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The best (and worst) Halloween treats

TODAY nutritionist and diet editor Joy Bauer says that you and your family can avoid overdoing it this holiday by making treats out of the healthy pumpkin, and staying clear of the worst Halloween candies.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Pretty ironic that the premise of Halloween is built around two opposite sides of the food spectrum; pumpkin and sugar-laden candy!

First, the lowdown on pumpkin. Pumpkin is a nutrition powerhouse; it’s low in calories, loaded with nutrition, fat free and can be mixed into oatmeal and yogurt and incorporated into bread, muffins and pancake batter.

Pumpkins are also about 90 percent water and brimming with beta carotene, potassium and fiber. One cup of canned pumpkin puree provides 80 calories, 0 fat, 7 grams fiber, 588 milligrams potassium and more than 300 percent of the daily value for beta carotene. Not bad!

Pumpkin seeds are also somewhat of a superfood — they’re an excellent source of magnesium, which has several proposed health benefits, such as decreased risk of heart disease and diabetes … plus magnesium can help treat migraines.

Here's a quick and yummy recipe using pumpkin that everyone in the family will enjoy:

Joy’s vanilla pumpkin pudding:

Makes one serving

One 6-oz. container nonfat vanilla yogurt mixed with 1/2 cup canned 100 percent pure pumpkin puree and topped with optional 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts and 1 tablespoon wheat germ.

Nutrition (without optional nuts and wheat germ):

100 calories6 grams protein0 fat0 saturated fat20 grams carbohydrate3.5 grams fiber

* Provides ample calcium, beta carotene and potassium

Now for the dark side ... If you have kids, there’s no escaping the candy. So here are some pointers to manage the onslaught of sweets.

Choosing the BEST treats for the neighborhood

  • The smaller, the better. Look for candy that’s labeled “fun size” or “mini.”
  • Select candy that takes a while to eat, like lollipops or sucking candies.
  • Buy value packs of sugarless gum (look for special bulk bags or boxes).
  • Take advantage of the portion-control craze and hand out 100-calorie packs of snacks (look for fun Halloween designs).
  • Pretzels are always a favorite, especially when small bags are designed for Halloween.
  • Stock up on 100 percent fruit chews (Fruitabu and Tropicana are two kid-friendly brands).
  • Go DARK when it comes to chocolate (Dove and Hershey offer small dark chocolates).

Managing your own kid’s sugar rush Feed ’em real food first! Don’t send kids out trick-or-treating hungry. Make sure they have a full dinner before they take off on their journey. The hungrier they are, the more candy they will eat en route.  

Lose extracurricular sugar: Pay special attention to the amount of sugar your kids are ingesting from other sources during the day — avoid soda and sugary cereals since you know they’ll be eating lots of candy.

Get them exercising: Have your kids walk and walk and walk … as they trick-or-treat.

Let them enjoy their candy: Halloween and candy go hand in hand, so let your children enjoy the one-day sugar rush. I recommend putting a cap on the total amount that they eat and encouraging them to wait until they get home from trick-or-treating to dig in. (I allow my own kids five favorite pieces.) You may also want to have them count out 10 extra favorites to save for the following few days. Then establish a system, perhaps one piece with their lunch and one after dinner.

Get rid of your leftover candy by November 1: Donate to a local charity, school drive or church. Give to your doorman, if you live in an apartment. Leave goodie bags in the mailbox for your postman, or in the milk box for your milkman. If you still can't get rid of it, dump it. Don’t feel guilty. 

Joy Bauer is the author of “Food Cures.”  For more information on healthy eating, check out Joy’s Web site at