October is National Dental Hygiene Month! It’s probably not a coincidence that this falls on the same month as Halloween, a celebration notorious for sugary treats and candy-filled feasts. The American Dental Hygienist Association reminds us that while it’s okay to indulge in the avalanche of sweets that comes with Halloween parties, we still need to maintain healthy dental habits to prevent tooth decay and disease. Are there healthy alternatives to Halloween candies? Here’s what our HealthTap doctors have to say.
1. Is one type of candy better than another?
Dr. Pamela Lindor weighs in saying that dark chocolate may be slightly better. But really, “Anything in small amounts, or for special occasions, is fine.” “Dark chocolate contains higher levels of antioxidants than other forms of chocolate however, chocolate is not considered a ‘health food’,” adds Dr. Douglas Fronzaglia And one final advice about chocolates: Dr. Lonna Larsh says that “If your chocolate is less that 70% cocoa, it is dessert. If it is >70%, it is therapeutic in small quantities. Chocolate is usually very high in saturated fat, which is why you should only eat small quantities.”
2. What are some healthy alternatives to holiday candy?
Dr. Anthony La Barbera recommends the following:
- Sugar free treats.
- Limited sugary treats.
- Fruit and nuts.
For other healthy snacks, Dr. Yolanda Wade recommends:
- Cheese sticks/cubes
3. Is it okay to eat a piece of candy every now and then?
Dr. Ratna Dhingra says that “A candy now and then is fine.” She goes on to emphasize that complex sugars—like those found in fruits such as cherries and strawberries—are better. While Dr. Neigatha Graney advices that “Enjoying candy in limited quantity is allowed. Processed foods are often sweetened with table sugar (sucrose), fructose (fruit juices), or corn syrup and offers minimal nutrition or fiber but lots of calories. Complex sugars found in fruits, vegetables offer nutrients, fiber & more. Do limit Carb intake to 45-65% daily calories.”
4. Is sugar-free candy okay?
Dr. Rachel Chastanet says yes, in moderation. “Sugar Free does not mean free of calories, and sugar free candy generally is made with sugar alcohols. Sugar Alcohols are poorly and incompletely absorbed by the intestines, so eating a lot will give you bad gas and diarrhea. Taken in moderation, sugar free candy is better for your teeth than regular candy, and is a useful tool for diabetics and people on low carbohydrate diets.” “Depends on sweetener,” says Dr. Melissa Young. “Some sugar free candies are calorie free but some are not. Part of it depends on the sweetener used. Sugar alcohols can still raise your sugar. And some sugar free foods have just as many calories as the “regular” version, so they may not raise your blood sugar as much, but “lots” will cause weight gain and eventual increase in blood sugar. “lots” of anything is bad.”
5. What is the best kind of holiday candies to get that do the least damage to children’s teeth?
Dr. Arnold Malerman says to give chocolate as an occasional treat. “Stay away from hard candy…sticky candy and starches that linger on the teeth. Drink a glass of water to help clear the sugars off the teeth. Remember, all things in moderation.” One final advice from a dentist: “The least damaging candies are sugar free and sweetened with xylitol. You may be able to find them at a health food store in your area. Too much xylitol can cause stomach discomfort so don’t overdo it. Uncoated gummy candies are alright due to their non-sticky properties.” - Dr. Charles Kattuah