids at heart) might actually want something other than food.  My mother liked to provide my sister and I with Easter baskets well into our college years and we were more than happy with the jewelry and other small gifts we had.

2) You actually get away with "less" of something when comparing servings.  For example, one suggestion I saw was to include a Rice Krispie Treat instead of Marshmallow Peeps.  Through the power of the internet I was able to see that four marshmallow peeps contained 130 calories and 33 grams of carbohydrate, and a Rice Krispie Treat was only 90 calories and 17 grams of carbohydrate.  So, someone wanting to indulge could actually get away with less carbohydrate if that's all they were looking at.  If you have diabetes, you would still have to see if there was an appreciable difference in your blood glucose levels, however, to decide if that was still an appropriate treat for you.

2) You are able to get away with eating a smaller amount.  I find that if I have some good quality, 70% or higher dark chocolate I can be happy with a square or two.  If it's flavored or sweeter tasting chocolate, however, one or two squares isn't going to be enough.  (That's just me personally, some people find it hard to stop after eating any kind of chocolate).  So, if you want to put a "little something" in the treat basket and you know everyone involved will be ok with that, then that item might be better for you.
On a related note, whenever I was teaching the diabetic classes I always had to give warnings/encourage people to read the fine print on the "sugar-free" store-bought treats.  First of all, if you do the math, you may or may not actually get away with eating less carbohydrate.  Second of all, a lot of those "sugar-free" treats contain sorbitol or other "sugar alcohols" which act as very powerful laxatives.  In other words, if you eat the whole bag of sugar-free candy (and you know who you are), you might wish that you hadn't.  (Erythritol is the one sugar alcohol that doesn't seem  to have the same side effects, although people with IBS, like me, might still have to be careful with that one).

3) Does the substitute treat actually have some nutritional value?  I did see one suggestion that talked about using colored hard boiled as oppossed to Cadbury Creme Eggs--trading something that's is a good source of protein and other vitamins for only 70 calories (no carb) for an 150 calorie, 24 grams of carb, and no vitamins/minerals to speak of?  Sounds like the best suggestion I've heard all day.  Just make sure to use approved food dyes for the eggs, don't use cracked eggs, don't leave the hard boiled eggs out of the fridge for more than two hours, and use up the hard boiled eggs in the fridge after one week.

4) Is the treat going to be able to allow you to continue your usual activities?  People with severe food allergies to nuts, chocolate, eggs, milk or celiac disease (gluten) usually are aware that they can't have "just a little bit." (Although you don't want to get any of them started on relatives that just don't "get it.").  If your reactions to certain foods are more subtle (although not everyone would call diarrhea subtle), you really need to do some seriously thinking about whether or not it's worth it.  I know some lactose intolerant people who want that milk chocolate so badly that they really don't seem to care that they will be in the bathroom for the rest of the afternoon; me, it's just not how I want to spend my Easter Sunday.

Take home message--unless that substitute treat is a non-food item or part of your usual healthy eating plan (e.g. hard boiled egg), the treat probably isn't all that healthy.  If you really want to eat something that isn't part of your plan, just call it a treat and enjoy it--you'll spend less time and energy feeling like you have to justify your choices.

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