Halloween brings with it the temptation of indulging in candy and other sweet treats. While protecting your thyroid may not be first thing that comes to mind when faced with this dilemma, it certainly should be one of them – particularly if you have a known thyroid condition, such as hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s disease. Many thyroid patients must follow a special diet to avoid the inflammatory or immune reactions that occur when they are exposed to certain dietary proteins, such as gluten (in wheat) and casein (in dairy), two of the most common culprits. These patients may have additional food allergies or intolerances as well. Unfortunately, common food allergens are ubiquitous in store-bought desserts. Even if things like gluten, dairy, and nuts are not a main ingredient, there’s a good chance they’ve been manufactured near or on the same equipment as other foods that do contain them. This increases the risk of cross-contamination and even small amounts of exposure to the offending protein can cause immune reactions in sensitive individuals.
Allergens aren’t the only concern for thyroid patients when it comes to Halloween treats. Most store-bought candies and baked goods are laden with added sugars. Excess sugar spikes blood glucose levels, which in turn results in increased insulin levels. Insulin is known as the “fat storage hormone.” Along with storing fat, excess insulin triggers cortisol to be released in the body’s attempt to normalize insulin levels. This process affects thyroid function because when cortisol is released, hormone production slows down, which includes thyroid hormones. Added sugars play a role in weakening the immune system as well. For these reasons, thyroid patients should be concerned about added sugars and processed carbohydrates in addition to food allergens. Glycemic Index (GI) refers to the effect a food has on blood glucose levels when consumed. Paying attention to a food’s GI and choosing mostly low GI foods is one tool that can be used to help prevent the negative effects of sugar on thyroid function. The glycemic index does not take into consideration other foods consumed at the same time. Despite its limitations, it is another good starting point for making more thyroid-friendly dietary choices.
Dress as a Chef this Halloween
Does this mean you have to miss out on your favorite candy and desserts if you are managing a chronic health condition or just trying to stay healthy? Not at all! As more and more people get educated about the important role of nutrition in maintaining health and managing disease states, there are seemingly endless resources available to help us make healthier choices and find tasty alternatives to our favorite treats. The very best option is to make your own healthier desserts at home if you possibly can. A few of the benefits of making homemade treats include:
- They are generally more cost-effective.
- You have total control over what ingredients are included.
- You can choose higher quality ingredients.
- Foods with health-promoting properties can be added for enhanced nutrition.
- There is less risk of cross-contamination with allergens.
- The process enforces a sense of ownership over your own health.
- Cooking and baking can be a stress-relieving activity.
Tips for Creating Thyroid-Friendly Treats
Here are some things to keep in mind as you plan for testing out your confectioner skills this Halloween:
- Use fresh, whole ingredients whenever possible.
- Choose your flours carefully – it is best to avoid gluten-containing flours if you have an inflammatory or autoimmune conditions, even if you do not have celiac disease. In general, any flours made from refined grains will have a negative effect on blood sugar and have very little nutritional value. Choose minimally processed flours (or make your own) made from nuts, legumes, or root vegetables.
*Nuts and legumes should ideally be soaked first to help break down compounds that act as anti-nutrients
- Choose better sweeteners – avoid artificial sweeteners and avoid or limit cane sugar and high fructose sweeteners (ie. high fructose corn syrup, agave nectar) and use natural sweeteners instead, such as stevia or erythritol. Neither of these spike blood sugar, but some people do not care for the taste of stevia, as it differs from cane sugar (and is sweeter). Erythritol, on the other hand, can be used interchangeably with sugar in recipes, has similar baking properties, and can act as an antioxidant. Erythritol is considered a sugar alcohol and is found naturally in fruits.
*Stevia may not be suitable for those with pre-existing insulin resistance and erythritol may not be suitable for those on a low FODMaPs diet.
- Avoid artificial colors and flavors, artificial preservatives and other chemical additives.
- Avoid GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and pesticides – the best way to avoid both is to buy only organic ingredients.
- Incorporate “superfoods” whenever possible – 70% (or higher) cocoa provides high levels of antioxidants along with alkaloids that promote fat-burning and appetite suppression; raw, local honey can provide nutrients and possible protection from seasonal allergies (note: honey is not a low sugar sweetener); nuts, coconut, and coconut oil are also considered “superfoods.” Coconut oil is rich in medium-chain triglycerides, which support thyroid, brain, hormone, and liver health.
- Substitute coconut milk or nut milks if dairy is an issue. If you choose to use dairy, make sure it is organic milk, preferably from grass-fed cows or goats.
- Butter (from pastured cows) can be a healthful food, packed with nutrients and beneficial fatty acids. However, coconut butter can be used as an alternative is there is a dairy allergy or intolerance.
Recipes for DIY Halloween Candy:
The following list is a roundup of some of the best resources for making thyroid-friendly Halloween candy and treats, including “copycat” recipes for some of your traditional favorites. Many of these recipes are also paleo, autoimmune paleo, or vegan-friendly as well. However, check each recipe carefully if you have food allergies or intolerances and if you are avoiding a particular ingredient(s) due to your individual circumstances.
- Carefree Candies: Your Guide to Healthy Homemade Indulgences – a great extensive resource for “makeovers of your candy shop favorites”
- Paleo Magazine: 47 Gooey and Chewy Paleo Halloween Candy Recipes – peanut-free peanut butter cups, pumpkin spice truffles, raw paleo “snickers” bars, and more!
- CandyStore.com: 11 Paleo-Friendly Natural Candy Recipes – copycats of Butterfinger®, Mounds®, Twix®, York Peppermint Pattie®, and more!
- Purposeful Nutrition: 37 Amazing Homemade and Healthy Candy Recipes – fudge, chewy pumpkin spice candy, apple pie bites, and more!
- Healing Gourmet: Healthy Candy Recipes – paleo chocolate bars and chunks, truffles, almond joy chocolate bark, and more!
- Community Table: 18 Copycat Candy Recipes – paleo “twix” bars, watermelon gummies, maple paleo toffee, dark chocolate tootsie rolls, and more!
- Paleo Leap: 10 Paleo-Friendly Halloween Treats – paleo candy corn gummies, mini pumpkin pie tarts, pumpkin delights, tangerine pumpkins and banana ghosts, and more!
Top Picks for Store-Bought Candy Brands
If you are short on time or just don’t like to bake, these are a few of our top picks for store-bought candy brands that use high quality ingredients and are healthier choices overall:
- Heavenly Organics
- Yummy Earth
- UnReal (make healthier versions of the originals)
- Endangered Species Chocolate
- Coco Polo
It may take a little extra time and effort to make your own Halloween treats this year, but we think the pay-off will be well worth it. We hope you have a safe, healthy, and Happy Halloween!