Since Halloween is here and all of the stores are trying to encourage us to buy big bags of candy to hand out to all the trick or treaters, perhaps it is appropriate to discuss the idea of “good candy” and “bad candy”. To put it more accurately, if not grammatically, “better candy” and “worse candy” because believe me, there is NO “good candy” even if some of it tastes that way.... There’s a reason that most witches and Jack O Lanterns are missing teeth...
Why am I such a killjoy on the subject of candy? It’s estimated that the average person in the United States consumes about 130 pounds of sugar every year. That adds up to over 1/3 pound per day per person. If you put that into a pile of sugar cubes, it’s a pretty big pile! And we all know that there is LOTS of sugar in candy. So what? you might say. Well, first, ignore dental health. Our country is facing an epidemic of obesity – and lots of that excess fat is coming from sugar. The number of kids who are overweight is skyrocketing, and unfortunately, habits that start when we’re kids often carry over into our adult lives. Consider also the rapid increase in people who have diabetes and related health issues – there is strong evidence linking that increase to the increased consumption of sugar.
But since I’m a dentist, I’m not going to ignore dental health entirely. Every time we consume sugar, acid is produced in our mouths, and it only takes about 20 seconds. Then it remains in our mouths for about 30 MINUTES. Since most candy is consumed between meals, and often at a fairly leisurely pace, that can account for a lot of HOURS of acid exposure in our mouths. That’s what produces cavities. While that may be good for my business, it most definitely isn’t good for anyone’s health!
Having made what I believe is a convincing case AGAINST sugar and candy, I’m also a realist. I admit it, I eat sugar too, and I enjoy it. I simply work at picking how much and when I choose to eat it. There are definitely better and worse times and ways to consume it.
The best time to consume sugar (and believe me it is contained in an amazing number of foods and beverages – try reading the labels on everything you buy for a week) is with meals. If that was the only time you had any sugar in your diet, you’d probably be consuming far less than the average person, AND you’d be doing far less damage to your body and your teeth! So the “when” is fairly easy. If you do slip in a “treat” between meals, consume it quickly – that will reduce the amount of time your mouth is exposed to it, so you’ll be reducing the amount of damage that is done to your teeth.
Now, I hope the title of this article kept you reading to this point. So I’ll answer the question that you’ve probably been hoping for – what’s “good” candy? First, eat candy that moves through your mouth quickly. That means avoiding sticky items (sorry, but that means avoiding caramel apples!), or candy that is designed for you to suck on over a prolonged period. Items that are tart stimulate saliva flow, and that helps to reduce the damage that the sugar causes. Chocolate, some research has shown, is a good alternative. There are some positive aspects to chocolate that help make up for the negatives. That is especially true for dark chocolate – there’s actually some solid research that says dark chocolate is actually good for you (depending upon your other health concerns, of course). When all else fails, choose moderation – I find that’s almost always a good decision....
Oh, and please don’t forget to brush and clean between your teeth when you’re done eating – no matter what it is! It’s a great habit to get into!