"Everything in moderation" is advice as good for innocuous treats, like peppermint candy, as it is cocktails and steak. Peppermint oil can be good for you in small doses, but if you've got something of a peppermint candy addiction, excess consumption of the treats may carry health risks.
Avoid Peppermint Oil Side Effects
Unless you have an allergy to plants of the mint family, candy made with real peppermint oil won't have any ill-effects when eaten in normal amounts. But if not used as intended, or if eaten in large quantities, peppermint oil side effects are possible. Menthol, a major compound of peppermint, is the substance responsible for these dangers, according to the National Poison Control Center.
Menthol interacts with the body's calcium channels. While this response triggers a pleasant cooling sensation in normal doses, large amounts can be toxic. Seizures are possible when this toxicity occurs, and in rare cases, it can even be fatal.
Obviously, peppermint candy is meant to be taken internally. But hard candy has a way of getting sticky as you begin sucking. Should you happen to rub your face or eyes with sticky hands, the menthol in the residue can be an irritant.
For anyone with an extreme sensitivity to menthol, chemical burns are a possibility. The people who are most likely to have a serious reaction to skin contact with menthol — young children — are also the most likely to rub sticky hands in their eyes or on sensitive facial skin.
If you have any of the symptoms that may be peppermint oil side effects, either cut back or eliminate your consumption of peppermint candy:
- A sensation of burning in the mouth: Contact with peppermint oil in the candies may lead to mouth sores, oral sensitivity and white patches on your gums and tongue. You may also have redness and burning on the skin near your mouth.
- Muscle weakness: This symptom is more often associated with inhaling peppermint oil than consuming medications or candies containing it.
- Blurred vision.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Itchy skin around the anal area.
Who Should Skip the Candy?
People with a history of gallstones, those with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and those taking certain medications may need to avoid having peppermint candy, according to Harvard Health Publishing. For most people, the peppermint oil in candies and lozenges has a relaxing effect on the gastrointestinal tract muscles.
Potential peppermint benefits from this muscle-relaxing effect include less bloating and pain for people with digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome. It may also cut down on flatulence for people with sensitive stomachs or those having temporary gas.
Read more: What Are the Health Benefits of Mint Tea?
On the other hand, having more than a moderate amount of peppermint oil can negatively affect the kidneys, making peppermint candy a poor choice for people who are prone to gallstones. It can also dangerously intensify certain medications, including statins and antidepressants.
People with GERD may find that peppermint oil's muscle-relaxing abilities make their symptoms worse. The sphincter between the stomach and the esophagus may become too loosened after the oil is ingested. This action can make symptoms or GERD or hiatal hernia worse, especially when it comes to heartburn and reflux plain.
Along with these warnings from Harvard Health Publishing, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) advises pregnant women to moderate their peppermint candy intake. Because peppermint oil has traditionally been used for bringing about menstruation in women with irregular periods, it is possible that the oil can cause miscarriage.
In addition, young children should not have peppermint candy at all or should be given it only in very small amounts, AAFP notes. Along with the obvious choking hazard to toddlers, even a small amount of peppermint oil can cause internal spasms that interfere with swallowing or breathing.
AAFP notes that these potential risks don't mean that occasional peppermint candy or mint tea is forbidden to breastfeeding or pregnant women or for younger children. However, more than an occasional, small amount could pose a danger.
Striped peppermint candy typically gets its characteristic colors from artificial dyes such as Red 40, according to the USDA. These dyes have been identified as possible contributors to health problems in children, warns the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Hyperactivity is a particular concern.
If you have kids, consider going with a non-dyed mint candy in order to get that holiday taste, along with potential peppermint benefits, without the risks that come with artificial dyes.
Chewing on Dental Health Risks
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), peppermint candy's sugar content poses an oral health risk. The association recommends that people aim to take in no more than 50 grams of sugar each day.
So where does peppermint candy fit into those guidelines? The USDA estimates that three pieces of peppermint candy contain about 15 grams of sugar. Given that you're unlikely to avoid sugars in the rest of your day's food selections, those three pieces are already stretching the limits.
If you truly have a peppermint candy addiction (or, at least, a hardcore habit) you're unlikely to stop at three pieces. If you suck a dozen pieces over the course of the day, you'll have exceeded the ADA's suggested limit.
Sugar is a danger to your teeth and gums, because it tends to adhere to your teeth, triggering the bacteria that's already in your mouth to release acids as they feed on the sugars. When you do give in to your peppermint candy addiction, make sure to brush your teeth as soon as possible. The peppermint in these treats may make your breath feel fresh and your mouth feel clean, but the bacterial feeding frenzy that happens after you chew sugary candy tells a different story.
Weigh the Calorie Count
Not surprisingly, the sugar content of peppermint candy affects other aspects of your health. While a few pieces here and there is an acceptable snack, consuming large amounts of the sweet treat will sneak more calories into your daily diet than you are aware.
The USDA's database indicates that three pieces of peppermint candy total about 60 calories, which falls neatly into the "acceptable snack" category for most people. If you mindlessly gobble a bowlful of the candies while watching a movie, the calorie hit is fairly large.
Ingesting about 20 candies in one sitting will add about 400 calories and 100 grams of carbohydrates to your daily intake. Doing that multiple times a week can easily add up to the 3,500 excess calories it takes to gain a pound of fat within a month.
Along with the additional calories, sugary foods lead to weight gain more quickly than fatty foods with the same calorie count, according to Cleveland Clinic. Eating excess sugar signals your body to store fat as an emergency fuel and sets off a chain reaction in which your metabolism decreases. Obviously, a few pieces of peppermint candy here or there won't create this heavy risk for weight gain, but eating it in excess amounts may.
- National Poison Control Center: "Can Menthol Have Harmful Effects?"
- National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy: "Peppermint Safety Info"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Peppermint Oil"
- American Academy of Family Physicians: "Peppermint Oil"
- USDA FoodData Central: "Peppermint Candy"
- Center for Science in the Public Interest: "Food Dyes"
- American Dental Association: "What You Eat Affects Your Teeth"
- American Academy of Family Physicians: "What It Takes to Lose Weight"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Sugar or Fat: What’s Worse for Your Waistline?"