Two days to celebrate before Halloween

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 27, 2017

October is a month full of special days. Not only do we celebrate Halloween, but there are also two new days that I think we should celebrate.

Saturday is Chocolate Day. And for those who know me, know that I am a true chocoholic, which is defined as a person who is addicted to or excessively fond of chocolate.  This is a description that fits me to a T, so to learn that it is a day that is celebrated is awesome.

Not only is chocolate delicious, but eating it actually has health benefits. Chocolate contains flavonoid compounds that act as antioxidants, which are said to reduce free radicals produced by oxygen, lower low- density lipoprotein (LDL “bad” cholesterol), reduce blood pressure and reduce platelet aggregation.  Eating as little as 7 grams of dark chocolate may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Just be careful with consuming too much chocolate — despite its deliciousness, it does contain calories.  Eating too many calories from chocolate can lead to weight gain, so tread lightly. The recommendation is to eat 90 to 100 kcal/d of dark chocolate to gain the health benefits without gaining weight. To learn more about chocolate, click here to view Chocolate – A Functional Food

I also discovered that Oct. 29 is Oatmeal Day, for those of you who love this hot cereal. Although I didn’t grow up eating oatmeal (I had a grits kind of family), I am learning to appreciate it as an adult. Oatmeal is made of hulled oat grains – groats – that have either been milled (ground), steel-cut or rolled.

Ever wonder about the difference between the types of oatmeal?

“Instant” oatmeal may have salt added to it — check the nutrition facts label if reducing dietary sodium is important to you.

“Quick” or “quick-cooking” oatmeal will take slightly longer to cook than instant versions. It is usually made without added salt; however, it may have some, so check the nutrition facts label for sodium.

“Old-fashioned” oats take longer to cook than instant and quick/quick-cooking oats and are usually made without salt.

Oatmeal is a whole grain. It has many nutritional benefits, and it is a great way to start your morning. Eating a bowl of oatmeal can help reduce blood cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and obesity. Here are three additional ways to expand the nutritional value further:

Make oatmeal with calcium-rich milk instead of water. Follow the same directions given for water, just use milk instead.

Kick the nutrition up a notch by serving oatmeal with antioxidant-rich berries, either fresh or frozen. Quickly thaw frozen berries, and cool the oatmeal at the same time by tossing the berries directly into each dish of hot oatmeal.

Sprinkle oatmeal with cinnamon for sweetness and possible health benefits. Cinnamon is one of the sweeter spices and adds flavor without calories. With a dusting of cinnamon, a smaller amount or no caloric sweeteners may be needed.

Then of course, Oct. 31 is Halloween and you can make treats healthier. Here are five tips to a healthier Halloween:

Begin by giving out healthier treats rather than just candy; try granola bars, snack packs such as trail mix, raisins, crackers or pretzels, 100 percent juice boxes, non-candy Halloween treats such as stickers, bookmarks, tattoos, erasers and pencils.

Before going out, make sure that children eat a nutritious meal so that they are not hungry and wanting to eat the candy for supper.

Limit the number of treats that your child can have each day; you may want to decide the appropriate number ahead of time and let your children know the limits and explain why it is important to limit the candy.

Put the candy out of reach to prevent continuous and mindless eating of it.

Try incorporating candy with a glass of milk or apple slices to add some healthy nutrients.

For other ideas, visit these sites:

Enjoy the rest of October, and have a happy Halloween.

Toi N. Degree, is a family and consumer education agent with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Rowan County Center.