The effects of eating too much sugar are complex and there is extensive research on this matter. Excessive sugar consumption is one of the main causes of obesity, which, in turn leads to the associated conditions of Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, stroke and some forms of cancer[i]. One in four adults and one in five children aged 10-11 in the UK is obese, showing that we have a problem on our hands[ii]. Of course, the ill-effects of sugar consumption on our teeth are very well known, but what is interesting about the recent information on refined sugar (the white crystalline carbohydrate kind) is just how oblivious we are to the amounts we’re all eating – and the many ways it affects us.
Refined sugar is addictive, in the same way as drugs and alcohol are – the more you habitually consume, the more you crave to get the same kind of ‘high’. Hence, there is a perpetual cycle of craving and consumption that renders sugary foods big business – whilst our waistlines grow and teeth decay in tandem. It has been suggested that sugar is more addictive than cocaine; American cardiovascular research scientist, James DiNicolantonio conducted dozens of studies supporting this theory and published his findings in 2014. In one study, lab rats became addicted to cocaine but when sugar was introduced, they immediately switched to that, over the drug, which continued to be supplied[iii].
The worrying thing is that refined sugar sneaks into the vast majority of our foods. The average Briton, often without knowing it, consumes 238 teaspoons of sugar each week[iv]. Jamie Oliver recently put pressure on David Cameron to introduce a sugar tax on fizzy drinks but they’re not the only culprits containing levels of sugar the human body simply wasn’t designed to digest. It’s recommended that we consume no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar per day or 30 grams[v]. But, it isn’t hard to see how we’re often keeping to the high end of recommended amounts or exceeding them. Shop bought French dressing contains up to 7 grams of sugar per serving, many pasta sauces have between 6 and 12 grams, processed white bread contains half a teaspoon of sugar per slice and just one pint of cider represents 20 grams of sugar[vi].
When we compare the rate at which we are tucking away refined sugar with our century-old predecessors, just one can of fizzy drink equates to more sugar than they typically consumed in an entire year[vii]. In the not too distant past, refined sugar was rarely used, and the sugars our bodies need to function were derived from natural produce such as milk, fruit and vegetables. It makes the orange at the bottom of a child’s Christmas stocking make sense, this would have been a wonderfully sweet treat for those who’d never experienced the chocolate version around today.
The effects of sugar intake on our oral health are entirely detrimental – any such food will react with plaque creating acids that damage teeth. Even a fruit smoothie made entirely out of natural produce is a concern as the acids become much more powerful in a concentrated form. There are certain foods that are worse than others and some measures that can be taken to lessen the damage done by them. For example, straws are recommended for the consumption of fizzy drinks so that the offending liquid doesn’t soak teeth and the surround tissue in the mouth. Also, if sugary foods are going to be eaten it is advisable that they are encompassed in meal times so that teeth are not under the constant attack that snacking and grazing on these treats all day will constitute. Of course, as a result of our over consumption of sugar, a thorough oral hygiene regime is ever more crucial.
[i] NHS Choices: Obesity – Complications. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Obesity/Pages/Complications.aspx
[ii] NHS Choices. Obesity http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Obesity/Pages/Introduction.aspx (Accessed 28/10/2015)
[iii] Wbur: Here & Now. Is Sugar More Addictive Than Cocaine? http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2015/01/07/sugar-health-research (Accessed 3/11/2015)
[iv] The Telegraph - Sweet Poison: Why Sugar Is Ruining Our Health, Victoria Lambert, Dec 2014. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/healthyeating/9987825/Sweet-poison-why-sugar-is-ruining-our-health.html (Accessed 28/10/2015)
[v] NHS Choices. How Much Sugar Is Good For Me? http://www.nhs.uk/chq/pages/1139.aspx?categoryid=51 (Accessed 28/10/2015)
[vi] The Independent. The Foods With High Amounts of Hidden Sugar, Sameer Patel, Oct 2015. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/the-foods-with-high-amounts-of-hidden-sugar-10218253.html (Accessed 28/10/2015)
[vii] The New York Times, Sugar Season. It’s Everywhere, and Addictive. James J.DiNicolantonio and Sean C.Lucan, Dec 2014 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/23/opinion/sugar-season-its-everywhere-and-addictive.html?_r=0 (Accessed 28/10/2015)
A recent video from Denplan, the UK’s leading dental payment plan provider, has highlighted the staggering sugar content of festive drinks found in many of the popular high street coffee chains – including a specialist hot chocolate that contains up to 24 teaspoons of sugar. If these drinks are accompanied by cakes or other sweet treats, the amount of sugar consumed can double.
