ANNAPOLIS – Kindly neighbors may think they’re doing the right thing by tossing granola bars or boxed raisins into trick-or-treaters’ bags, but what they don’t know is that these “candies in costume” can be more harmful to teeth than chocolate.
Dentists and nutritionists warn that some “healthy” treats actually stick to teeth longer than foods with soluble sugars, which are quickly washed away by saliva. These imposters include granola bars, peanut butter crackers, dried figs, jelly beans, raisins and caramels.
“Our conventional mind says that chocolate may be the worst, but there are things that are more harmful,” said Ross Heisman, dentist and member of the Anne Arundel County Dental Society. The damage, Heisman said, depends on how sticky the food is and how much it adheres to teeth. Granola, for example, takes a long time to break down, so the teeth are in contact with the food longer.
“You need to brush within a reasonable period of time,” said Heisman, who used to disappoint many Halloweeners by passing out toothbrushes on the holiday. He now gives out little toys and trinkets less likely to rot children’s teeth, or cause a frown when they hit a tot’s sack.
Dentists are not the only ones warning about the dangers of unrestricted Halloween candy consumption. The American Academy of Pediatrics, in recognition of a national focus on obesity, is recommending several steps to ensure a healthy, safe All Hallows Eve.
“Be very careful about super-sweet treats,” said Daniel Levy, a pediatrician from Owings Mills. He suggested handing out healthy things, such as fruit, vegetables and homemade goodies. If children do receive a lot of candy, parents should control the amounts and limit children to eating it no more than two or three times per week.
Very sweet candies often contain corn syrup, a cheap sweetener that can cause cravings for more goodies, Levy said. Those cravings can develop into lifelong bad eating habits that contribute to obesity problems.
Well-meaning parents can substitute treats with none of the nutritional tricks involved.
Crayons, yo-yos, Play-Doh, jacks and Nerf balls are some popular, non-edible Halloween treats that Wal-Mart stores have noticed selling well.
Some organizations offer downloadable Internet pictures to color and connect-the-dot and memory games to distribute to children.
Canister snacks, including chips and cookies, apples with caramel dip, and cheese and peanut butter crackers, are also moving at Wal-Mart.
No matter how much care parents put into choosing and limiting treats, Heisman said excess is inevitable at Halloween.
“Children will consume a lot more sweets than they usually do,” he said. “Parents should supervise young children and monitor their consumption.”