Our Sugar-Saturated Environment (and What You Can Do About It)

white sugarWith all we know today about the harmful effects of sugar, why are we still drawn to it like, well, kids in a candy store?

Sure, as many have pointed out, we seem to be hardwired to like sweet flavors. This fact is easily exploited by the makers – and, importantly, marketers – of processed food products.

One way of doing it? Spin the science.

As the Chicago Tribune reported late last year, research proving the harmful effects of sugar – including its contribution to heart disease and cancer – has existed for decades. Why haven’t more people heard about it? Because it was never made public.

Early results in August 1970 indicated that rats fed a high-sugar diet experienced an increase in blood levels of triglycerides, a type of fat that contributes to cholesterol.

Rats fed loads of sugar also appeared to have elevated levels of beta-glucuronidase, an enzyme previously associated with bladder cancer in humans, the researchers said.

Months after receiving these results, the International Sugar Research Foundation failed to approve an additional 12 weeks of funding that the Birmingham researchers needed to complete their work, according to the authors behind the new investigation.

Notably, the team of UCSF researchers who exposed this cover-up, headed by Stanton Glanz, is the same team who exposed the tobacco industry’s manipulative marketing efforts. And what they’ve shown so far suggests that the sugar biz is very much operating by Big Tobacco’s playbook.

Corporations will seemingly do most anything to keep their profits up.

In fact, the sugar industry even went as far as to manipulate dental research on the relationship between sugar and caries (tooth decay). As the Glanz team demonstrated in an earlier paper, industry actually helped set the research agenda for the National Institute of Dental Research.

Industry tactics included the following: funding research in collaboration with allied food industries on enzymes to break up dental plaque and a vaccine against tooth decay with questionable potential for widespread application, cultivation of relationships with the NIDR leadership, consulting of members on an NIDR expert panel, and submission of a report to the NIDR that became the foundation of the first request for proposals issued for the NCP. Seventy-eight percent of the sugar industry submission was incorporated into the NIDR’s call for research applications. Research that could have been harmful to sugar industry interests was omitted from priorities identified at the launch of the NCP. [emphasis added]

Addressing the primary cause of decay – too much sugar – was deemed unrealistic and impractical.

And it certainly can seem that way when you recognize how much sugar infuses our food supply or look at more obvious types of marketing, especially that targeting kids. Ads for sweet soft drinks, candy, breakfast cereals, and other sugar bombs can be found everywhere on TV, online, in video games, and more.

According to a 2017 study in Appetite, this marketing is directly related to increased consumption.

The study evaluated sugary cereal consumption for preschoolers in southern New Hampshire who saw commercials for these products on TV. (On TV, high sugar breakfast cereals, or SBCs, are the single most marketed product to kids.) Over 500 families participated. Both TV viewing and SBC consumption were documented.

In the past week, 56.9% of children ate SBCs advertised on kids’ channels. Overall, 40.6% of children were exposed to child-targeted SBC TV ads in the past week.

For every 10 SBC ads seen in the previous week, consumption rose 14%.

Suffice it to say, it’s up to us to instill healthy eating habits in our kids, despite the sugar-loaded culture around us. That can start by being a good role model and cutting back our own sugar intake.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Read labels. Just because something is marketed as organic or “healthy” doesn’t mean it doesn’t have indulgent ingredients. Sugars are one of the highest ingredients in protein bars or shakes. And if you’re grabbing a “healthy” drink such as almond milk or kombucha, choose one with little or no sugar.

  • Sweeten your water or tea with a splash of natural fruit juice rather than sugar or syrup.

  • Try some baking alternatives with applesauce instead of sugar.

  • Remember that carbs are digested as sugar. Try replacing pasta with vegetables like spaghetti squash or spiralized zucchini.

  • Moderation! Everything adds up. Small changes can make a big impact over time. And many, many small indulgences can add up over time just as well (if not more easily).

  • If quitting sugar cold turkey doesn’t work for you, reduce gradually. This is better than no change at all.