“While most people will probably be aware that their festive drink contains some levels of sugar, they might not be aware of the sheer quantity,” says Henry Clover, Deputy Chief Dental Officer at Denplan. “Many of the festive coffees, lattes and hot chocolates that we looked at across a range of high street coffee chains contained, on average, around 12 to 18 teaspoons of sugar in their largest portion sizes. One caramel fudge hot chocolate from a popular coffee chain even contained a shocking 24 teaspoons of sugar – that’s the equivalent to around two and a half cans of cola.
“As a one-off treat, a sugary festive drink won’t do you any harm, but if you get into the habit of frequently consuming high levels of sugar, this may cause tooth decay. Every time we eat or drink something sugary, bacteria in our mouths produce acids that can cause tooth decay. A high sugar diet is also linked to other health problems such as obesity and diabetes.”
The vast amounts of sugar found in high street coffee chain beverages is especially concerning in light of guidelines from the World Health Organisation published earlier this year*. The WHO suggests that adults should consume no more than 12 teaspoons of ‘free’ sugars a day, but should really be aiming for six. ‘Free’ sugars refer to sugar that is added to foods and drinks, as well as things like honey and fruit juices.
In addition, research conducted earlier this year by YouGov on behalf Denplan** also suggests that consumers would welcome knowing more about the levels of sugar found in their food and drinks, and would even like to see an overall reduction in sugar content. The survey revealed that only a third of UK adults (35%) think that retailers and food companies do enough to inform them of how much sugar is in food and drinks. Of those who disagreed that retailers and food companies do enough, 73% said retailers and food companies should reduce the overall sugar content in food and drinks.
So what are the healthier options for a festive beverage this Christmas?
“It’s certainly not all doom and gloom for the Yuletide season – it’s all about being informed and enjoying things in moderation,” says Henry. “Opting for a peppermint tea or an Americano coffee or plain latte with sugar-free syrup can warm you up without the added sugar.
“If you do decide to sample a speciality coffee during the festive period, make sure you’re aware of the sugar content before you order, and try to drink this as part of a balanced meal.”
*Source: World Health Organization, March 2015 http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/sugar-guideline/en/
**Denplan/YouGov Survey February 2015. The survey was carried out online. Total sample size was 5,315 adults.
Denplan is the UK’s leading dental payment plan specialist, with more than 6,500 member dentists nationwide caring for approximately 1.7 million registered patients. Established in 1986 by two dentists who pioneered the concept of dental payment plans, Denplan has been at the heart of dental care for nearly 30 years and today the company is owned by Simplyhealth. Denplan has a wide range of dental plans for adults and children, enabling
patients to budget for their private dental care by spreading the cost through a fixed monthly fee. We support regular attendance and preventive care, reducing the need for clinical intervention and helping patients to maintain healthy teeth and gums for life. For further information visit www.denplan.co.uk. For oral health tips and advice visit www.myteeth.co.uk. Patient enquiries telephone: 0800 401 402 Dentist enquiries telephone: 0800 328 3223
· Denplan Care: all routine and restorative care + worldwide dental injury and dental emergency cover
· Denplan Essentials: routine care only + worldwide dental injury and dental emergency cover
· Plans for Children: routine and other agreed care + worldwide dental injury and dental emergency cover
· Membership Plan: registered with the dentist + worldwide dental injury and dental emergency cover
· Denplan Emergency: worldwide dental injury and dental emergency cover only
· Company Dental Plans: company funded, voluntary and flexible benefit schemes
Denplan also provides a range of professional services for its member dentists and their practice teams, including the Denplan Quality Programme, Denplan Excel Accreditation Programme and Denplan Training, plus regulatory advice, business and marketing consultancy services and networking opportunities.
