Although likely to have originated as a pagan harvest festival, to most people, Halloween is a simple quasi holiday — a day where “a kid can be a kid”. A sort of Mardi Gras for kids and kids at heart, people dress up in sometimes scary costume to take part is a type of innocent debauchery usually involving an overdose of highly refined sugary sweet “treats.”
Once upon a time, these treats were indeed that. Treats of yesteryear were uncommon foods or items that brought great pleasure. In a time before cheap, refined cane sugar and when high fructose corn syrup existed, it could have been an apple, cake or even money.
Then in the 1980s, we were warned of what I believe were fictitious accounts of razor blades in apples convincing parents everywhere that the only safe treats to give and accept at Halloween were prepackaged, cheap, mass-produced candy made by any one of the nation’s largest candy manufacturers. It’s also interesting to note that this is the time where the price of sweeteners and vegetable oils plummeted, making processed anti-Foods cost less than what they did a decade prior.
Today, however, candy isn’t a treat in the true sense of the word. Although it does indeed bring many people immense pleasure, there is nothing unusual or rare about it. And although some parents may eagerly cram (yes, CRAM — I’ve seen it with my own eyes) candy down their kids’ throats believing it is the ONLY way to have fun on this holiday, there may be an unintended consequence of eating even more sugar in a diet that is likely to be already high in sugars (carbs) and deficient in valuable nutrients. It is a recipe for disaster.
Plainly put, sugar is addictive. In my experience and observation, its excessive consumption is at the heart of many other addictions including smoking, excessive use of both legal and illegal drugs, and alcoholism. It also appears to have a high correlation to eating disorders.
Of the three macronutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrate), carbohydrate (a.k.a. sugar) is the only one we actually have the least need for. Our bodies thrive primarily on fats and proteins (i.e. animal foods) and can fabricate whatever carbohydrate needed from those two nutrients. Proteins are the source of amino acids used by our bodies to balance our brain chemistry such as serotonin, our natural anti-depressant; endorphins, our natural pain-killer; and catecholamines, which bring us mental focus.
Carbohydrates are unable to provide us with the precise complement of amino acids we need to bring out these brain chemicals, however, refined and to some extent natural sugars can mimic them (not replace them) in people who have eschewed the consumption of animal foods or otherwise consume excess carbohydrates. In fact, once the addiction is set up, people often begin believing that they no longer need animal foods because the sugar rush provides a “good enough” pick me up to receptors in the brain. Gradually, more and more sugar (refined sugar, starches, fruit etc) become the mainstay of the diet as the individual becomes pickier about what he or she will eat. I have met no shortage of vegans and raw foodists who all but live on cigarettes, coffee and/or pain killers.
Julia Ross, author of The Diet Cure and The Mood Cure, first introduced me to the importance of amino acid balance as it relates to addiction. Her experience began while working with drug addicts, where she began using combinations of amino acids to reverse their addictions instantly.
Her research uncovered the fact that drug addicts, alcoholics, smokers and those addicted to pain meds had a penchant for sweet foods. Not just refined sugar and corn syrup, but artificial sweeteners, fruits, juices, bread, pasta, potatoes and pretty much anything that turns to sugar or alcohol in the body. The same also appeared to be true for people with Type A personalities — people addicted to controlling everything in their environments. She later found that these often overweight subjects were effortlessly losing weight and building muscle as their carb addiction subsided.
Clearly not everyone who develops a sugar addiction will become an alcoholic or drug addict, however, I have yet to meet an “addict” who didn’t have wicked sugar addictions as well. Hooking children on candy as a coveted “treat” may have the unintended consequence of not only developing an unhealthy relationship with the valuable foods their bodies need to thrive, but setting the stage for needing a constant high.
Time, on the other hand, is the new currency. Talk to most people today and they will agree that time is what has become in short supply. Having time to do things (or not) is the new treat.
So as we move past Halloween into Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Easter and other holidays where sugar abounds, I urge you to treat yourself and your children in ways that are truly special and unique. Consider taking time to do something you never get a chance to do. It could take the form of a mini-vacation, an afternoon at the movies, a stroll through a museum to see that new exhibit in town, or cooking a nice meal together. It could even be enjoying an expensive steak or soufflé in a fancy restaurant or a much-needed nap, if those are the types of things you normally deny yourself. Make your treats real treats. Make them experiences that can’t be taken away from you instead of another insignificant romp with yet another soon-forgotten sugary substance that leaves little more than a bad aftertaste.
What did you do this Halloween? Did sugar win the day? Or did you enjoy something different?