How about candied apples-on-a-stick, chocolate-dipped dried fruits, flavored or caramel-coated popcorn and spiced wafers or gingerbread cookies decoratively painted with a smooth shell of frosting?
To provide guidance in making candy choices, the accompanying list gives the calorie counts of a sampling of Halloween goodies, along with the relative proportion of fat each contains. On average, no more than 30 percent of total food calories should come from fat.
All holiday treats, especially those with more than a third of their calories drawn from fat, should be eaten in moderation in a balanced diet.
As for sugar, the best thing to be said about it is that it isn't fat.
It provides energy, doesn't clog our arteries and adds just four calories per gram compared with the nine calories in a like amount of fat. But sugar does contribute to tooth decay and the formation of plaque.
This Halloween season brings with it a variety of new sweets that give dental hygiene at least a ghost of a chance. This is courtesy of a natural sugar substitute called xylitol that will reduce, prevent and even reverse tooth decay.
A sugar alcohol like sorbitol and manitol, xylitol is the leading sugar substitute in Europe. After 20 years it is making a move on the American mass market.
A Pennsylvania firm, Asher Chocolates in Montgomeryville, is offering chocolate-covered cherries sweetened with xylitol. And Van Leer Chocolates in Jersey City is using the sweetener in both milk and dark versions of sugar- free chocolate.
From Goelitz candies in Fairfield, Calif., come the partially xylitol- sweetened, sugar-free Jelly Bellies.
Another item new to most Americans - XyliFresh chewing gum - is being distributed nationwide to the more than 1,700 stores in the Walgreen drugstore chain. The Chiclet-style tablets, retailing for 79 cents to 99 cents for a 10- piece box, are marketed by the specialty division of Leaf, makers of
Chuckles, Milk Duds and other candies.
According to dentistry professor Maxwell Anderson, chewing XyliFresh gum regularly over time can actually "heal" cavities, from the inside out, through remineralization of the tooth. Anderson is assistant professor at the School of Dentistry at the University of Washington and consultant to the National Naval Dental Center in Bethesda, Md.
Xylitol works best in chewing gum because it is most effective in prolonged contact with the teeth. Use of the sweetener in beverages has been discouraged in favor of use in foods that must be chewed.
Initial reports of xylitol's beneficial effect on teeth appeared in the '70s based on studies conducted in Turku, Finland. Those landmark findings have been reproduced widely since then in studies around the world.
Since the late '60s, use of xylitol-sweetened products in Europe has grown to include various candies, chocolates, Gummi bears, chewing gum, lozenges, mouthwash and toothpastes. There, studies have been conducted in schools, and use of xylitol gum is akin to a public-health measure.
A sugar alcohol found in birch trees and a few other plants, xylitol cannot be metabolized by plaque bacteria to form decay-causing acids. It stimulates saliva secretion, thus retarding plaque formation, and has a protective effect for up to three years after its use is discontinued.
While chewing gum with xylitol appeals to a younger market, flavorful mints have been a more effective way of delivering the product to adults and seniors. Because of the slow rate at which it is metabolized, xylitol does not stimulate an insulin response and can be used by diabetics.
For all of its benefits, don't look for retail packets of xylitol for home use just yet.
"There are drawbacks to cooking with it," Anderson explained. "It is not heat stable and yeast cannot metabolize this particular type of sugar."
In sweetness, texture and overall appearance, however, xylitol is almost identical to regular sugar.
Said Anderson: "I put it in the sugar bowl at home and my daughter couldn't tell the difference."
Developed in Finland, it is marketed here by American Xyrofin in Schaumburg, Ill.
Anderson offers these suggestions to reduce decay for those with a hopeless sweet tooth:
* Select less sticky sweets. Non-retentive candies provide a sugar jolt and then are gone. It is the sticky, retentive foods from raisins to jelly beans to caramels that cause the most dental problems.
* Select sugar-free (sucrose-free) sweets whenever possible.
* Chew gum made with xylitol.
These recipes may be used on party menus or to give out to your hobgoblins.