Image by Umberto Salvagnin

More Reason to Kick the Sugar Habit (and More Tips on How to Do It)

dropped cupcakeEver notice that when you cave in to sugar cravings, you don’t end up feeling any better – and may, in fact, actually feel worse?

That feeling worse may not just be a short term effect. According to new research in Scientific Reports, depressive symptoms can be directly linked to the intake of sugary foods and drinks.

Food frequency questionnaires were reviewed from over 23,000 British subjects dating back to 1985 and compared with mood responses on validated questionnaires. Men who ate the most sugar were found to have a 23% higher chance of common mental disorder (CMD) after five years – a condition marked by insomnia, fatigue, irritability, forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, and somatic (physical) complaints.

Both men and women who ate the most sugar were found more likely to experience recurrent depression, as well.

The researchers also tried to find a reverse causation between mood disorder and sugar intake – in other words, whether mood also caused more sugar consumption. The answer to that was “no.”

“Our research,” they wrote, “confirms an adverse effect of sugar intake from sweet food/beverage on long-term psychological health and suggests that lower intake of sugar may be associated with better psychological health.”

With a high prevalence of mood disorders, and sugar intake commonly two to three times the level recommended, our findings indicate that policies promoting the reduction of sugar intake could additionally support primary and secondary prevention of depression.

No, the study isn’t perfect. All data was self-reported and thus prone to bias. Sugar from alcohol wasn’t counted. But its results do jibe with the new understanding of the role chronic inflammation appears to play in depression.

Sugar is one of the main fuels for inflammation. Eating less of it is the first step in any anti-inflammatory diet: You quit adding fuel to the fire.

Here are 7 simple tips for cutting back on added sugars (and keep in mind, when we’re talking sugar, we’re talking about all kinds, including honey, agave nectar, and other “natural” alternatives):

  1. Try a squeeze of fresh lemon into your iced tea instead of a sweetener.

  2. If you eat oatmeal or other grains in the morning, top them with fresh sliced whole fruit instead of pouring sugar on them.

  3. Clean your cupboards to simply remove temptation.

  4. Include more healthy fats such as avocado or coconut and olive oils to help satiety.

  5. Create a schedule with healthy snacks throughout the day to avoid those “hangry” moments that might lead you to binge on a sugary snack.

  6. Consider making your own “pudding” with whole fat coconut milk rather than buying something at the store packed with artificial ingredients and extra sugars. Here’s one way to do it, for example.

  7. Substitute things like bananas and applesauce in your baking. Here’s a simple cookie recipe using bananas, oats, Sunbutter, and raisins (optional).


Image by mumblyjoe

At Risk for Prediabetes or Diabetes?

pricked finger

Not sure if you’re at risk of developing type 2 diabetes?  The American Diabetes Association (ADA) wants to help you with its “Alert Day,” slated for March 28.

The ADA has a free, quick, and anonymous risk test available you can use to find if you’re at risk for type 2 diabetes. If you are, their site can help you learn how to decrease your risk. Certainly there are many outlets, that offer good information, tips to help you maintain a healthy weight, make better food choices, incorporate exercise and ways to maintain motivation. To reclaim and maintain your health you’ll need to identify what works best for you. Could be a supportive friend who will take a daily walk with you or a one day a week dinner party with friends interested in healthy cooking–let it be unique to you.

Whether you take a holistic approach or a more traditional one, we believe Alert Day serves a critical function in bringing a much needed awareness to the diabetes epidemic. The CDC estimates that 29 million Americans have diabetes yet only 21 million have been diagnosed. That means that 8.1 million remain undiagnosed.

If you’re concerned that one of them could be you

  1. Schedule a dental exam and hygiene visit.
    The latest science indicates that dentists can play a vital role in diagnosing diabetes. If you have gum disease, science now indicates it could mean you already have diabetes or that it’s immanent.

