Sugar and the Gut: Avoid a Halloween Horror Story

Can you think of anything spookier than a haunted house? Scarier than a zombie attack? More soul shaking than Frankenstein’s monster?

What about…

An unhealthy gut?

Not scared yet?

Well, get ready… Americans are projected to spend $2.6 billion on candy this year. That’s between 160 million Americans. During Halloween season, the amount of candy sold weighs about as much as six Titanics.

So why does that bode badly for the belly? 

On average, a Halloween night’s haul — be it a full bucket or a stuffed pillowcase — amounts to about three cups of pure sugar. 

With Halloween sliding into home right before our very eyes, it’s important to understand what all of this sugar is doing to your gut’s microbiome. 

The gut microbiome: the trillions of organisms living in the human digestive tract. Their diversity, health, and number dictates your body’s function from the obvious, how you digest food, to the less obvious, like your mood regulation, skin conditions, focus capacity, etc. 

Now, the Western diet, which is high-fat, high-sugar, and low-fiber, has led to a disastrous microbiome epidemic. 

Part of the reason for this is that sugars don’t feed the good bacteria in the gut. Therefore, when you consume processed sugar en masse, you’re starving the good bacteria. Not only that, but high-fructose corn syrup has been linked to increased inflammation. Gut inflammation can cause any number of horrific disorders — least of all, you’ll have a rotten tummy ache and increased sugar cravings in the future. 

We’re not talking about all sugar… 

We’re talking about the artificial sweeteners and high-fructose corn syrup, which most candies are made from.

High-fructose corn syrup: a corn-based liquid sweetener made mostly of fructose and a bit of glucose. It’s used in place of sucrose because it’s less expensive to make in large quantities.

Artificial sweeteners: Sucralose, aspartame, and saccharin fall into this category. Although they have no calories, the chemicals are toxic and starve the bacteria in your microbiome since there are no nutrients to be gained. 

So what is there to be done? Avoid candy on Halloween? Not indulge in your favorite sweet treats? Say no to your little clowns and princesses and astronauts?

All is not lost… there are several sweet options that can actually have a positive effect on your microbiome! Some are even prebiotics and assist in anti-inflammation campaigns.

Here are some of the candies you can feel good about handing out to the neighborhood and allowing your children to munch on! Not all the time, of course. 

But there’s no need to be a monster, just this one time of year…

  1. Dark Chocolate: As long as it contains at least 70% cocoa, there are molecules in dark chocolate that can be fermented in the gut by good bacteria and end up helping to prevent inflammation in the gut and the immune system.
  2. Honey Taffy: Honey is actually a prebiotic, which assists in the growth and lifespan of probiotics in the gut like lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. If you find honey taffy at the store, or make it yourself in the kitchen, you’re in for a better time!
  3. Nutty candies: Because nuts are fibrous, they’ll help move the rest of the candy and junk food through the digestive tract and help alleviate tummy troubles. Honeyed nuts, roasted nuts, baked dark chocolate nut clusters, all of them work!
  4. Gummies: Gummies are made of gelatin, which helps the lining of the stomach grow and thrive. This serves to prevent perforation of the intestines and the onset of leaky gut syndrome. 
  5. Jelly Beans: While jelly beans aren’t actively helpful for the state of your gut, they do contain only 4 calories per jelly bean and less than 1 gram of sugar. No reason to eat 100 of them, but a handful is okay!

Bottom line?

As long as you avoid heavily processed candies and especially busy candies with more than three components (the more kinds of food a snack has, the harder your gut has to work to digest them), you should be alright! 
Stay away from milk chocolates, sugar-free candy with sugar substitutes, and pure sugar candies, and you won’t have too scary a time.

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Dr. Pedram Shojai

NY Times Best Selling author and film maker. Taoist Abbot and Qigong master. Husband and dad. I’m here to help you find your way and be healthy and happy. I don’t want to be your guru…just someone who’ll help point the way. If you’re looking for a real person who’s done the work, I’m your guy. I can light the path and walk along it with you but can’t walk for you.