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Added Sugar and Tooth Decay

Updated: Dec 3, 2021

We know you want to give your family nutritious meals and snacks, but knowing which foods are healthy isn’t always easy. While sugar is found naturally in many nutritious foods, such as milk, fruits and vegetables, many of the foods we think are healthy contain added sugars. Added sugars include sugars that are added during the processing of foods, and can be identified by looking for ingredients that:

  • have syrup (examples: corn syrup, rice syrup)

  • have a word ending in “ose” (examples: fructose, sucrose, maltose, dextrose)

  • contain “sugar” in the name (examples: raw sugar, cane sugar, brown sugar, confectionary sugar)

Other examples of added sugar include fruit nectars, concentrates of juices, honey, agave and molasses.

As of January 1, 2020, food manufacturers are required to include added sugars to their nutrition facts labels. The example below shows that of the 15g of sugar in this particular product, 7g of those are added sugars.

Why added sugars are bad for your child

Eating and drinking too much added sugar puts kids at risk for obesity, tooth decay, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease, among other health problems, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

The average child eats and drinks much more added sugar than he should. On average, sugar makes up 17% of what children consume each day. Half of that comes from drinks with added sugar.

Although your child might love sweet treats, the bacteria in his or her mouth loves them even more. Sugar is what fuels the bacteria that cause tooth decay, producing acid that etches away at teeth.

Common foods to look out for

Low-Fat Yogurt contains calcium and protein, but even low-fat flavored yogurts can have 17 to 33 grams of sugar per 8-ounce serving, or about as much as 2 scoops (1 cup) of chocolate ice cream! Choose those that are lower in sugar or buy plain yogurt and toss in some fresh fruit.

Breakfast Cereals, even the ones not marketed to children, may contain heavy amounts of sugar. Some breakfast cereals contain 10-20 grams or more per cup. Check the label and try choosing a cereal that’s high in fiber and low in added sugar.

Protein and Granola Bars are often loaded with more sugar than a candy bar, with added sweeteners like corn syrup, brown sugar, honey, brown sugar syrup, dextrose, and fructose. A dark chocolate “nutrition bar” has 12 g of protein… but also 13 g of sugar. Instead of eating a 1-ounce granola bar, switch to 1 ounce of granola (about a third of a cup) and the sugar falls to about 5 grams.

Ketchup is one of the most popular condiments worldwide, but — like BBQ sauce — it’s often loaded with sugar. Try to be mindful of your portion size when using ketchup and remember that a single tablespoon of ketchup contains nearly 1 teaspoon of sugar.

Fruit juice contains some vitamins and minerals, but they come with a large dose of sugar and very little fiber. Because it takes a lot of fruit to produce a single glass of juice, you get much more sugar in a glass of juice than you would get by eating whole fruit. In fact, there can be just as much sugar in fruit juice as there is in a sugary soda. Opt for the whole fruit instead!

Pasta sauces taste savory, not sweet — but many have between 6 and 12 grams of sugar per half-cup serving. When buying premade pasta sauce, check the label and pick one low in sugar or one that has it listed very close to the bottom, indicating it’s not a major ingredient.

Sports drinks can often be mistaken as a healthy choice, but instead contain high amounts of added sugars that can be quickly absorbed and used for energy. In fact, a standard 20-ounce bottle of a sports drink will contain 37.9 grams of added sugar and 198 calories. This is equivalent to 9.5 teaspoons of sugar.

Chocolate milk, which like yogurt is a good source of calcium and protein, comes with nearly 3 teaspoons of added sugar. Better to drink this in moderation or stick to plain milk.

Dried Fruit has much more sugar by volume than fresh fruits. A small box of raisins — 1.5 ounces — has more than 25 grams of sugar. Instead, you could eat a half cup of grapes for 12 grams of sugar.

How do I reduce added sugar in my child’s diet?

The AAP offers the following suggestions to reduce the amount of added sugar in your child’s diet:

  • Aim for less than 25 grams (about 6 teaspoons) of added sugar per day for children 2 years of age and older. Avoid serving food and drinks with added sugar to children under 2 years of age.

  • Serve water and milk instead of soda, sports drinks, sweet tea, sweetened coffee and fruit drinks.

  • Watch out for hidden sources of added sugar in processed food like ketchup, dried cranberries and yogurt.

  • Limit 100% fruit juice to no more than 4 ounces a day for children ages 1 through 3 years; 4 to 6 ounces for children ages 4 through 6; and 8 ounces for children ages 7 through 14. Do not give fruit juice to infants under 1 year old.

How can I help my child avoid tooth decay?

Now that we understand the dangers of added sugar, here’s how you can help keep your child’s smile healthy:

  • Don’t allow your child to sip on juice throughout the day – it puts him or her at higher risk for tooth decay because you’re giving cavity-causing bacteria more opportunities to eat and produce the acid that eats away at teeth. This can also happen with juice that is watered down.

  • Skip the soda, which like other sugary beverages, is bad news for your child’s teeth. In fact, there is a strong association between sugary drinks and poor dental health in teenagers.

  • Be picky about sticky snacks like gummy or dried fruit snacks, which are closer to candy than fruit. These stick to teeth and stay there for an extended amount of time, increasing the risk of tooth decay.

  • Be careful with carbs like crackers and chips, which break down over time into sugar, and get stuck in the tops of your child’s teeth for long periods of time.

  • Encourage healthier snacks that are lower in sugar for your children.

  • Practice proper oral care by brushing twice a day for two minutes and cleaning between teeth once a day.

  • Keep your child’s twice yearly routine dental visits to our practice so we can monitor any changes in your child’s oral health.

If you have any questions about your child’s diet or concerns about their teeth, contact us! We’d love to talk to you.

Sources: Healthline, WebMD, Johns Hopkins Medicine, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Dental Association

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