  2. See another health care provider.
    A health care provider can evaluate and monitor your level of risk. They can also support you in developing a lifestyle that may improve your disease profile. This is critical because diabetes is a disease of chronic inflammation. As such, it affects the entire body. Systematically, it has been linked other diseases of chronic inflammation, such as

    • Cardiovascular disease.
    • Obesity.
    • Stroke.
    • Some cancers.
    • Periodontal disease.
  3. Do your research and make necessary changes.
    There is good information out there. Through the years, we’ve put together our own library on health and wellness. Much of it is geared toward eating better, exercising more, and improving diseases of chronic inflammation. Since the health of your mouth is vital to your overall health, we’ve made it easy to search our blog by topic anytime. Here’s a sampling of entries that can help you learn more about the systematic nature of diabetes. Check them out, because whether it’s  March 28th’s Alert Day, or any other day, we think it makes for some pretty good reading:

    Image by Alisha Vargas

Sugar Lies: The Bitter Truth

sugarBy now you know, you’ve been duped.

Recent news has revealed how the sugar industry paid off Harvard scientists to steer evidence away from sugar as a culprit in heart disease. Payola, not actual science, persuaded scientists to indict fat.

The falsified research helped shape 50 years of dietary recommendations.

The disclosure of this deception seems the perfect time to re-examine the work of Dr. Robert Lustig, a UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology. Following in the footsteps of British physiologist and nutritionist John Yudkin, Lustig was well ahead of the curve in pointing out the true dietary villain – sugar.

Seven years ago, Dr. Lustig’s presentation “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” walked on what then seemed the edge of accepted scientific knowledge. Today, as we learn more about the sugar industry’s tactics, this talk seems more relevant than ever.

Image by Adam Engelhart

Better Diet’s the Remedy for Our Epidemic of Decay

We all know that sugar causes tooth decay. In the words of a recent Finnish study,

Dental caries is considered a diet-mediated disease, as sugars are essential in the caries process.

M&MsBut how much sugar is too much? One of the things this study set out to do was to gauge “the shape of the dose-response association” between caries and sugar intake. What they found was “a linear dose-response relationship…, with the amount…being more important than frequency of ingestion.”

In other words, the dose makes the poison. The more sugar, the more decay.

The researchers also wanted to know whether fluoride exposure made any difference. The answer?

Daily use of fluoride toothpaste reduced, but did not eliminate, the association between amount of sugars intake and dental caries. [emphasis added]

In other words, fluoride didn’t cure or stop caries. At best, it reduced them.

As we noted last time, fluoride is, at best, a stop-gap measure – an attempt to minimize damage rather than keep it from happening in the first place.

No matter what side of the fluoride fence you’re on, perhaps we can all agree that we’re not struggling with an epidemic decayed, missing, and filled teeth because we have too little fluoride. It’s because we are buried in sugars.

If we can agree on that, maybe we ought to be working to eliminate caries instead of putting a bandage on it.

“We can argue all we like about chipping away at the surface with fluoride,” suggests Dr. Steven Lin, a Sydney-based dentist.

But unless we address the deep seeded and endemic dietary issues that reside in our society, the efforts will continue in vain.

If there’s any common ground to be found in the fluoride argument it’s that both sides care immensely about our health. For the sake of future generations it’s time to agree to disagree on fluoride and join to fight the real cause of tooth decay.

And to that, we can say only, “Amen.”

Image by Pete G

The Impact of Drinking Sugar

You may have seen this image making the rounds on social media lately – a powerful reminder of soda’s impact on your health:

impact of soda

But one thing it neglects to mention happens within the first 30 seconds of drinking pop: It damages the enamel covering your teeth. Enamel. The hardest tissue in the human body. The one tissue your body has no way of making more of.

Zoom into a Tooth by Weird_Weird_Science

As enamel is worn away and the more delicate dentin is exposed, the teeth become sensitive and more vulnerable to decay. Research has shown that among heavy soda drinkers, the damage can be as severe as that wreaked by meth and crack.

Of course, soda is merely among the worst offenders. All similarly sugary and acidic drinks are the issue: fruit juice and juice-based drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened teas, flavored waters. So even as soda consumption has finally started to go down, enamel erosion continues to be a big problem.

