Sugar & The Immune System: How to Have a Healthy Halloween

"Having high blood sugar levels may also inhibit the response of immune cells that help protect against infection, leaving you more vulnerable to colds and flus"

What do candy corn, caramel apples, and chocolate bars have in common? Sugar! Halloween is the time of year where costumes and candy reign supreme, but do you ever wonder how piling sugar on the body can affect the immune system? Find out how sugar acts in the body, why you should consider limiting processed foods, and how to find healthy Halloween candy that might even strengthen your immune system.

How Does Sugar Impact the Immune System?  

Whether it is natural or processed, all sugar is a type of simple carbohydrate that the body uses for energy. When we consume too much sugar, our body is deprived of nutrients and minerals it needs to stay strong and healthy. And when the body cannot burn off all that sugar through activity, it converts to fat. Too much fat leaves a person vulnerable to weight gain, heart disease, and tooth decay, which can all have negative effects on the immune system. 

Is Sugar an Immunosuppressant?  

Yes. Studies show that sugar-laden products increase the production of inflammatory proteins in the body, which can suppress immune function.1 Having high blood sugar levels may also inhibit the response of immune cells that help protect against infection, leaving you more vulnerable to colds and flus.2 

Not only does excess sugar make us susceptible to illness; there is evidence that links high-sugar diets to heart disease. A 25-year study cited by Harvard found that people who got 17 percent to 21 percent of their calories from added sugars in their foods had a 38 percent higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared with those who consumed just 8 percent of their calories as added sugar.3 

How Much Sugar Intake is Considered Healthy in a Day?  

It’s worth noting that sugar is not inherently bad. After all, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products naturally contain sugar and our bodies need this sweet substance for energy. It’s the “added sugars” found in many processed foods and baked goods that we need to worry about. This includes cute pumpkin-shaped cookies and all that Halloween loot. 

According to the CDC, people two years and older should keep their intake of added sugars to less than 10 percent of their total daily calories. In a 2,000 calorie diet, this means no more than 200 calories should come from added sugars (around 12 teaspoons). And children younger than two years old should not consume foods and beverages with added sugars at all.4 

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How to Look for Sugar in Processed Foods 

There are over 60 different names for sugar, so it’s not always easy to spot on a label. If you’re not sure, John Hopkins Medicine suggests looking for these clues in processed foods:5 

  • Syrups, such as corn syrup and rice syrup 
  • Monosaccharides and disaccharides like glucose, fructose, and sucrose
  • Raw sugar, brown sugar,  cane sugar, and confectioners sugar
  • Fruit nectars and juice concentrates 

The easiest way to steer clear of added sugars is to limit your intake of processed foods altogether, even those advertised as “healthy.” Some of the most common processed foods high in added sugars include: 

  • Pasta sauces
  • Breakfast cereal
  • Fruit juices
  • Condiments like ketchup and barbecue sauce
  • Smoothies
  • Jelly
  • Granola bars 

Healthy Halloween Treats! 

Being more aware of your sugar intake doesn’t mean that you can’t indulge on Halloween. Fortunately, there are many fun treats and healthy halloween food ideas that can satisfy your sweet tooth without going overboard. These are some of our favorites from health-conscious food blogs: 

  • Snack-o-Lantern Fruit Cups from Seeded at the Table: Hollow out and carve an orange as if it were a pumpkin. Fill with diced fruit.6
  • Pumpkin Spice Muffins from Frugal Nutrition: Blend two eggs, one cup pumpkin puree, one teaspoon vanilla, one cup pitted dates, two cups rolled oats, one teaspoon baking soda, ½ teaspoon sea salt, two teaspoons pumpkin pie spice, one teaspoon cinnamon, and ¼ cup hemp hearts. Scoop into 12 muffin cups and bake at 350 F for 18-20 minutes.7
  • Frozen Banana Ghosts from Detoxinista: Cut a banana in half and stick a popsicle stick into one end. Add some chocolate chips to make a ghost face and freeze until hardened. Frozen bananas have the texture of ice cream.8
  • Witch’s Broom from Thrifty Jinxy: Slice a cheese stick in half, make cuts about halfway up, insert a pretzel stick into the uncut end of the cheese and tie neatly with a chive for a witch’s broom treat.9
  • Spider Deviled Eggs from Delicious as it Looks: Cut six hard boiled eggs in half lengthwise, scoop out the yolks, and mash. Mix in three tablespoons mayonnaise, one teaspoon Dijon mustard, one teaspoon vinegar, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Refill halved egg cup with mashed yolk. Slice black olives to arrange like legs and place a whole olive on top of the mash for the body.10

Learn more tips on how to prioritize your health all year long for stronger immune health at the Brillia(nce) Resource Center.

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References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

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