Two massive reasons to kill your sugar intake
Obesity, excess body fat and high blood sugar have been proven to go hand-in-hand with the development of chronic diseases like type two diabetes and heart disease. However, little mention is made of the impact of these lifestyle choices on your overall oral health.
By making simple lifestyle changes you can improve your total oral health which, in turn, improves your overall physical health as well.
How does eating too much sugar impact your body?
There are two main issues with eating more sugar than your body needs;
- Excess sugar gets converted to fat
- Chronic inflammation can occur
The first one is relatively simple; our bodies still have the ancient ability to turn excess sugar into fat as a way of storing energy. Think back to the hunter-gatherer life. When food was abundant, we ate and ate and ate so that our bodies had stores of energy for the harder times when there was less food to go around. In the modern world there is nearly always enough food to go around, but our bodies haven’t caught up; we still store excess sugar as fat to save it for a rainy day.
The second issue is inflammation; part of the body's natural healing process, but not one that should happen all the time. When inflammation occurs in the body due to consuming too much sugar and less-than-ideal lifestyle choices, it can turn into low-grade chronic inflammation. This a type of on-going inflammation of the body that makes us susceptible to those chronic diseases such as type two diabetes and oral diseases like gum disease and tooth decay. The good news is that these things can all be prevented, and even reversed, by making small changes to your daily lifestyle.
The combination of excessive body fat, excess sugar intake and a low fibre diet, can also promote the development of insulin resistance. This is when your body develops a resistance to the hormone insulin that helps control the amount of sugar in the blood, resulting in increasing blood sugar levels. With these conditions present, type 2 diabetes can develop and further promote inflammation. It’s a vicious cycle where more inflammation causes more insulin resistance and vice versa.
So is natural sugar bad for me?
There is a difference between added sugar and natural sugar. Added sugar is removed from its original source and added to foods and drinks to preserve shelf life or serve as a sweetener, and it is mostly found in processed foods and drinks. Excessive amounts of this type of sugar and refined carbs cause inflammation.
By comparison, natural sugar includes those naturally found in whole foods, like fructose in fruit and lactose in milk.
There is one golden rule to remember; any excess sugar is bad, natural or not.
Our bodies evolved to eat fruit seasonally, but our modern lifestyle makes it possible to eat fruit all year round which our bodies just weren’t designed for. Although it takes a lot more energy to turn natural sugar into energy, your body still turns it into glucose, and if there is excess glucose it gets stored as excess fat and effects blood sugar. When it comes to your teeth, many fruits make your mouth more acidic which in turn increases the risk of tooth decay and ultimately tooth erosion.
So when it comes to fruit, seasonality and moderation are the key and remember that balance is your best friend. Treat fruit as a substitute for other treats like ice cream or chocolate and remember that, while our bodies (and mainly our brains) still need glucose, they don’t need as much as most of us consume.
How do inflammation and high blood sugar levels affect your oral health?
When low-grade chronic inflammation is present in the body, your body's ability to fight off bacterial infections is weakened and this opens the door to oral health issues. Breaking the process down into bite-sized chunks makes it easier to explain:
- High blood sugar = high sugar in the diet, which results in high sugar in the mouth. This in turn causes an increase in cariogenic bacteria, which promote the development of tooth decay.
- Acidic foods and high blood sugar make our mouths more acidic. This can also lead to an increase in bad bacteria which, along with a weakened immune system due to the high blood sugar, can fast-track tooth decay!
When inflammation occurs in the mouth, and high blood sugar levels mixed with acidic foods make our mouths more acidic, the conditions are right for severe gum disease set in. This is known as periodontitis and, unfortunately, is particularly common in people with diabetes.
The big takeaway here is that excess sugar and high blood sugar levels provide the ideal conditions for infection to grow. By following some simple lifestyle changes you can effectively and positively change both your oral, and physical health.
How to take control of your oral and general health
Certain lifestyle choices can reduce inflammation levels in the body, and keep our bodies and teeth healthy. Wherever you are on your health journey, it is never too late, or too early to make a positive change.
