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Healthy Foods for Kids: Lowering Sugar Intake

Dianne L. Sefo, RDH, BA

Eating a nutritionally balanced diet is very important for your child's health. Obese and overweight children are at an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and other serious diseases. In addition to lowering the risk of degenerative diseases, healthy foods for kids can help prevent tooth decay. The sugar in high-carbohydrate foods mixed with the bacteria in your child's mouth makes a mild acid that can break down the enamel (the outer, protective layer of the teeth) and eventually cause cavities.

Beverages and Foods That Affect Tooth Decay

Frequent snacking or constant drinking of juices, sodas or sports drinks is the number one perpetrator in tooth decay because those types of foods and drinks are generally very high in carbohydrates. Continuous consumption of snack foods does not allow naturally occurring saliva to wash away the sugar in your child's mouth, leaving a constant coating of sugar that damages the enamel. Limiting frequency of snacking on high-carbohydrate snack foods and replacing them with healthy foods such as baby carrots, low-fat cheese cubes, small fruits, and packs of nuts and seeds; replacing sugary drinks with fluoridated water; and teaching your child to wash his or her mouth after eating is a good start, but nothing can replace regular brushing and flossing. Your child should wait, however, thirty minutes after eating before brushing because brushing immediately following a meal or a snack can cause the damaging acids to be scrubbed into the teeth and wear down the enamel.

How can sugary foods be avoided? Check the food labels. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), some of the most commonly added sugars are: crystallized cane sugar, sugar, maltose, molasses, sucrose, corn sweeteners, high-fructose corn syrup, fructose, glucose, evaporated cane juice, dextrin, fruit juice concentrate, syrup, malt syrup, maple syrup and corn syrup. By law, food manufacturers are required to list ingredients on the food labels by weight from most to least. If you see one of these sugars within the first few ingredients, it means that the food is high in sugar and should be avoided. If you still serve such foods to your child, limit their ingestion to meals only and eliminate this sort of snacking. There is an increased presence of saliva in the mouth during meals which helps to wash away the sugar. It should be noted that a lot of healthy foods for kids, including fruits, vegetables, legumes and some dairy products, such as milk, have naturally occurring sugar. This does not mean that you should keep your children away from these foods; they contain numerous nutrients that are essential to your child's development.

Nutritionally Sound Choices

What are healthy foods for kids? The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion states that a well-balanced diet should include fruits and vegetables, low fat or fat free dairy, whole grains and lean protein; fruits and vegetables should constitute the majority of the foods eaten. As far as beverages are concerned, fluoridated water is the drink of choice. School-provided lunch can be a concern if your child's school does not provide healthy options such as those mentioned above. It may be best to pack a lunch for your child in order to maintain the good habits you have created at home.

Learn more about nutrition and oral health in the Colgate Oral Care resources.

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