According to research published earlier this year, nearly 80% of adults show some sign of it. Most cases are mild, but 15% had signs of moderate to severe erosion. As we noted before, this is one reason why tooth decay is eventually an issue for virtually all adults.

Along with sugary and acidic snacks, sweetened beverages are a terror for teeth – a fact most recently confirmed in a study published right at the start of this month. This meta-analysis of past studies found that the more sugary, acidic products you consume, the more erosion. They also found that milk and yogurt “had a protective effect.”

And that only makes sense. For one, dairy has also been shown to have a neutral or alkalinizing effect in the mouth. Cheese, especially, may help prevent cavities, according to research published in General Dentistry. It also provides something those other products inherently lack: the nutritional building blocks for remineralizing teeth and bone, keeping them strong and resilient.

There’s a choice that, consciously or not, each of us makes repeatedly each day: Do we give our body what it needs to do its job or do we confound it by throwing up roadblocks to optimal health? Do we support the body’s self-regulating, self-healing capacities or undermine them?

Give your body the nutrition it needs, it knows what to do.

Sugar, Hearts & Holidays

Christmas goodiesWe’ve heard it so much for so long, nothing could seem truer than the “fact” that too much salt means high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. But new research adds yet more evidence that when it comes to cardiovascular health, sugar has a lot more to do with it.

Ah, yes – sugar, the familiar foe we’ve written about time and again, with respect to both oral and systemic health.

Writing in BMJ Open Heart, the authors of the paper note that the main sources of dietary sodium are “industrially processed foods” – foods which are also very high in added sugars.

Evidence from epidemiological studies and experimental trials in animals and humans suggests that added sugars, particularly fructose, may increase blood pressure and blood pressure variability, increase heart rate and myocardial oxygen demand, and contribute to inflammation, insulin resistance and broader metabolic dysfunction. Thus, while there is no argument that recommendations to reduce consumption of processed foods are highly appropriate and advisable, the arguments in this review are that the benefits of such recommendations might have less to do with sodium—minimally related to blood pressure and perhaps even inversely related to cardiovascular risk—and more to do with highly-refined carbohydrates. (emphasis added)

Of course, this isn’t exactly the time of year when you want to hear such things. During end-of-year celebrations in particular, cookies, cakes, pies, candy and all manner of sweets tend to dominate. Highly-refined carbs are everywhere!

So does the latest bad news about sugar mean you should completely, totally, 100% avoid all the sweet goodies brought out and shared at parties and family gatherings?

Not necessarily.

It’s important to remember that food isn’t just about fueling the body and delivering nutrients. It feeds heart, mind and soul, as well. It has crucial social and cultural aspects. As Michael Pollan puts it in the introduction to his book Cooked,

The shared meal is no small thing. It is a foundation of family life, the place where our children learn the art of conversation and acquire the habits of civilization: sharing, listening, taking turns, navigating difference, arguing without offending.

Sharing food and eating together is one of the ways we strengthen and sustain our ties. They are ways of creating and maintaining community. Nowhere do we see this better than during the holidays.

So instead of all-or-nothing, aim for balance and moderation. Enjoy some seasonal treats. Savor traditional foods. Enjoy the holidays. Positive, loving relationships support good health, too – as does keeping healthful eating the rule throughout the year.

Happy and healthy holidays
from Pride Dental!

We’ll be back to our regular blogging schedule on Thursday, January 8.

Image by Andrew Schaefer

To Kick the Sugar Habit

People – such as this fellow – often point a finger at fast food and other take-out meals as the reason obesity rates have soared. It can be tasty, but it tends toward junkiness: huge portions of too-salty, too-fatty, too-caloric, too-sugary grub. And of course it does play a role – not just in obesity but a vast array of health problems, from increased risk of heart disease and cancer to gum disease and tooth decay.

But fast food may be the least of the trouble.

spilled white sugarIt turns out that the vast majority of added sugars we eat do not come from restaurants – less than 20%, in fact.

As much as 76% actually come from what we buy at the grocery store – this, according to a large study published earlier this year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The researchers also found that about 14% of all calories come from sugar, with soda and other soft drinks (e.g., energy and sports drinks, flavored sweetened teas) being the greatest source, followed by grain desserts, fruit drinks, candy and dairy desserts.

