“Is that tooth hurting you again?” her friend Jessica asked. “You should get that thing checked out. You’ve been complaining about it for a week now.”
“I don’t have time,” Holly said, and popped a sucker into her mouth. “Besides, I’m sure it’s a cavity, and the dentist will just tell me that I have to quit eating candy.”
“Well, that’s the third sucker I’ve seen you eat today,” Jessica said. “I’m surprised you don’t have more cavities with all the Sugar you eat.”
Holly sighed. “I know. I’m seeing the dentist tomorrow.”
Getting to the Source
Holly isn’t the only one who has a “sweet tooth.” If you ask most people what their favorite food is, you’d probably hear something like cake, cookies, candy, soda, or ice cream. Most people like foods that taste sweet.
Statistics vary on how much sugar we consume, and what percentage it is of our total calorie intake. But there has been a significant increase over the past two decades. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has reported the average American eats 64 pounds a year. Nutritionists suggest you limit added sugars and other sweeteners to no more than 10 percent of your total calories.
Sugar is a carbohydrate that comes in many different forms. Fructose, lactose, and maltose are simple sugars found naturally in fruits, vegetables, milk, and cereals. These foods contain many vitamins and minerals that are important in a balanced diet.
Sucrose (table sugar), high-fructose corn syrup, honey, molasses, and fruit juice concentrates are other types of simple sugars that manufacturers add to baked goods, soda pop, and candy. It’s important to eat these foods only in small amounts. They have many calories but very few vitamins and minerals.
People have blamed sugar for all types of health problems including hyperactivity, diabetes, obesity, and cavities. But here’s what the scientific studies say about sugar.
Hyperactivity. Contrary to popular opinion, sugar does not cause aggressive or disruptive behavior in children. More than 400 children in 13 different studies showed no difference in their behavior when they ate a lot of sugar compared to when they ate very little sugar. It may be the excitement of a birthday party or a holiday that gets kids “wired,” not the sugar.
Diabetes. Many people believe that eating too much sugar causes diabetes. Genetics, illness, obesity, or simply getting older may all play a role in the development of diabetes. The cause is complex. Researchers do know that eating sugar does not cause the disease.
Diet, along with exercise and medication, is a big part of diabetes management. In the past, people with diabetes were told not to eat simple sugars. Today, experts know that starchy foods, such as bread, pasta, rice, and cereals, have the same effect on blood sugar levels as simple sugars. It is more important to control how many total carbohydrates you eat rather than worry about where they come from.
“A small portion of sweets at the end of a well-balanced meal is fine, but you still have to watch it. It’s not a free-for-all,” says Dr. Sok-Ja Janket, researcher for the Women’s Health Study.
Obesity. Sugar isn’t fattening, but eating too many calories is. People gain weight when they eat more calories than they burn through exercise. The calories that your body doesn’t use right away are stored as fat. Doctors advise people with weight problems to limit fats and sweets in their diet. This helps them reduce their total calorie intake.
Cavities. The bacteria that live in your mouth break down sugars and starchy foods into acids. These acids dissolve tooth enamel and cause cavities. You risk getting a cavity when you eat sticky or gummy foods that stay on your teeth for a long time. Snacking on crackers, chips, and other carbohydrates or continually drinking soda will also increase your risk for getting cavities.
Eating sugary foods occasionally won’t immediately ruin your teeth. It’s how much you eat and how often that puts your teeth at risk. It’s important to brush your teeth at least twice daily and get regular dental checkups. Also, you need to eat a balanced diet for good dental health.
When you eat sugar in moderation, it can easily fit into a balanced diet. Just make sure you get the nutrients you need from the other foods in the Food Guide Pyramid first. Then you can indulge your sweet tooth.