junkfoodIt’s a trick-or-treat tradition: counting up all the pieces of sugary loot, paying the “parent tax” and negotiating trades.

Then there’s another dilemma. Just how many pieces do you get before the precious bag of candy is confiscated?

Is it better to restrict consumption to a few pieces or go whole hog?

“I’d pretty much let them eat as much as they wanted on Halloween night,” said Rachel Johnson, Ph.D., R.D., professor of nutrition for the University of Vermont and an American Heart Association spokeswoman, describing how she managed the candy-laden holiday in her home. “I’m not saying let them eat until they get ill, but it sort of loses its appeal if you aren’t as strict about it.”

Without restrictions, Johnson estimates her boys would typically indulge in three to four pieces.

After the kids brushed their teeth and went to bed, a small number of their favorites were stored in the freezer for special treats. The rest was given away so it wasn’t hanging around for weeks or months.

“My philosophy was more about limiting it to Halloween night,” Johnson said. “When I was a kid, I can remember still having Halloween by Christmas.”

Others, like Garry Sigman, M.D., director of the pediatric weight management program at Loyola University Health System and professor in the department of Pediatrics at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, favors a more restrictive approach. He thinks one to two pieces a day is enough for a child who is at a healthy weight. No more than one to two pieces a week for a child battling obesity.

Although Halloween treats are a big part of the holiday, it can be a great time to model and help kids understand the importance of moderation and balance, Sigman said.

But just how many calories are in that goodie bag? Don’t be fooled by the small size of each candy bar. It can quickly become a snacktastrophe.

Sigman estimates that each child’s bag of goodies contains about 4,800 calories and has 3 cups of sugar and 1½ cups of fat.

Of course, no one recommends that anyone eat that in one night. But are there good choices when it comes to Halloween candy?

The calorie count on “fun-size” candy bars varies, with many of the most popular chocolate ones coming in about 80 calories apiece.

“They’re all basically empty calories and added sugars and fat. Maybe there’s the occasional peanut in M&Ms or Snickers but that doesn’t make them healthy,” Johnson said.

Of course there are plenty of ways to select treats that are lowfat, like Starbursts and Skittles. But that doesn’t make them “good” choices since they are loaded with added sugars, Johnson said.

“The sticky stuff is really bad for teeth,” she added.

And don’t be lulled into thinking Halloween candies labeled as organic are any better.

“The word organic seems to give it a health halo, but its still just sugar and that’s empty calories,” Johnson said.

Same goes for candy sweetened with fruit juice.

“It’s not a healthy treat,” Johnson said. “Sugars are sugar and our body metabolizes them the same.”

Here’s how some popular Halloween treats stack up:

Nestle Crunch bars (4): 200 calories

Snickers (2): 160 calories

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup (2): 170 calories

M&Ms Milk Chocolate Candies (3): 220 calories

M&Ms Peanut Chocolate Candies 2): 180 calories

Kit Kat (3): 210 calories

Milky Way (2): 210 calories

Almond Joy (2): 160 calories

Twix Caramel Cookie Bars (2): 160 calories

Starburst (8 chews): 160 calories

Tootsie Roll Dots (2 boxes): 130 calories

Tootsie Roll (6 “Midgees” or 4 “juniors”): 140 calories

Twizzlers Strawberry Twists (4): 120 calories

Nestle Butterfinger (4): 180 calories

Skittles (3 packages): 210 calories

Whoppers Milk Chocolate Malted Balls (6 tubes): 190 calories

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