Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tricks or treats?

Dietitian, pediatric dentist weigh in on your kids' Halloween haul

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You can't help yourself. It seems you're digging into your stash of Halloween candy every few minutes to sneak a lollipop, caramel or mini chocolate bar.

It's hard to resist the bags of sweet treats lining grocery-store shelves this time of year.

According to Nielsen, nearly 270 million kilograms of candy is sold in the United States during the Halloween season -- and the numbers are likely just as staggering here in Canada.

You've heard it all before -- that the sugary stuff contributes to weight gain, bad dental health and even metabolic disorders.

But you might be surprised to learn that some treats may not be as detrimental to health as others.

I certainly was when I chatted to registered dietitian Gina Sunderland and pediatric dentist Charles Lekic about the subject several years ago.

Check the list below to see how your favourite Halloween treats fare:


Dietitian's assessment: Dark is always the best choice in chocolate, since it has less fat and sugar than its milky counterpart. Dark chocolate is also rich is flavonoids -- chemical compounds that research shows boost blood-vessel function. Milk chocolate, even though it's higher in fat and sugar, has its benefits too, since it contains milk -- a rich source of calcium. If you opt for milk chocolate, choose quality brands that contain high amounts of milk and other natural ingredients rather than waxes and other fillers. Keep in mind that chocolate with caramel and other sugary fillings isn't as good for you as plain chocolate. Fruits and nuts, while adding extra calories, can give your chocolate a nutritional punch. (White chocolate, by the way, is not really chocolate, but rather cocoa butter, sugar and flavourings.)


Dentist's assessment: Chocolate is not the best choice for teeth because of its high sugar content. But it's not the worst choice, either. If you decide to indulge, keep in mind that chocolates with sugary fillings are more likely to shoot holes in your tooth enamel more quickly than plain chocolate (because fillings like caramel tend to stick to teeth longer). Nuts in your chocolate, believe it or not, will have a slight abrasive effect on your teeth, helping to keep them clean.



Dietitian's assessment: Empty, sugar-laden calories. Nevertheless, this chewy treat is fat-free, which means it has fewer calories, gram for gram, than its fat-laden candy counterparts.


Dentist's assessment: Not too bad for teeth because it's not terribly sticky. The sugar in licorice causes a temporary drop in the pH value of the mouth, making it ripe for tooth decay, but saliva flow will remove the sugar in a relatively short period of time.


Toffee, caramel and other soft candy

Dietitian's assessment: Toffee, Tootsie Rolls, caramels and other such treats are empty calories. Many are even hidden sources of fats, since they can be flavoured with cream and butter.


Dentist's assessment: While sugar-flushing saliva increases when you eat any candy, saliva is no match for the kind that gets stuck in teeth. Caramel-type confections are the worst offenders. The prolonged drop in acidity when you eat these treats makes your mouth ripe for cavities.


Sugar-sweetened gum

Dietitian's assessment: One stick of gum contains a handful of calories, no nutrients and only a small amount of sugar.


Dentist's assessment: Even gum with sugar brings increased saliva flow to the mouth, thus reducing the chances of cavity development.


Sugar-free gum

Dietitian's assessment: Nutritionally empty, but contains just a few, negligible calories that can taste just as good as a sugary confection. Keep in mind that sugar-free gum sweetened with sugar alcohols such as sorbitol or malitol can cause stomach cramps and flatulence if you eat enough of the gum at once.


Dentist's assessment: The Canadian Dental Association has published studies indicating that chewing gum for one hour after meals can significantly reduce the risk of cavities. That's because saliva flow associated with chewing gum washes away excess sugar and bacteria from the teeth. Look for gums containing xylitol, the birch bark-derived sugar-free sweetener. Xylitol, popular in Europe, actually stops cavity-causing bacteria from adhering to your mouth. Combined with the salvia-inducing action of chewing gum, xylitol gum packs dual power.


Rockets, SweeTarts and other hard candy made with powdered sugar


Dietitian's assessment: There's nothing nutritionally redeeming about empty calories and pure sugar.


Dentist's assessment: Not good for your teeth, but the dextrose found in many powdered-sugar candies has a less detrimental effect on teeth than table sugar (sucrose).


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Brush teeth before bed and don't eat until morning; saliva flow is reduced at night, making teeth susceptible to cavities.

Eat cheese after snacking; the calcium in cheese re-mineralizes teeth and repairs early tooth decay. Also, cheese brings the mouth to an optimal pH level, reducing the chance of cavities.

Avoid sticky treats that can adhere to teeth. If you eat them, brush well afterwards.

Chew gum after snacks for one hour to help prevent cavities; the increased saliva flow washes away bacteria.

Choose gum and candy with xylitol; this sweetener actually prevents bacteria from sticking to mouth.

Limit candy snacks to two or three a day.

Don't let kids take their treats to their bedrooms where they can sneak bites in the middle of the night.

Sort candy after trick-or-treating and give some away to kids in need.

Invest in healthy Halloween treats; little bags of baby carrots, boxes of fruit leather and bulk containers of cheese sticks; save on costs by shopping at a big-box store.

Make Halloween about more than just the candy; focus on the decorations, costumes and family time.


-- Sources: Dr. Charles Lekic and Gina Sunderland

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 29, 2012 D1

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