Everyone knows that too much refined sugar can cause health problems, but there are natural sugars in a lot of healthy foods too.

Is all sugar bad?

Refined sugar has become public enemy number 1 in recent years, especially when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight. Sugar free diets, sugar free cook books, and sugar free lifestyles are definitely trending. From an oral and dental health perspective we think this is fantastic news! But it’s not quite as simple as that.


Are natural sugars different?

Natural sugars such as fructose can still cause dental decay. Some people who eat a lot of fruit, or enjoy acidic foods such as citrus are at a higher risk of developing cavities or dental erosion.

However, natural sugars don’t cause insulin to spike in the same way as refined sugar. This means that the energy from fructose can be digested more slowly, and is the same idea as a food that has a low GI (glycemic index).

Many sugar free diets also recommend eliminating fruit, but this should be done so with the recognition that many fruits contain important vitamins and minerals which are helpful for general health and wellbeing.

Fruit contains the natural sugar fructose, which doesn't cause the same insulin spike as refined sugar.
Fruit contains the natural sugar fructose, which doesn’t cause the same insulin spike as refined sugar.

Sugar is an essential part of the process which leads to development of a cavity, and with so many processed foods and drinks containing high amounts of added sugar, minimising or eliminating these from your diet also reduces your risk of dental decay.

What is the role of insulin and why is it important?

Insulin is the hormone that helps our cells take up and use sugars. Think of sugars as units of energy that our cells need to survive and function normally. Without enough insulin, this process doesn’t work correctly (like in type 1 diabetes), and if we have lots of sugar all the time, insulin doesn’t work as effectively anymore (like in type 2 diabetes).

The end result if this occurs, is that our body isn’t getting the energy it needs.

People who have managed to eliminate sugar from their diet are still getting the energy their cells need from somewhere though. This is because sugar molecules are actually the building blocks for carbohydrates (found in breads, grains, potatoes and many other foods).

Remember when carbohydrate free diets were popular?

When our bodies digest carbohydrates, we are breaking these down into sugars that are cells can use as energy. So when people talk about quitting sugar, what they’re really talking about is avoiding foods with added sugar or refined sugar.

This glycemic index chart shows that there is a large range of sugars in different fruits, and how they compare to grains, veggies, diary and protein. From this table it’s easy to see that some fruit is better than others, so higher sugar fruit such as watermelon and pineapple should be enjoyed in moderation.

For more information about the Glycemic Index of different foods, this website from The University of Sydney contains some important and useful information.

The glycemic index of foods is helpful when making smart dietary decisions and reducing the impact of refined sugar.
The glycemic index of foods is helpful when making smart dietary decisions and reducing the impact of refined sugar.

So if I quit sugar, should I quit eating fruit?

We think that for any diet to be successful it has to be sustainable, and while eliminating specific foods can provide impressive results if your goal is weight loss, we think that a healthy and sustainable diet should contain a variety of food in moderation — including seasonal fruit and vegetables. However, no drastic dietary changes should be made without consulting your doctor.

If you would like to discuss how your diet may be affecting your oral health book a consultation with Dr Kate Amos or Dr Sam Rosehill at Ethical Dental on 6652 3185 or book online.

To learn more about how your diet affects may affect your dental health check out our articles ‘Did you know… Honey is just as likely to cause tooth decay as sugar?‘ and ‘Did you know… Diet soft drink is harmful to oral health?’.

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