Most people associate sugary foods with cakes, cookies, and similar sweet treats. However, many foods contain “hidden” sugars that can harm both your oral and general health. According to the American Heart Association, the average American adult consumes approximately 17 teaspoons of added sugar each day. This is two to three times the recommended amount for women and men. To protect your smile and overall health, it’s important to identify hidden sugars in your diet and make more nutritional food choices.
The Impact of Sugar on Oral Health
The mouth is full of bacteria, some of which are “good” and others which are harmful. When you consume sugary foods or beverages, the harmful bacteria feed on the sugar which creates acids that can contribute to bacterial infections.
These bacterial infections start by breaking down the protective outer coating of the tooth, called the enamel. If left untreated, the infection can progress, resulting in cavities that reach deeper layers of the tooth.
Common Food Sources with Hidden Sugar
When identifying hidden sugars in your diet, it’s important to understand the difference between natural sugars and added sugars. Natural sugars are those that occur in their natural state, such as sugars found in fruits. In comparison, added sugars are those that do not stay in their natural state and are often added to foods to achieve a better taste.
Some surprising sources of hidden sugars in food include:
- Packaged fruits: You may think you’re eating healthier by choosing packaged fruits. But these pre-packaged fruit cups are often dredged in light syrup which has a high sugar content.
- Ketchup: Ketchup is not just made up of tomatoes but actually contains large amounts of added sugar.
- Salad dressing: Certain types of salad dressings are known for their high sugar content.
- Yogurt: Yogurt is a great source of protein and calcium; however, even low-fat flavored yogurts can contain lots of sugar.
- Pasta sauce: While pasta sauce is known for its savory flavor, most store-bought pasta sauces contain large amounts of sugar.
- Instant oatmeal: Oatmeal delivers healthy fiber but be cautious when choosing a product as many fruit-flavored varieties are filled with sugar.
- Dried fruits: Don’t be tricked by dried fruits as they often contain much more sugar by volume than fresh fruits once the water is removed.
Healthy Food Alternatives to Sugary Foods
Looking to satisfy your sweet tooth without giving in to the temptation of sugary foods? Consider some healthier alternatives, such as fruit. Fruit has long been called “nature’s candy” and although it does contain sugar, it’s not the processed, refined sugar found in many sugary treats. Choose fruits that are low in acidity to prevent harming your teeth, such as strawberries, bananas, peaches, and melons.
Greek yogurt is another healthy food that is a great alternative to sugary yogurts. It can be enhanced with fruits, granola, nuts, or a drizzle of honey. Yogurt has also been found to help regulate your appetite, helping you to better control your cravings and aid in weight loss.
If you have a craving for something sweet, a piece of dark chocolate is just what you need. Dark chocolate is a type of chocolate that contains more than 70 percent cocoa, as well as healthy plant compounds known as polyphenols. However, dark chocolate is a healthier alternative to milk chocolate. It does contain fat and sugar so limit your intake.
There are also many other healthy, low-sugar foods you should consider adding to your diet, such as chia pudding, nut butter, low-sugar popsicles, baked sweet potatoes, chia seeds, legumes, dates, prunes, eggs, whole grains, and fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut. Between meals, consider getting a bit of sweetness from sugar-free chewing gum or mints.
Contact Herbert Family Dentistry Today
While many people enjoy the occasional sugary snack, too much of a good thing can be harmful to your health. It is important to be aware of what hidden sugars you may have in your diet and limit your exposure to these harmful foods and drinks.