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Spooky Sugar: Don’t Sink Your Teeth into Halloween

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When I was nine, I got my first cavity. I was as jumpy as a cat in water while I waited in the dentist’s chair for Dr. Elliot to come into the room to fill the cavity. My fears of the impending procedure almost brought me to tears and my nine year old imagination convinced me that the process would inevitably involve the tearing of flesh and loss of copious amounts of blood. The unpalatable sounds made by the dental instruments being used on the patient in the next room were piercingly loud and suggestive of an exquisite torture. I thought of all the candy I had ever eaten in my life and vowed that I would no longer consume sweets.

Dr. Elliot was a humorless, no-fuss professional who lived close to my home. My sister and I did not like Dr. Elliot. Our reasons for our antipathy went far beyond the fact that kids don’t like dentists. We did not like Dr. Eliot because on Halloween night, he and his wife dispensed tooth brushes and toothpaste.

I mean come on, right? It’s Halloween; take a day off! What kid wants a toothbrush on Halloween? I wanted Good n’ Plenty, Hershey’s miniatures, M & Ms, Reese’s peanut butter cups and Twix bars! At least that was true up to that moment. As it happened, my experience with my first cavity fell on October 29, two days before Halloween. Sitting in that dentist chair, pondering the fate of my poor tooth and my own impending doom at the hands of Dr. Elliot, I began to reconsider.  

Well, Dr. Elliot was an expert in his field; he filled my cavity with perfunctory ease (albeit using mercury amalgam). He left the room offering me his customary recommendation to avoid eating sugar. Much to the bewilderment of my mother, I took his advice to heart. On the way home from the dentist, I told her that I would not be eating any Halloween candy. That year, 1978, I was as good as my word.

Of course, I ate sugar again. Even now, those of you who know me know that I would quite willingly exchange my blood for milk chocolate. We all have our vices. But as a naturopathic physician and as a parent, I am concerned about Halloween’s glorification of sweets in a society that has much to learn (or relearn) about how to make proper food choices. In 2012, approximately 17 percent (or 12.7 million) of children and adolescents aged 2-19 years were obese, and that percentage had increased.

What sort of steps can we take to participate in Halloween without promoting the sort of indulgence that has led to this epidemic? It is not an easy dilemma to resolve.

No parent wants to be the candy police and no one wants to indoctrinate their children with a sensation of “guilt” for wanting to eat candy.

But, how about: Give your own kids a daily dose of the probiotic Sachromyces boulardii. This little bacteria is known for treatment of traveler’s diarrhea, but also stimulates production of the enzyme that breaks up sucrose, the sugar used in Halloween candy.

Consider employing the services of the Trick-or-Treat fairy, who will exchange a pile of candy for a much more desired gift, such as a toy, a trip to the movies or a gift certificate.  

My mom established the rule: One candy per night. We still ingested the same amount of sugar, but at least it was titrated.

Consider dispensing health treats. Trader Joes sells individually wrapped packages of nuts, and there is always the option of raisin. You might get a sneer or two from the astute trick or treater, but generally kids still like these treats. Packages of apple slices, pretzels, honey sticks, cereal bars, Goldfish crackers, and Pirate’s Booty are easy to find at the local supermarket. Other options include handing out Halloween-themed bags of baby carrots or Angie’s Kettle Corn, which is gluten-free.

Most every kid would trade a piece of candy for a ghoul tattoo. Temporary tattoos provide all the fun without the sugar and they last longer than candy too! If you’re feeling inspired, hand these out to trick-or-treaters and even consider putting them on kids right at your door.

What else? Dr. Elliot would tell you: hand out a tooth brush!



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