The Prairie Doc Perspective

Sweet Teeth

By Richard P. Holm MD

Lately carbohydrates have been getting a bad rap. For the most part, if you break down everything we eat, it is can be a protein, fat, or carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are defined as sugars, either simple and sweet, or complex and starchy. Sugars, or saccharides, are the component in food for giving quick energy, the backbone for RNA carrying genetic codes, and the building blocks for the body’s immunity, fertilization, blood clotting, and more.

But there can be too much of a good thing. Take, for example, Halloween, a time for dressing up like ghosts and knocking on doors imploring to, “Trick or treat.” One study in Atlanta found the average kid went to 15 houses and gathered 60 pieces of candy, amounting to about one and a half cups of fat and three cups of sugar, or 4,800 kilocalories. That is about three times as many calories needed for a full day of vigorous child play. It is enough to make a kid sick and I, for one, have gone down that sticky path at least one Halloween in the past.

Indeed there are problems that come with too much sugar, starting as we chew it with our teeth. Experts tell us the moment sugar comes into the mouth; it begins encouraging a bacterial plaque-coating of the teeth, which makes an enamel, tooth, and gum destroying acid. In short, too much sugar starts a cascade of mouth trouble for those kids that continues as they grow up.

More trouble comes after this sweet-stuff is swallowed. Expert nutritionists advise us that the epidemic of obesity comes not only from too little physical movement, but also from the excess of sweetened, nutrient-poor, highly-processed, profit-driven food and drink products being foisted upon our populace. It is no surprise that high-caloric yet nutrient-hollow food products and drinks are sweetened to encourage their purchase.

This is not to say that sweets are all bad. Fruits are loaded with carbohydrates. Rather, it is the quantity that matters. The best advice comes from my dietician friend who encourages us to eat nutrient-rich foods grown in a garden or orchard, to enjoy a physically active life, and to savor the quality, not vast quantities, of a balance of food types, including carbohydrates. Remember, there can be too much of a good thing.

Dr. Rick Holm wrote this Prairie Doc Perspective for “On Call®,” a weekly program where medical professionals discuss health concerns for the general public.  “On Call®” is produced by the Healing Words Foundation in association with the South Dakota State University Journalism Department. “On Call®” airs Thursdays on South Dakota Public Broadcasting-Television at 7 p.m. Central, 6 p.m. Mountain. Visit us at 

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