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Peppermint Candy: To Eat, or Not To Eat?

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Peppermint candies are one of the many food items you’ll find lying around during Christmas, often in the form of candy canes. Peppermint candy is commonly associated with fresh breaths and white teeth, but when Christmas rolls in, it flavors nearly every food, from cookies to teas and chips.

Why is that? Learn more about this traditional Christmas treat, its benefits, and its drawbacks.

Peppermint and Christmas: What’s the Link?

An often-told story about why peppermint candy canes are linked to Christmas goes like this:

Once upon a time, in 17th century Germany, a choirmaster was looking for a way to keep children behaving well while watching the Nativity scene. He sought help from a local candy maker, who went ahead and made white peppermint-flavored candies that looked like canes. It was a success, and these candy canes spread throughout Europe and around the world.

Although it’s a popular origin story, most historians can’t verify if it is true. However, peppermint candy canes were historically used to decorate Christmas trees, along with cookies, fruits, and other candies.

Peppermint candy canes first came into mass production in Albany, Georgia, through well-known candy maker Bob McCormack and his brother-in-law, Gregory Harding Keller. McCormack added the red stripes and the hook to the candy cane we are now familiar with. However, adding the hook was difficult. His brother-in-law, a Catholic priest, developed the machine that made it easier to shape the candies.

Health Benefits of Peppermint Candy

Peppermint is a hybrid plant made from crossing water mint and spearmint. First grown in Europe and the Middle East, it is now popular worldwide and is traditionally used to treat many ailments like muscle spasms and indigestion. It also has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Brewing its leaves helps soothe cold symptoms and upset stomachs prevalent during the cold winter.

While most candies are not suitable for your health, peppermint candy with natural peppermint oil can be beneficial in certain conditions. Here are some of the benefits you can enjoy from peppermint candies.

Antioxidant Properties

According to the Cornell Center for Materials Research, peppermint oil has higher levels of antioxidants than cereals, fruits, and vegetables. Antioxidants protect our cells from damage caused by free radicals, which result from the breakdown of food.

Reduces Bad Breath

Peppermint candies with real peppermint oil can kill the bacteria causing bad breath, unlike other types of breath mints that only mask the foul odor.

Good for Digestion

After a meal, eating peppermint candy can help reduce heartburn and bloating. Peppermint candies with real peppermint oil may help with indigestion and stomach pain. It also helps reduce nausea caused by motion sickness.

Drawbacks of Peppermint Candy

Like everything else, peppermint candy also has its drawbacks. Here are some of them:

Calories

The sugar in peppermint candy adversely affects your overall health. While peppermint candy is a good snack in small amounts, it can add more calories to your daily diet if you eat it in large quantities. Consuming 20 candies in a single sitting is equivalent to 400 calories; eating them multiple times a week can quickly add up to 3,500 calories, resulting in a pound of fat in a month.

Sugary foods can cause weight gain faster than fatty foods with the same calories. Your body stores these excess sugars as fat, slowing down your metabolism.

Sugar

According to the American Dental Association, peppermint candy’s sugar content is a risk to oral health; three pieces of peppermint candy have approximately 15 grams or one tablespoon of sugar. Eating these three pieces with other sugar sources for a day makes them excessive. This is especially true if you have a peppermint addiction. Most people with a peppermint addiction won’t stop at one and will eat more than a dozen in a single day.

Even if they make your breath feel and smell fresher, the sugar in these candies can stick to your teeth, which bacteria use to produce acids that damage your gums and teeth. Brush your teeth or rinse your mouth with water after eating them.

Peppermint Candy: Side Effects

Unless you’re allergic to mint plants, candies with peppermint oils won’t cause any side effects. However, incorrect use or consumption of large quantities of peppermint oil will lead to side effects caused by menthol, its major component.

Menthol interacts with our body’s calcium channels, causing a pleasant, cooling sensation in small amounts. However, menthol is toxic in large quantities, causing seizures and, in rare cases, death.

Anyone sensitive to menthol might also experience chemical burns, and young children are more likely to have these reactions. Some symptoms of peppermint candy side effects include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Burning sensation in the mouth
  • Mouth sores
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • White spots on gums or tongue
  • Heartburn
  • Muscle weakness
  • Itchy skin around the anus

Who Should Avoid Peppermint Candy?

Peppermint candy is a delicious treat that’s safe for many. However, there are exceptions, including:

Patients with Gallstones

Excessive amounts of peppermint oil can cause kidney damage, which makes peppermint candies unsuitable for patients with gallstones. It can also make some medications more addictive, like statins or antidepressants.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) Patients

While peppermint helps relax an upset stomach, it can worsen GERD symptoms. The sphincter between your esophagus and stomach can become too loose, leading to hiatal hernia and GERD symptoms.

Pregnant Women

Anything other than the occasional peppermint candy or tea is not suitable for pregnant women or children younger than six months. The American Academy of Family Physicians advises pregnant women to limit their peppermint candy intake.

Peppermint oil has been traditionally used to induce menstruation in women with irregular periods, which can probably cause a miscarriage in pregnant women.

Key Takeaway

Peppermint candies are a staple holiday treat. Like everything else we consume, it’s best to consume them in moderation. Eating enough peppermint candies helps reduce bad breath and relieve indigestion and other stomach problems. However, peppermint candies have a high calorie and sugar content. Eating them in excessive amounts is not good for your overall health.

Peppermint candies can also have side effects for people who are highly sensitive to menthol or eat them excessively. Patients with gallstones, GERD, or pregnant women should avoid eating them.

Get your teeth ready for the holidays with Century Dental.

Holiday gatherings are drawing near; have a dentist check your teeth before attending them. Our dentist near Treasure Island, FL, provides cosmetic and preventive procedures that help keep your teeth healthy and bright. Contact us today and prepare your teeth for the holidays.

Picture of Dr. Abdullah M. Allawnha

Dr. Abdullah M. Allawnha

Dr. Allawnha, born in New Orleans and raised in Windsor, Canada, earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Windsor. He worked as an ER nurse in Detroit, Michigan, before moving to Morgantown, West Virginia, to become a dentist. He completed his Doctorate of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree from West Virginia University School of Dentistry while still working as a nurse until he graduated.

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