8 medium red apples
2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup red cinnamon candies
10 drops red food coloring
Wash and dry apples. Remove stems and insert a wooden skewer into stem end of each apple. Combine sugar, corn syrup and water in a heavy two-quart saucepan.
Stirring constantly, cook over medium heat until mixture boils and sugar is dissolved.
Then cook without stirring until temperature reaches 250 degrees on a candy thermometer, or the hard ball stage.
Add cinnamon candies and continue cooking to 285 degrees or the soft crack stage. Remove from heat. Stir in red food coloring.
Hold each apple by its skewer and quickly twirl the apple in the syrup, tilting pan a bit to cover the apple with syrup. Remove apple from syrup.
Allow excess to drip off, then twirl to spread syrup smoothly over the apple.
Place on lightly greased baking sheet to cool. Repeat with remaining apples. (If candy mixture cools too quickly, it may be reheated over low heat.) Store in cool place. Makes eight candy apples.
12 navel oranges
1/2 gallon dark chocolate or fudge ice cream
12 whole cinnamon sticks
Cut tops off oranges. Gently hollow out pulp, reserving for salad or other uses. Leave a thick shell. Hollow pulp out of the cut tops as well. Using a very sharp knife, carefully cut a jack-o'-lantern face into each orange shell. Pack scoops of ice cream into the shells, being careful not to let ice cream ooze out through cut facial features on shell. Cut a hole in the top of each orange cap. Set tops back on, over ice cream, and insert a cinnamon-stick stem through the hole. Place filled shells in freezer for at least three hours or until serving time. Makes 12 servings.
1/2 cup butterscotch pieces
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate pieces
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons butter
3 cups crisp rice cereal
Assorted decorations (red cinnamon candies, candy corn, gumdrops, candy- coated chocolate pieces, shoestring licorice, candied cherries, dried fruit bits, nuts)
Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Grease the paper lightly and set aside.
In a medium heavy saucepan, heat butterscotch pieces, chocolate pieces, corn syrup and butter until melted, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and
stir in cereal until evenly coated. Turn onto prepared baking sheet and pat into a 12-by-6-inch rectangle. Chill for about 15 minutes or until slightly firm.
Cut cereal mixture into desired animal or Halloween shapes with cookie cutters or freehand with a sharp knife.
Trim critters with assorted decorations as desired. Chill until firm.
Wrap each critter in clear plastic wrap. Keep chilled until serving time. Makes 8 to 10 critters depending on size.
HOT SPICED CIDER
2 quarts apple cider
1 cup fresh orange juice
2 teaspoons whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1 orange, cut into thin rounds
3 or 4 cinnamon sticks
Combine apple cider, orange juice, cloves and cardamom in stainless steel or heat-proof glass pan and warm through. Do not boil. Serve in mugs garnished with slices of orange. Use cinnamon sticks as stirrers. Makes 2 1/2 quarts.
SOME HALLOWEEN TREATS
PRODUCT CALORIES PCT. OF CALS.
Raisins (1.5-ounce box) 124 1
Fresh apple (about 8 ounces, 3-inch diameter) 96 9
Nature Valley Granola Bars (.83 ounces) 120 23
Cracker Jack (1.25-ounce box) 150 24
Ivins Spiced Wafers (1 ounce, 2 cookies) 110 33
Brach's Candy Corn (20 pieces per ounce) 100 0
JuJy Fruits (11 pieces per ounce) 100 0
Y & S Twizzlers (4 pieces per ounce) 100 0
Starburst Fruit Chews (6 pieces per ounce) 120 19
Kraft Caramels (3 pieces per ounce) 105 26
Junior Mints (12 pieces per ounce) 120 23
Raisinets (33 pieces per ounce) 130 35
M & M's Peanut (12 pieces per ounce) 150 42
Hershey Milk Choc. Kisses (6 pieces per ounce) 150 54
Nestle Bit-O-Honey (1.7 ounces per bar) 200 18
Peanut Chews (2.0 ounces per bar) 250 29
Milky Way (2.05 ounces per bar, in 4-pack) 280 32
Butterfingers (2.1 ounces per bar) 280 39
Reese's Peanut Butter Cups (1.6 ounces per bar) 250 54