Ghoulishly Great Halloween Ideas

If you’re throwing a Halloween party this year, scare your guests with spooky decorations and themed dishes instead of bottomless bowls of high-calorie candy. Here are the party treats that won’t play tricks on your waistline that I shared on WCNC’s Charlotte Today:

Spooky Appetizers

Starting off, every Halloween party needs a witch and you’ll know she’s flying nearby if you see these easy-to-assemble pretzel cheese broomsticks from Mom Foodie.

Witches' brooms

Bats and witches naturally go together and I loved this recipe from Tastefully Simple for bats made out of deviled eggs. I used a lower fat mayo because it contains fewer calories and smoked paprika because adds so much flavor!

Deviled egg Bats

I used Green Mountain Farms cream cheese (four times the protein compared to regular cream cheese plus live and active cultures – i.e. probiotics) and  good-quality shredded cheddar cheese to make Beth of Hungry Happenings cute Cheddar Monsterscheddar monsters

After learning what was in a hot dog when I was a teenager (scrap meat) I said “no thank you.” Now you can find newer and better hot dogs including the uncured turkey hot dogs I used to make mummy dogs.

A Better Fall Beverage

Fall means apple cider and you can either make your own (and make it low-calorie with a sugar substitute) or buy it (I recommend getting it from an apple farm). If you make yourself be sure to add cinnamon and allspice.  In addition to adding flavor, like apples, both also add antioxidants.

Desserts that will DelightHalloween Dess

Strawberry ghosts are so easy to make that very young children can help. Melt a white chocolate for candy decorations (some brands of white chocolate may not melt or dry as well) and dip washed and throughly dried strawberries in the chocolate while letting the rest of chocolate flow off the strawberry. Use mini chocolate chips for eyes. Melt chocolate chips and pour in a <Wilton Candy Eyeballs
. Cut a small bit off the tip of the bag so the icing can flow through. Now, make your mouth.

Follow the package directions for rice krispie treats (I substituted a light butter spread with no hydrogenated oils for  butter) to Rice Krispie pumpkins. Once your rice krispie treats are made, turn off the heat and immediately add a tiny bit of orange dye and mix it throughout the rice krispies (I used food gloves that I found in Wal-mart so my hands wouldn’t turn orange). Next, shape your rice krispie batter into pumpkins. Let these cool off at room temperature for at least an hour. Instead of using  candy for the stem, I cut a whole-grain breakfast bar into stems for each pumpkin. Next I placed a small bit of green icing from a green icing tube (Betty Crocker and Wilton make these. Find the tips that go with these particular brands right next to the icing and buy one with a leaf tip.) onto the top of the pumpkin and then set my breakfast bar stem into the pumpkin. After this I piped a few leaves around the stem of the pumpkin.

Spider Cookies
A Spicy Perspective had the cutest spider cookies that I found on Pinterest. Click here for the recipe. I substituted one third of the flour for whole wheat flour and may work with this recipe a little more in the future. You can also lower the sugar content of the cookies (or any baked goods) by substituting all natural Swerve Sweetener for most or all of the sugar. As my colleague Molly Kimball, RD, CSSD, an expert at working with Swerve says “many recipes call for so MUCH sugar” and you can easily reduce the amount in savory dishes (and the amount of Swerve if you use it) but, in baked good sugar provides “bulk” which makes sugar reduction a little tricky. Instead of using a truffle in the middle, I made protein balls with peanut flour (high protein and a good or excellent source of several vitamins and minerals as well as fiber) for the body of the spider.

Protein balls:

Ingredients
1 cup quick oats
1/2 cup honey
1 cup peanut butter
1/2 to 1 cup peanut flour or chocolate peanut flour (find this right next to peanut butter in the grocery store or on amazon – Jif Regular and Chocolate Peanut Powder).

Directions
Mix the oats, honey and peanut butter in a mixer (I use the heavy duty KitchenAid). Next add peanut flour in small amounts until balls can be shaped but are not too dry (all protein is drying, it sucks the moisture out and the amount of flour you use depends a little on the texture of the peanut butter). Once your mix is easy to handle and shape in balls, shape small balls for the spider’s body. Dip each body into melted chocolate melts and let the excess drain off. Quickly add the eyes (Wilton Candy Eyeballs) before the chocolate dries. Next, place the chocolate dipped protein ball onto the head of the cookie. Next, using your melted chocolate in an icing bag (cake decorating bag), pipe the lines of the spider on the cookie.

Oftentimes the excitement of Halloween isn’t the candy, which is available all year long in different packaging but instead, the decorations. So, if you are throwing a party for kids or adults, decorate each room, use Halloween themed napkins, cups and plates and serve healthier food and drink options that incorporate the Halloween spirit. Get your guests up and moving by setting out fun games they can participate in – treasure hunts and bean bag tosses. Plus you can keep kids active by setting out sidewalk chalk, pumpkin decorating kits and other craft ideas.

Swerve is an al natural sweetener that is made from erythritol (erythritol is naturally found in many fruits and vegetables) and oligosaccharides. Oligosaccharides are a type of prebiotic fiber (prebiotic fiber stimulates the  growth of healthy bacteria in your gut) that has a naturally sweet taste.