The World Health Organization recommends that an adult get no more than 5% of their daily intake from sugar – and not just added sugars, but all sugars, even those naturally occurring.

To put it into perspective, that’s a little more than half a 12 ounce can of Coca Cola.

More recent research suggests we must consume far less – no more than 3% of our daily calories – to prevent tooth decay.

Considering all that sugar – and the role it plays in chronic inflammation – it’s no wonder we’ve seen rates of preventable chronic disease rise over recent years. Not only are we eating too much of what fuels inflammation, that sugar too often displaces healthier, nutrient dense foods such as vegetables, lean proteins, legumes, whole grains and the like.

We get too much of what our bodies don’t need and not near enough of what they do.

And when that happens, we’re the worse for it.

Yet we can be mightily resistant to quitting the stuff. After all, it tastes good – and makes other things taste good. We are, it seems, hard-wired to be drawn to the stuff.

Also, our foodways don’t spring from just anywhere. There are social and cultural elements to our eating. We all have traditional foods of some sort that we grew up with and wish to go on eating, regardless of their healthfulness or lack thereof.

So it’s no big surprise that when it comes to oral health, our ideas about how to prevent problems can be a little muddled – a matter nicely pointed out in a recent editorial by British Dental Journal Editor-in-Chief Stephen Hancocks:

It is…intriguing how when one asks a patient what causes tooth decay they answer ‘sugar’ but when asked how to prevent it they respond ‘by brushing your teeth’. Confusingly there is merit in this,…but the more logical answer would be to reduce or eliminate sugar.

It may be hard to believe until you actually do it yourself, as this blogger did with her family, but quitting sugar is not impossible. And that sugar is replaced with something far more valuable: renewed vitality.

It was subtle, but noticeable; the longer I went on eating without added sugar, the better and more energetic I felt. If I doubted the connection, something happened next which would prove it to me: my husband’s birthday.

During our year of no sugar, one of the rules was that, as a family, we could have one actual sugar-containing dessert per month; if it was your birthday, you got to choose the dessert. By the time September rolled around we noticed our palates starting to change, and slowly, we began enjoying our monthly “treat” less and less.

But when we ate the decadent multi-layered banana cream pie my husband had requested for his birthday celebration, I knew something new was happening. Not only did I not enjoy my slice of pie, I couldn’t even finish it. It tasted sickly sweet to my now sensitive palate; it actually made my teeth hurt. My head began to pound and my heart began to race; I felt awful.

It took a good hour lying on the couch holding my head before I began to recover. “Geez,” I thought, “has sugar always made me feel bad; but because it was everywhere, I just never noticed it before?”

After our year of no sugar ended, I went back and counted the absences my kids had in school and compared them to those of previous years. The difference was dramatic. My older daughter, Greta, went from missing 15 days the year before to missing only two.

Now that our year of no sugar is over, we’ll occasionally indulge, but the way we eat it is very different. We appreciate sugar in drastically smaller amounts, avoid it in everyday foods (that it shouldn’t be in, in the first place), and save dessert for truly special occasions. My body seems to be thanking me for it.

How to do it? Well, rather than reinvent the wheel, we’ll just point you to a few of our favorite tip sheets to get you started.

Have you kicked the sugar habit? Share your story in the comments! What did you experience? Any tips you care to offer?

Image by Lenny Photography

Gummy Bears, Teeth & the Fine Print

Check out this list from an article on “6 Fortifying Foods to Boost Oral Health”:

  1. Cheese
  2. Black coffee
  3. Gummy bears
  4. Red wine
  5. Steak
  6. Green and/or black tea

How could gummy bears possibly make this list?

Well, the study cited in support of this food is legit. But it didn’t look at just any old gummy bears. It looked at gummy bears sweetened with xylitol – a sugar alcohol that has anti-cariogenic (cavity-causing) properties. Its authors found that such gummies reduced plaque and oral pathogens (bad bacteria) over a 6 week period.