Here’s how you can help reduce inflammation, regulate your blood sugar levels and look after your oral health:
Limit processed foods and drinks
Processed foods are generally filled with added sugar. By reducing or eliminating these products, you’ll naturally exclude key sources of added sugar. The easiest way to check your intake per product is to review the nutritional information on the nutritional information panel on the back of foods. This will show you the key information that you can use to guide your decisions.
Total sugar intake for the day shouldn't exceed 24 grams, however, as a starting point aim for a target that is 20% less than what you consume in any given day. To figure this out, just look at the nutritional information panel and simply add up the carbohydrate (sugar) content. Food that doesn’t have nutritional information can be easily found on a google search, or try a free meal tracking like Calorie Counter.
Read food labels
Reading food labels is a good way of seeing what type of sugar it contains – added or natural. Look out for added sugar on the ingredients list like:
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Maltose and dextrose.
If the labels are not broken down to this level, the best bet is to take the amount of carbohydrates per serving as sugar content and add it to your daily total. Doing this will mean you don’t lose track of your total sugar consumption, natural or otherwise.
Choose whole, high-fibre foods
Consuming a high-fibre diet consisting of whole foods allows your digestive system to process sugars properly and limits the effect of sugar spikes in your blood by improving blood glucose control. The following foods all have lots of fibre and antioxidants, which can help control blood sugar and protect against inflammation:
- Whole-grain pasta
- Brown rice
- Nuts and seeds.
Increasing your fibre intake also promotes healthy digestion and gut-health. These foods mean your digestive system has to put in a bit more elbow grease to process them, which keeps it active and working, just like going for a walk every day does.
Eat seasonally, and love veggies
Seasonal fruits can be good in moderation, as they are high in fibre and vitamins, but they are also high in natural sugar. The best approach is to get all your fibre and vitamins from veggies since they give you all the good stuff but without the sugar. Fruit should come in as a treat instead of cake, chocolate or ice cream. Vegetables are generally high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals as well, which can also reduce inflammation in the body and regulate your blood sugar levels. Foods rich in antioxidants that naturally counteract inflammation and include:
- Nuts & seeds
- Superfoods spice like turmeric
Keep active and consume a moderate protein/fat diet
Regular physical activity will help you to maintain a healthy weight and reduce stress levels, which all contribute to the prevention of inflammation. You don’t need to become a gym-addict on day one. Introduce exercise in manageable steps; like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking your car further than you need to so you can walk. Try to include a 30 minute walk each day as a minimum.
Much has been said in modern media about eliminating fat from our diets, and there are certainly good and bad fats. But by increasing your intake of healthy fats, you can reduce hunger pangs and increase your energy levels. Healthy fats generally improve the taste of food, especially if you are trying to rid yourself of sugar, by adding back the flavour that reducing the sugar may take out. As a start, try cooking with Coconut oil instead of sunflower oil or canola oil.
You can also aim to increase your intake of Fat-Soluble Vitamins which will definitely aid your immunity and help control any low-grade chronic inflammation.
Protein can come from animal sources such as, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products or plant-based sources like beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and soy-based products like tofu. You can easily add these to your meals. It's as simple as topping a salad with a handful of shredded chicken or adding a scoop of protein powder, Greek yoghurt and nut butter to porridge for breakfast.
You’ve got the tools, now take back control of your health
The future of both your oral and general health starts with you. The daily choices and actions you make, even the smallest of changes, all lead to creating a collection of lifelong positive habits for your teeth, gums and overall health.
Move yourself into better health; start by changing one, small, manageable thing at a time.
- Move your body more
- Start to read the label on what you consume to avoid added sugar
- Ditch soft drinks
- Add as many unprocessed wholefoods as you can to your diet
It can be hard to make these changes and you are not alone. You don’t have to go ‘cold turkey’. Try and live by the 80/20 rule, 80% of the time live healthily, 20% of the time do what you like.
This will take time to make a difference, but you will soon start to feel the benefits of investing in your health.
Do it for your teeth, so you can enjoy a healthy smile and a healthy body; what we think of as total oral health for life.