Resisting candy binges

Candy Bars.e
Candy Bars

Strategies for Well-Being

By the time you read this column, you’re either preparing for Halloween, or you’re looking at the piles of candy you weren’t able to give out or the bounty of the young Trick-or-Treaters in your household.

In either case, we’re talking about a lot of candy, because the industry makes sure there is lots of it, and it’s both appealing and relatively cheap. Current data shows that about $2 billion is spent on candy each year at Halloween alone.

If you’re like most of us, and you’ve avoided candy bars, candy corn or M&M’s since last Halloween season, you’ll want to permit yourself to indulge. But when you finally let yourself have “just one mini candy bar,” your brain lights up with interest and it’s often hard to stop.

As Halloween candy takes over store shelves, advice on how to resist such candy takes over nutrition headlines. But the science of eating behavior shows that the more we try not to eat something, the more likely we are to overeat it.

So before you vow to keep all of the candy out of your house or curse your lack of willpower, here’s some of the health reasons you need to help resist the urge.

Most people like to indulge in a candy bar now and then but doing so regularly has negative effects on your health. Candy is high in sugar and many types also contain unhealthy amounts of fat and calories. Sweets often contain no nutrients, making them empty calories that contribute to health problems.

The ingredients used to make candy are full of calories. Sugar, chocolate, caramel, nuts and nougat are several examples of ingredients used to make candy that are high in calories and, in some cases, fat.

Eating too many calories every day results in weight gain if you cannot burn them off. An average of 40 percent of the sugar people consume is stored in the body as fat.

If you are filling up on candy, you leave little room for nutrient-dense foods that support your health. Candy contains no vitamins and very small, if any, amounts of minerals, which means you are satisfying hunger but doing nothing to meet your daily nutrient intake requirements.

Furthermore, high sugar intake actually robs you of much-needed nutrients, such as calcium, because your body must use them to digest sugar. This contributes to the development of nutrient deficiencies, resulting in a variety of health problems, including anemia and a lowered immunity.

Eating too much candy leads to the development of cavities. Sugar plays a large role in this process because the bacteria that causes cavities feeds on sugar. The more sugary candy you eat, the more this harmful bacteria is able to multiply and damage your teeth.

Eating a lot of candy also plays a role in bleeding gums and losing teeth because sugar allows bacteria to damage your teeth and surrounding gums, leading to corrosion and deterioration. Caramel, taffy and other chewy candies stick to teeth, eroding the enamel and leading to decay.

High-fat, high-calorie and high-sugar diets are responsible for a whole host of health conditions. Large amounts of sugar contribute to insulin resistance, which can cause diabetes. Sugar leaches calcium from your bones, making osteoporosis a worry.

Eating a lot of fat increases your risk of heart disease, obesity and depression. Poor diets lower the effectiveness of your immune system, making it easier for your body to succumb to a virus. Many of these conditions play a role in the development of others. For example, being overweight increases your risk of heart disease and diabetes.

If you’re eating sugar-free candy, a wild and crazy binge could give you what’s known as “Halloween diarrhea,” the explosive effect of the artificial sweetener sorbitol.

One of the most common health warnings about Halloween candy comes from the FDA: Don’t eat too much black licorice.

This isn’t about the calories inherent in candy, but rather about glycyrrhizin, the natural sweetening compound that comes from the licorice root. The compound causes the body’s potassium levels to fall, which can have nasty side effects for some people. These effects include abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, swelling, lethargy and even congestive heart failure.

If you’re chowing down on tons of black licorice and you feel your heart rhythm going funny, stop eating it and talk to a doctor. Take it easy on the black Twizzlers – the red ones aren’t even licorice, mind you, but they have their own health implications if eaten in excess.

If you’re looking for additional advice about dealing with Halloween candy and children in your household, let me leave you with the results of a recent study: It only takes 2 weeks to see increases in cholesterol levels in young, healthy people. Increases in cholesterol levels, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, might start to show up even sooner.

Disclaimer: This column is for informational purposes only. If you have a medical condition or concern, please seek professional care from your doctor or other health professional. Glenn Ellis is a Health Advocacy Communications Specialist and is available through


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