For more information about Denplan:
Denplan Press Office
Tel: 01962 828 194
We have been helping people with their health for over 140 years. Our roots are in the hospital funds set up during the Victorian era to help working people save for their medical care, and we still follow mutual values today. With no shareholders, our profits go back into supporting our customers and healthcare charitable causes, donating over £1 million each year. Last year, we donated £1.4 million.
In 2011, we acquired Denplan Limited, the UK’s leading dental payment plan specialist. Simplyhealth has 1,391 employees based across our offices in Andover, Manchester, Leeds and Denplan in Winchester. We serve our 3.5 million customers through cash plans, dental plans, Denplan and pet health plans. Simplyhealth has Independent Living Centres which provide daily living and mobility products, including powerchairs, mobility scooters and wheelchairs, in Andover, Bristol, Burnham, Droitwich, Kenilworth, Leeds, Northfield, Norwich, Sutton Coldfield, Telford, Willenhall and Wolverhampton.
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Denplan is urging the British public to go sugar-fee for September, following the results of its latest survey of over 2,000 adults1, which has shown a desperate need for better sugar education as Britons think chocolate, sweets and fruit juice contain no sugar.
It appears the public are clueless when it comes to sussing sugar in foods, as one in five (21%) don’t believe chocolate contains sugar, with the same amount (22%) thinking biscuits are sugar-free too. Drinks are not immune from sugar ignorance either, with almost half (47%) of respondents believing that neither wine or beer contain sugar. Perhaps more worryingly, over a third (38%) of people asked did not know that fruit juice contained sugar, despite warnings from Action on Sugar that many juices contain at least six teaspoons of sugar - more than cola2.
Other food and drinks which respondents believed were free of sugar included the below:
- Sweets (20%)
- Hot chocolate (30%)
- Fruit (40%)
- Spirits (58%)
- Fizzy drinks (20%)
- Sports drinks (26%)
- Energy drinks (28%)
This worrying lack of knowledge could be reaping havoc on the nation’s teeth. Many patients are not aware that each time sugar is consumed, teeth are under acid attack for up to one hour, producing harmful acids and increasing the risk of tooth decay. Some are also unaware that fizzy drinks could be just as harmful to the teeth and that carbon dioxide gas is used to create bubbles in fizzy drinks, which then turns into a very dilute acid in the drink. This exposure to dilute acid can lead to the dissolving of tooth enamel if consumed on a regular basis.
The new results also showed a clear need for more clarity on labelling of products, as 54% admitted that they wanted to reduce their sugar consumption, but just one in five respondents could decipher whether a product contains sugar by reading ingredient labels. 80% said they don’t always check the list of ingredients before buying or eating food, and over a third of respondents (38%) said they didn’t know the difference between ‘sugar-free’ and ‘no added sugar’.
Whilst this low level of knowledge may seem surprising, it’s now harder than ever to avoid sugar, even in unexpected foods such as bread, sauces, flavoured water drinks and canned soups. And looking at the labels for sugar content isn’t always straightforward, as there are over 30 different names for sugar – including fructose, lactose, glucose, and dextrose.
Although a range of diets have advocated a low or no-sugar approach over the last year, in reality, less than half of respondents had tried to quit sugar, and less than 10% have successfully done so for more than a year, with a quarter lasting less than a month.
Henry Clover, Deputy Chief Dental Officer at Denplan said “With sugar ‘hidden’ in so many unexpected foods and drinks, managing our daily sugar consumption can be a challenge. Not only is this detrimental for the nation’s general health, it can also significantly affect our oral health because the frequency at which we consume sugar is a huge factor in tooth decay. However, there are so many simple changes people can make on a daily basis to cut back on unwanted sugar and still enjoy a healthy and tasty diet, leaving them with healthy habits that their teeth will thank them for.”
Worried about the lack of knowledge surrounding sugar consumption, Denplan are urging Brits to go sugar-free for September. Logging on to www.sugar-free-september.co.uk will give patients access to information on hidden sugars, reveal the health risks of too much sugar consumption, provide tips on how to cut back on sugar and explain the importance of regular dentist visits and a better oral health regime.
1 A Onepoll survey of 2,000 participants conducted in May 2015