By Dr. Nizar Kharma
Eid Al Adha is fast approaching, so it is the ideal time for children to show off their new clothes, get their Eidiyya (Eid money given to children by their parents, aunts and uncles), and indulge in an ever-increasing variety of chocolates, sweets and other desserts. When I think back to my own childhood, I do not remember seeing such an unlimited number of different types of confectionery, treats, candies, and the list goes on! Children these days are truly spoilt for choice—what used to be a seasonal excessive consumption of sugary foods during Eid, has now become a year-round free-for-all of sweet gastronomy which gets even more intense during times of celebration. This trend seems to spiral out of control during Eid. The result: more and more children with tooth decay, not to mention suffering with obesity and diabetes, requiring more treatments, and an all-time pressure on health care resources.
How Bad is Added Sugar Consumption?
The reason I use the word “added”, is because sugar naturally exists in many foods. In most cases, consuming naturally occurring sugar (in fresh fruit and vegetables, yogurt, etc.), is fine as part of a healthy lifestyle. However, added sugar has almost no health benefits and is the cause of many dental and medical complications. Examples of foods with added sugar include obvious ones such as chocolates and biscuits, to more surprising ones such as salad cream and tomato ketchup. Added sugar can cause a host of health issues, like: heart disease, skin problems, type 2 diabetes, mood swings and poor sleep patterns, impaired memory, weight gain, and of course…Tooth decay!
Added Sugar and Tooth Decay
Sugar, particularly if you eat too much of it or eat it frequently, will lead to dental decay, causing several long term complications such as tooth ache, facial swelling, possible bad dental experiences, and can even result in dentist phobia.
Should We Stop Eating Added Sugar Altogether?
Controversial as it may sound, research suggests that adults and children alike can lead perfectly normal lives without eating any added sugar, as naturally occurring sugars provide us with sufficient energy levels. On a practical level, however, cutting out all added sugar is quite a challenge, as it has been progressively added to almost all processed foods. That said, dental and medical health professionals have formulated the following Dietary Guidelines to help you keep your sugar consumption under control, thus avoiding many of its harmful effects:
- Restrict added-sugar foods and drinks to meal times: This includes fizzy drinks, chocolates, dried fruit, sweets…etc. Check the ingredient labels on all purchased food products, as even savory foods can contain sugar, like pasta sauces and salad dressings. Moreover, even fresh fruit juice is considered an added-sugar drink and should therefore be consumed sparingly, and only at meal times. The logic behind restricting added-sugar consumption to meal-times is to reduce the amount of time the tooth surface is directly exposed to sugar, therefore dramatically decreasing the likelihood of developing dental decay.
- No added-sugar snacks: If you get hungry between meals, the best snacks are fresh fruit and raw vegetables such as tangerines, bananas, pieces of cucumber or carrot sticks. Other healthy options include nuts and seeds, wholegrain toast, rice cakes and plain popcorn.
- Frequency matters: Consuming large amounts of added sugar is certainly bad for your teeth (and your health as a whole). However, how often you consume these foods is also vital when it comes to the development of dental caries. For example: eating a 100g chocolate bar in one sitting is less harmful to teeth than having smaller amounts 3 or 4 times a day.
- Tooth-brushing and fluoride use: Tooth-care advice cannot be discussed without mentioning of the other two important elements for a better oral health. Brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and using a fluoride mouth-wash mid-day or in the early afternoon is critical for effectively preventing tooth-decay.
Happy Responsible Eid!
It is vital to remember that Eid al Adha is not just about indulging in sweet foods. Just like other religious and cultural celebrations (Eid Al Fitr, Christmas, Easter, Diwali, etc.), it is about family, friends and charity. So why not step away from those chocolates and instead focus on spending time with loved ones? Enjoy a little bit of sweetness responsibly, and have a happy, healthy Eid.