The Health Advocate

by Hannah Whittenly, The Health Advocate

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Humans have probably always been attracted to sweet foods; for thousands of years, ripe or dried fruit and an occasional honey-sweetened treat were the sources of that sugar. Today, however, sugar is cheap and readily available. It is heavily used for food preservation and to improve the taste of foods where you would never expect to find sugars (including, by the way, high fructose corn syrup) such as commercial stews and soups. That can create health problems.

Negative Impact on Teeth

First and probably best-known of sugar's health effects, too much sugar greatly increases the risk of cavities and periodontal disease. Sugar combines with bacteria in the mouth to create acids that damage tooth enamel. While good oral hygiene and regular preventive care from a dentist, like one from Matthews Smiles Aesthetic & Reconstructive Dentistry, can help mitigate the damage, it’s better not too eat too much sugar in the first place.

May Result in Obesity

There is no question that sugar (especially sugar-sweetened drinks) and America’s obesity epidemic are connected. In addition to the sugar itself, it often appears in combination with refined carbohydrates, a double whammy when it comes to weight management. Many of these foods are also high in fat. Obesity and sugar can also increase the risk of heart disease over time.

May Complicate a Child’s Immunity

Kids tend to catch things like colds more frequently than their elders because their still-developing immune systems are “learning” new viruses and bacteria and creating internal defenses in the form of antibodies. Sugar actually depresses your child's immunity because it inhibits the white blood cells that fight bacteria.

Can Have an Affect on Mental Health

Research on the effect of sugar and mental health is mixed. Some studies have found that sugar tends to increase hyperactive behaviors in children; other research doesn't support the link. However, if you notice that your child does seem to be affected by sugar (in the absence of something like a birthday party which could be over-stimulating in and of itself) that may be a good reason to curb intake. A recent study did confirm that sugar can increase depression risk in males (although not females), so there is evidence of sugar's effect on the brain.

Sweet as it is, sugar is probably not good for your children's health in the long run. Best to limit sugar in all forms (read labels to identify hidden sugars) to an occasional treat. Offer fresh fruits and encourage water or milk rather than soft drinks to help keep your child healthy.

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