But despite the list-maker’s claim, xylitol is not “one of the main ingredients in the pre-packaged snacks.” For instance, take a look at the ingredients list for Haribo Gold-Bears, the original Gummi Bear:

Corn Syrup, Sugar, Gelatin, Dextrose, Citric Acid, Corn Starch, Artificial and Natural Flavors, Fractionated Coconut Oil, Carnauba Wax, Beeswax Coating, Artificial Colors Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 1

gummy bearsThree of the four most prevalent ingredients are sugars. Not a bit of xylitol to be seen. The case is similar for other major brands, such as Black Forest, in which corn syrup and sugar again play the starting roles. (And while it’s true that they’re “made with real fruit juice,” just as it says on the front of the package, this is actually just another form of sugar.)

Suffice it to say, these sweets aren’t so hot for your teeth. Not only are they mostly sugar, but they easily get stuck between teeth, giving oral pathogens more time to feed on those sugars and do their damage.

As for the sugarless variety of gummy bears made by Haribo, even they are not sweetened with xylitol but a substance called lycasin – a hydrogenated syrup that’s mostly maltiol, a different sugar alcohol. As Olga Khazan wrote earlier this year at the Atlantic,

Maltitol is great because it doesn’t cause cavities, but not so great because our bodies can’t fully digest it, so it can ferment in the gut. The known side effects of the excessive consumption of lycasin are bloating, flatulence, loose stools, and borborygmi, the scientific term for tummy-rumbling.

Though the substance is considered safe to eat, in clinical studies, adults who consumed 40 grams of lycasin saw an increased frequency of bowel movements and “watery feces.” The gummy bears in question come in bags of 5 pounds, otherwise known as 2,267 grams, otherwise known as a world of hurt.

Keep in mind the Snackwell effect – how people will offset any benefit of “diet” foods by eating lots more of them than they otherwise would – and you can see the potential for disaster.

Image by peddhapati

Acids & Sugars & Restaurants – Oh, My!

shocked expressionEarlier this summer, a couple studies were published that rocked the dental world.

Well, not really. In fact, the findings leaned a bit toward the obvious. Yet each study did add a little something new to the old story of unhealthy habits.

Let’s start with the first, published in the Journal of Dentistry. Researchers confirmed that soda is bad for your teeth. The twist? They found that the damage begins within 30 seconds of exposure. Thirty seconds!

That’s all the time that acids in sodas, fruit juices, and energy drinks need to harm your teeth. And as one of the study’s authors put it,

If high acidity drinks are consumed, it is not simply a matter of having a child clean their teeth an hour or 30 minutes later and hoping they’ll be okay – the damage is already done.

Of course, that damage is entirely preventable, simply by avoiding soft drinks, fruit juice and other highly acidic beverages – or, barring that, at least consuming less.

For more on the problem of acidic and sugary drinks, see our previous post.

The second study — this one published in Public Health Nutrition — showed that fast food is less than healthy. What else is new, right? But did you realize that full-service, sit-down restaurants aren’t all that much better? Eating out typically means more calories, more sugar, more saturated fats and more sodium.

The study found on days when eating at a fast-food restaurant, there was a net increase of total energy intake (194.49 kcal), saturated fat (3.48 g), sugar (3.95 g) and sodium (296.38 mg). Eating at a full-service restaurant was also associated with an energy intake (205.21 kcal), and with higher intake of saturated fat (2.52 g) and sodium (451.06 mg).

Too often when people go out to eat, they treat it as a “when in Rome” experience and order indulgently, with little consideration given to its healthfulness. You can easily wind up loading your body with foods that taste great but hardly substantial nutrition. (And consider how common it is to wash down those meals with a perpetually refilled glass of soda!)

Sure, the occasional meal out is fine. Sometimes it’s necessary. But day in and day out, preparing meals at home is the best choice you can make for consistently healthful eating. By preparing the food yourself, you know how much (if any) sugar or salt has been added. You know your ingredients. You control the portion sizes.

And then eating out once again becomes the nice indulgence it once was.

Image by Nicolas Connault