It’s been long known that sugar is associated with a number of health conditions and tooth decay. Eating too much sugar can contribute to weight gain, increase your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, can increase blood pressure and can cause liver damage.
However, you may not know just how much sugar hides in the foods that you think are healthy. When you think of sugary foods, you may think of soft drinks, chocolate and lollies. You may not realise just how much sugar is contained in ‘healthy’ foods such as dried fruit, flavoured yoghurt, sauces, salad dressing, canned soup and granola.
These foods may be especially bad for your dental health, as you may not think to rinse your mouth out after eating them. This week is dental health week, so it’s the perfect time to protect your teeth by learning how to spot the sugars hiding in your food.
Why is sugar bad for your teeth?
Bacteria that live on the surface of your teeth take up the sugar from the food and drink you consume. As these decay-causing bacteria process the sugar, they turn it into acid which is then released onto the surface of the teeth. This acid draws minerals from the teeth and will eventually cause decay.
There are three main categories of the sugar you will find in your food:
Added sugar: This is the sugar added to products during manufacturing, processing or at the time of consumption.
Free sugar: This is the sugar that naturally occurs in foods such as honey, fruit juice and syrups. This term is inclusive of added sugars.
Natural sugar: This is sugar that is a part of structures in foods such as fruits, vegetables and dairy products.
How much sugar is healthy?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), in order to reduce the risk of tooth decay and other health conditions, adult sugar intake should be 5 per cent of daily energy intake. This means that for an average adult the healthy daily intake of sugar is 24g, or six teaspoons.
How to find sugar in your trolley
Always read the label. You may be surprised by foods and drinks that look healthy but are actually packed with sugar. Sugar goes by more than 50 names, meaning that even health conscious people who check the ingredients list on products may be overlooking its presence, so it’s important to know what to look for.
When examining a label, look for the amount of sugar per 100g. Looking at the amount of sugar per serving size can be misleading, as this recommended amount is often unrealistic. The nutritional information on the back of a Doritos packet it based on a recommended serving size of 12 chips, which seems more than a little different from what most people usually eat.
If the food or drink contains 5g of sugar or less, it’s a good healthy option. If it contains 5g to 10g of sugar per 100g, it is also a good option. However, products that contain 15g of sugar per 100g or more should be left out of the shopping trolley. You can likely find a healthier alternative.
It may be easier to understand the amount of sugar in a product by measuring it by the number of teaspoons. Each teaspoon measurement contains 4g of sugar. In order to translate the amount of sugar in a product into teaspoons, divide the value in grams by four.
When eating sugar
Let’s face it, no-one is perfect, and if perfection required saying goodbye to chocolate, you could count most people out. But there are ways that you can help to protect your teeth after eating or drinking sugary products.
After drinking or eating sugary foods, drink water to wash some of the sugar out of your mouth. Alternatively, eating a handful of nuts or a glass of milk, this can help to counteract the effects of the acid on your teeth.
Do you have a sweet tooth? What sugar free or low sugar products would you recommend?
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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.