The Bitter Truth About Our Sweet Tooth

As your dental health providers you have heard us talk to you about the effects of sugar on your teeth, but did you know that the negative effects of sugar go far beyond your mouth? We just read an interesting article in the August 2013 issue of  National Geographic Magazine written by Rich Cohen. Cohen tells us that as far back as 10,000 years ago, New Guinea Islanders domesticated sugar, chewing on the stem until the sweet elixir was released, using it as a tonic of sorts to cure all manner of ailments. Sugar slowly spread across the islands until around the year 500 AD when India began processing sugar as a powder. When sugar first spread to the west in the 1400’s it was so rare it was considered a spice and only consumed by nobility. The allure of the sweet plant was enough to entice Europeans to find new ways to produce their own supply and they went in search of tropical territories where sugar cane would thrive, thus changing Jamaica, Brazil, and Cuba into boom colonies with over 100,000 slaves churning out tons of sugar. By the mid 17th century, sugar had changed from a rare spice to a staple, consumed by every class of people. At that point in time people were consuming 4 pounds of sugar per year, but of course our appetite for sugar could not be satiated. Today the average american consumes over 77 pounds of sugar per person, per year! That is 22 teaspoons of sugar per day! Sugar is one of the major components in many, if not most, food and beverage products from obvious junk foods to so-called health foods, and even foods that aren’t considered a sweet.

We know that too much sugar is bad for us, so here are the top 5 reasons we believe it would be beneficial to cut back on sugar consumption.

1.  Sugar is bad for your heart

Research shows that a diet high in sugar is associated with a reduction in HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Further, according to the American Heart Association’s scientific statement on sugar, a high intake of added sugar increases the risk of high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels, other risk factors for heart disease and stroke, as well as inflammation, which is also associated with heart disease.

2. Sugar contributes to weight gain

Many foods that are high in added sugar are also high in calories. Consuming too many calories is the primary cause of weight gain and obesity. In addition, added sugars provide calories but no nutrients. Sugar-laden foods, particularly those that lack fiber, can cause carb or sugar cravings that keep you eating nutrient-poor, high-calorie foods and perpetuating a cycle of overeating and weight gain. The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests drinking water instead of sugary beverages and limiting foods with added sugars as a means to promote health and healthy weight maintenance.

3. Sugar can lead to type 2 diabetes

Since consuming too much sugar can lead to weight gain, it can also increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The American Diabetes Association recommends limiting sugar intake and opting for artificial sweeteners as a way to satisfy your sweet tooth, curb cravings and control your blood sugar. Limiting your sugar intake and monitoring your calories can help prevent, as well as manage, type II diabetes.

4. Sugar drains your energy

That energy drink or specialty coffee may sound like the best solution to boost your energy, and you will get a surge of energy, but the high sugar content in these drinks is also going to lead to a drastic energy crash, creating an even lower energy low, once the sugar (and caffeine) is out of your system. You’ll end up more lethargic and even hungrier for something high in sugar or empty carbohydrates. Instead, choose whole foods with natural sugars, such as fruit, plain yogurt or even a raw trail mix for sustained energy.

And of course, nearest and dearest to our hearts….

5. Sugar is bad for your teeth

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), foods and beverages high in sugar can promote cavities and tooth decay. Sugar feeds the bacteria that produce acids that erode your tooth enamel. Frequent snacking or drinking of high-sugar items increases your risk of cavities and eventually dental disease because it repeatedly exposes your tooth enamel to these acids. The ADA suggests limiting foods with added sugars, brushing and flossing regularly and chewing sugarless gum for 20 minutes after meals to help prevent tooth decay.

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