Which Fat is Best for Heart Health?

Butter

If you are more confused than ever about dietary fats, you’re not alone. Can a high fat diet help you lose body fat? Which fat is best for heart health – butter, coconut oil or vegetable oil?

What is Cholesterol & Why is it Essential?
Cholesterol is an essential component of all cell membranes and a precursor to hormones, vitamin D and bile acids (needed for the digestion of fat). It is so important that your body regulates cholesterol balance to ensure your cells receive a continuous supply of cholesterol.

How does High LDL Contribute to Cardiovascular Disease?

Though cholesterol is critical for life, low density lipoprotein cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, is considered a risk factor for heart disease because excess LDL can lead to an increase in plaque buildup in your arteries. Think of this process like a garden hose with gunk stuck in it. The gunk interferes with water flowing through the hose. If too much debris gets in there, no water will flow through.  Likewise, plaque in your arteries will decrease the amount of blood that moves through your arteries at one time and a complete blockage could lead to a heart attack or stroke.  Now, this is a simplistic view, especially considering LDL isn’t just one particle but instead, several that contain different amounts of cholesterol. Some research suggests that smaller, more dense LDL particles are more artery clogging. However, in addition to particle size, total number of LDL particles and oxidation of LDL contribute to the disease process.

As LDL particles travel through the bloodstream, excess LDL particles can stick to artery walls (particularly walls that are damaged due to smoking, high blood pressure and other insults). Trapped LDL becomes oxidized and sets off an inflammatory cascade resulting in the development of plaque (gunk) stuck to arteries – atherosclerosis.

Coronary Artery Disease

How Can I Lower my LDL Cholesterol?

Cholesterol in food has little effect on your blood cholesterol.

Years ago we were told to stay away from shrimp, eggs and other high cholesterol foods. Yet this advice wasn’t based on sound science – cholesterol in food has little effect on your blood cholesterol levels. So there is no need to take these nutrient-rich foods out of your diet. Shrimp is loaded with protein, and is a good source of iron plus it contains just 80 calories per serving. Eggs are also packed with nutrition – the whites are an excellent source of protein and the yellow color you see in the yolk is from antioxidants – plant compounds that protect plants from disease and protect your body from the damaging effects of free radicals, compounds that are essential but can cause damage as well.

Coconut Oil, Butter and Other Solid Fats are Not the Best Options

Man-made trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils) are the worst kind of fat you can eat. However, they should, finally, be making their way out of our food supply over the next few years. High levels of *saturated fat, the kind that is solid at room temperature like butter, increases HDL (the “good” cholesterol but not a target of therapy – doctors don’t focus on HDL levels because increasing HDL does not lower heart disease risk) and LDL cholesterol in the blood. In controlled diet experiments where saturated fat is replaced with polyunsaturated fat rich vegetable oils, risk of heart disease is reduced. Replacing saturated fat with monounsaturated fat, the kind found in olive oil, also lowers LDL but not to the extent that polyunsaturated fat does.

Coconut oil is popular and calorie for calorie it might be better for weight management than other fats. However, coconut oil raises our total, good and bad cholesterol levels. And therefore, it is not the best option for heart health.

Excess Carbohydrate Intake can Increase LDL

Overconsumption of carbohydrate-rich foods can also increase VLDL cholesterol (very low density lipoprotein). Foods with added sugars, in particular, are potent stimulators of VLDL production when the energy (calories) aren’t needed right away for energy or increasing glycogen stores (stored carbohydrate in your liver and muscle).

Best Fats for Your Heart

Nuts, seeds, avocados, olives and liquid oils are your bets for heart health. Oils with more polyunsaturated fat have a greater impact on LDL cholesterol than those rich in monounsaturated fat. Make sure you are choosing the right oil for the right cooking application. Many oils can’t stand high heat and they break down, damaging the structure (and function) of the oil.

Fatty Acids in Oils

Conclusion

Many factors contribute to high blood cholesterol levels, including genetics, overweight/obesity, inactivity, smoking, diabetes and age, making cholesterol management a multifactorial issue. Saturated fat increases LDL cholesterol but, as I’ll say over and over, we are all different and, people vary in their response to dietary saturated fat due to intrinsic differences in fat metabolism as well as other factors including obesity, insulin resistance and high triglycerides.

Replace fats that raise cholesterol with liquid oils, nuts, seeds, avocados, and olives. Consider your overall diet as well. Eat a plant-based diet including vegetables (non-starchy veggies as well as beans, lentils and peas), fruits, nuts, seeds and whole grains (oats, barley etc.). Consume fatty fish ( salmon, mackerel, herring, halibut, sardines etc.) at least two times per week. Limit your intake of foods with added sugars and refined starches as well as your alcohol consumption. 

* There are differences in specific saturated fatty acids and their effects on blood cholesterol. Therefore, some foods high in saturated fat do not raise LDL cholesterol. Also, oils have a different array of vitamins (primarily vitamin E) and plant-based compounds that may be beneficial for heart health.

Fatty acids composition of oils taken from the USDA Nutrient Database.