Let's talk about sugar!
Let's talk about sugar!
Here are some facts about sugar intake and teeth decay:
1. Sugar is a major cause of tooth decay: When sugar is consumed, the bacteria in our mouth feed on it and produce acid that can erode tooth enamel and cause cavities.
2. Frequency of sugar consumption is important: It's not just the amount of sugar that we consume that matters, but also the frequency. Consuming sugary foods and drinks frequently throughout the day exposes our teeth to acid attacks for a longer period, which increases the risk of tooth decay.
3. Sticky and chewy foods are especially harmful: Foods that are sticky or chewy, such as candy and dried fruit, can stick to teeth and cause prolonged acid attacks that increase the risk of tooth decay.
4. Reducing sugar intake can help prevent tooth decay: By reducing the amount and frequency of sugar intake, we can help prevent tooth decay. Choosing water instead of sugary drinks and opting for healthier snack options can make a big difference.
5. Good oral hygiene can help mitigate the effects of sugar: Regular brushing and flossing can help remove sugar and bacteria from our teeth and prevent tooth decay. It's important to brush twice a day and floss daily, especially after consuming sugary foods and drinks.
6. Fluoride can help strengthen teeth: Fluoride is a mineral that can help strengthen tooth enamel and make it more resistant to acid attacks. It's found in many toothpastes and is often added to drinking water.
Overall, reducing sugar intake and maintaining good oral hygiene habits are essential for preventing tooth decay. By making healthy choices and taking care of our teeth, we can help ensure a lifetime of good oral health.
How much sugar can we eat?
The government recommends that free sugars – sugars added to food or drinks, and sugars found naturally in honey, syrups, and unsweetened fruit and vegetable juices, smoothies and purées – should not make up more than 5% of the energy (calories) you get from food and drink each day.
- Adults should have no more than 30g of free sugars a day, (roughly equivalent to 7 sugar cubes).
- Children aged 7 to 10 should have no more than 24g of free sugars a day (6 sugar cubes).
- Children aged 4 to 6 should have no more than 19g of free sugars a day (5 sugar cubes).
- There's no guideline limit for children under the age of 4, but it's recommended they avoid sugar-sweetened drinks and food with sugar added to it.
Free sugars are found in foods such as sweets, cakes, biscuits, chocolate, and some fizzy drinks and juice drinks. These are the sugary foods we should cut down on.
For example, a can of cola can have as much as 9 cubes of sugar – more than the recommended daily limit for adults.
Sugars also occur naturally in foods such as fruit, vegetables and milk, but we do not need to cut down on these types of sugars.
Be aware that these are included along with free sugars in the "total sugars" figure that you'll see on food labels.
Tooth decay and sugar
Sugar is one of the main causes of tooth decay.
To prevent tooth decay, reduce the amount of food and drinks you have that contain free sugars – such as sweets, chocolates, cakes, biscuits, sugary breakfast cereals, jams, honey, fruit smoothies and dried fruit – and limit them to mealtimes.
The sugars found naturally in fruit and vegetables are less likely to cause tooth decay, because they're contained within the structure.
But when fruit and vegetables are juiced or blended into a smoothie, the sugars are released. Once released, these sugars can damage teeth.
Limit the amount of fruit juice and smoothies you drink to a maximum of 150ml (a small glass) in total per day, and drink it with meals to reduce the risk of tooth decay.
Squashes sweetened with sugar, fizzy drinks, soft drinks and juice drinks have no place in a child's daily diet.
If you're looking after children, swap any sugary drinks for water, lower-fat milk or sugar-free drinks.
Dried fruit and your teeth
It's better for your teeth to eat dried fruit as part of a meal, such as added to your breakfast cereal, tagines and stews, or as part of a healthy dessert – a baked apple with raisins, for example – and not as a between-meal snack.
Tips to cut down on sugars
For a healthy, balanced diet, cut down on food and drinks containing free sugars.
These tips can help you to cut down:
Reducing sugar in drinks
- Instead of sugary fizzy drinks or sugary squash, go for water, lower-fat milk, or sugar-free, diet or no-added-sugar drinks. While the amount of sugar in whole and lower-fat milk is the same, choosing lower-fat milk reduces your saturated fat intake.
- Even unsweetened fruit juices and smoothies are sugary, so limit the amount you have to no more than 150ml a day.
- If you prefer fizzy drinks, try diluting no-added-sugar squash with sparkling water.
- If you take sugar in hot drinks or add sugar to your breakfast cereal, gradually reduce the amount until you can cut it out altogether. Alternatively, switch to a sweetener.
Reducing sugar in food
- Rather than spreading high-sugar jam, marmalade, syrup, chocolate spread or honey on your toast, try a lower-fat spread, reduced-sugar jam or fruit spread, sliced banana or lower-fat cream cheese instead.
- Check nutrition labels to help you pick the foods with less added sugar, or go for the reduced- or lower-sugar version.
- Try reducing the sugar you use in your recipes. It works for most things except jam, meringues and ice cream.
- Choose tins of fruit in juice rather than syrup.
- Choose unsweetened wholegrain breakfast cereals that are not frosted, or coated with chocolate or honey.
- Choose unsweetened cereal and try adding some fruit for sweetness, which will contribute to your 5 A Day. Sliced bananas, dried fruit and berries are all good options.