There has been a lot of talk recently about hidden sugar causing higher than normal obesity rates amongst our children and young adults. We want to help you through this hot topic and will discuss:
- Hidden sugar levels and the unlikely places sugar can be found
- The alternative names used for sugar on ingredients labels
- The frequency of sugar and how to prevent cavities in your children’s teeth
- What free sugars are
- When to start bringing children to the dentist
On product ingredient lists, they tend to list sugar in grams which aren’t always easy to visualise. Just remember that 4g of sugar is roughly one teaspoon full. This should help you gauge how much sugar is in something when reading the labels.
Sugars come in many different forms, which is why it is so easy for sugar to be hidden in normal, everyday items, some of which you probably wouldn’t expect to have such a high sugar content.
Many processed foods are packed full of sugar hidden in things we think of as healthy such as low-fat yoghurts. These are full of sugars to enhance the flavour.
You may also be surprised at the amount of sugar in BBQ sauce and Ketchup – in just two tablespoons of sauce, which is an average ‘squeeze’ of the bottle there are over three teaspoons of pure sugar! When you think how many meals you eat with some kind of sauce drizzled on top – this will likely equate to a lot of sugar over the year.
Fruit juices have been branded as a ‘healthy’ drink option as they are jam-packed full of fruit. However, it is much better to just eat a regular piece of fruit as fruit juices are full of sugar. This is because when the natural form of fruit is changed when juiced or blended, the fruit releases its natural sugars. You also lose the fruit’s fibre when juicing and or blending.
Pre-made soups are also packed full of added sugar so if you can buy your own vegetables and make your own soup it is much healthier for you. You know exactly what is in the soup and can flavour it to your individual taste. Jars of sauce such as tomato-based pasta sauces contain a high level of sugar too. Whenever possible, it is always best to make your own sugar free pasta sauces.
Baked beans are surprisingly high in added sugar, a small 250g portion of beans contains a whopping five teaspoons of sugar!
You may be shocked to learn a single can of coke can have as much as NINE cubes of sugar in it – that is the daily recommended limit for adults – in just one drink! Always try to opt for a diet or zero sugar version (even though these contain artificial sweeteners to improve the taste), or just opt for nice, healthy water.
Rather than spreading high sugar jam, marmalade, honey, syrup or chocolate spread on your toast in the mornings, switch to low fat spread, reduced sugar jam, fruit spread, sliced banana or a low-fat cream cheese.
Alternative names given to sugar
Unfortunately, it’s not easy looking on an ingredient list for the word ‘sugar’ as it has multiple different names. There are at least 61 alternative names that sugar can be listed as on ingredient labels, all of which over time will cause damage to teeth. The most common of these alternatives are:
- High fructose corn syrup
- Barley malt
- Rice syrup
Also, it is important to remember that the higher up the list an ingredient is, the higher its content in the product. For example, if the top two ingredients are sugar and salt, the product has a very high content of both of those things.
Looking at labels and packaging can be confusing and time-consuming. Always remember, products are considered to be low or high in sugar if they fall above or below these thresholds:
HIGH: more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g
LOW: 5g or less of total sugars per 100g
The frequency of sugar and how to prevent cavities in your children’s teeth
It is inevitable that you and your family will all have sugar in your diet, but it’s the frequency of the sugar intake that makes the difference rather than the amount that is consumed.
In dentistry, we talk about sugar attacks. A sugar attack is the time when sugar comes into contact with your teeth and we advise you try to keep to just 3 sugar attacks a day. You can do this by keeping all sweet things to a meal time, any treats should be eaten immediately after a meal. Cheese, fruit and vegetables are all good snacks to eat between meal times. A lot of children are given dried fruit as a snack between meals, but we recommend that you always try to keep dried fruit to a meal time as it is packed full of sugar and will act as an extra ‘sugar attack’ if eaten between meals.
The time between your meals allows your saliva to wash away the food particles that bacteria would otherwise feast on. Frequent snacking provides constant fuel to these bacteria. Snacking on sugary snacks throughout the day also allows the sugar to react with the bacteria that live in the plaque that sits around your teeth, this forms an acid that attacks your teeth which can destroy enamel. In time this will eventually lead to decay forming.
Tooth decay damages the teeth by causing holes in the enamel which can result in a need for fillings or worse still, loss of teeth.
Statistics show that:
- 42% of children aged 2 to 11 have had dental decay in their baby teeth
- 25% of children start school suffering from tooth decay and 1 in 40 five-year-olds need to have rotten teeth removed.
- 21% of children aged 6 to 11 have had dental decay in their permanent adult teeth – unfortunately, 8% of these children aged 6 to 11 have untreated decay.
Free sugars – what are they?
Free sugars are not as the name would suggest. In truth, free sugars are actually the thing that adults and children in the UK eat too much of. They are named ‘free’ because they are not inside the cells of the food we eat. Basically, free sugar is what we call any sugar added to a food or drink, for example; biscuits, chocolate, flavoured yoghurts, cereals and fizzy drinks. Free sugars also occur in honey, syrups, unsweetened fruit juices, vegetable juices and smoothies – even though these sugars occur naturally they are still classed as free sugars.
Adults should have no more than 30g of free sugars per day; that is the equivalent of seven and a half teaspoons.
Children aged 7-10 should have no more than 24g of free sugars per day; that is the equivalent of six teaspoons.
Children aged 4-6 should have no more than 19g of free sugars per day; that is the equivalent of around five teaspoons.
Unfortunately, there is no set guideline limit for children under the age of 4. All we can advise is to avoid sugar-sweetened drinks and food with added sugar as much as possible.
Please remember that sugars do occur naturally in foods such as milk, fruit and vegetables in their natural form. We do NOT need to cut down on these types of sugars. Cheese, fruit and vegetables are all types of good, sugar-free snacks.
When to visit the dentist?
We recommend bringing your child to the dentist when their first baby teeth or milk teeth have all erupted. Bringing children this early helps them to get used to the surroundings, smells and noises in the dental practice. We can also help to prevent decay and identify any oral health problems at an early stage. Just opening up the child’s mouth for the dentist to take a look is useful experience for the future. We can also provide helpful tips on brushing your child’s teeth.
Try to make trips to the dentist as fun as possible, and be positive, even if you have fears about dentistry try to remain as upbeat as possible as children sense fear through their parents.
When brushing your child’s teeth at home make sure that you are using a fluoride toothpaste that contains at least 1000ppm fluoride for children up to 3 years of age. For children ages 4-7 the toothpaste should include 1350-1500ppm fluoride. We recommend an adult does the brushing for younger children up to the age of seven when you feel they are competent to brush themselves.
We would always recommend offering water as a routine drink for your babies and toddlers, but we do appreciate that not all small children will drink water. If this is the case be sure to choose a sugar-free cordial. This should be made up with 1 part juice to 10 parts water – ideally, this would just be drunk at mealtimes and not throughout the day. Even though the juice may be sugar-free, it still contains acids which can cause erosion.
If you have any questions about anything mentioned in this blog – please contact Pure Dental Solutions on 01785 213333, and ask to book an appointment with our Oral Health Educator, Kirsty, who will be happy to help with any queries you may have.