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MODEST CALORIE SAVINGS FOUND IN HALLOWEEN CANDY

If you're concerned about your child's weight you may be rethinking what you'll offer as Halloween treats.

Thanks to the current low-carbohydrate diet craze, manufacturers are formulating chocolates and candies to contain less sugar. But are your children going to avoid weight gain if they eat these items instead of more familiar sweetened confections?

The answer, from nutrition experts, is mixed.

"These products still have calories, and children who eat too many calories will gain weight," says Melinda Johnson, a registered dietitian and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

Many of the candies substitute sugar alcohols (also called polyols), such as maltitol and lactitol for the usual sweeteners. Sugar alcohols have two calories per gram, half the calories of table sugar.

The caloric saving can be modest or significant depending on the overall recipe for the candy. For example, a serving of York Sugar-Free Peppermint Patties -- three pieces -- has 110 calories, which is only 35 calories less than a serving of the sugar-based version.

Some low-carbohydrate candies have just as many calories as their sugar-based counterparts, according to Suzanne Barnes, a registered dietitian and diabetes educator in Portsmouth, Va.

"A manufacturer may compensate for the reduced sugar by adding more fat, so calorie wise, it doesn't make much difference," Barnes says.

For instance, take Atkins Endulge Peanut Butter Cups. A serving has 160 calories and 13 grams of fat. The same-weight serving of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups has 190 calories and 11 grams of fat.

You have to read the Nutrition Facts panels on the wrappers to make a valid comparison.

Some manufacturers are marketing their low-carbohydrate candies to people with diabetes. If you have a child with the disease, talk to a diabetes educator about whether these sweets are appropriate.

"The low-carbohydrate candies work well (for people with diabetes) because the candies don't send the blood sugar up immediately. But people with type 1 diabetes can have a spike later," Barnes says.

Instead of switching to low-carbohydrate sweets, Johnson suggests putting Halloween treats into perspective and finding ways to help your child make better food choices.

Johnson advises giving children a good meal before they make their trick-or-treat rounds to prevent them from dipping into their candy bags before they get home.

Sugar alcohols do not cause dental caries, a bonus for any parent facing high dental bills. Unfortunately, the substances have the unpleasant effect of causing bloating, gas and diarrhea if you eat too much. For that reason, if no other, eat low-carbohydrate sweets in moderation, say nutritionists.

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