Are You Addicted to Sugar?

If you're like most people, your holiday season was filled with cookies, pies and an endless supply of chocolate candies. While you may not consider yourself addicted to sugar, you may find that you still crave sweet treats long after the holidays are over. But, for the sake of your health and your teeth, it may be time to come down from the sugar high and begin the new year with some healthier habits.

Negative Effects of Sugar

Dental health alert: The combination of sugary foods and oral bacteria is a recipe for dental disease. Bacteria in your mouth use sugars to produce acids that can dissolve tooth enamel and cause gum disease. In fact, the Wisconsin Dental Association says after eating sugary foods and drinks, your teeth are exposed to bacterial acids for 20 minutes. So, habitually snacking on sweets throughout the day exposes your teeth and gums to a constant "acid attack."

Eating large quantities of sugars and carbohydrates can also affect your general health. Sweets are empty calories and enjoying too many may lead to nutritional deficiencies, obesity and diabetes.

Is Sugar Really Addictive?

Some scientific studies, such as the one published in the Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care, indicate that sugar acts on the same reward centers of the brain as addictive drugs. This theory would explain the bingeing and cravings experienced by people who consume lots of sugary foods. However, the European Journal of Nutrition published research concluding that there is not enough evidence to support sugar addictions in humans.

Nevertheless, whether your love of sweets is a sugar addiction or not, the United States Department of Agriculture estimates that in 2014, the average American consumed 131 pounds of sugar. If that sounds shocking, here's a bit of good news: consumption has gone down from a high of 153 pounds in 1999. To reduce sugar intake further, there are steps you and your family can take.

Kick Your Sugar Obsession

Like any bad habit, sugar addictions can be overcome. Psychology Today details that continually eating sugary foods trains your palate to have an affinity for sweets. But you can slowly train body to prefer foods that are not so sweet. Here are three tricks to acclimate your taste buds without quitting sugar cold turkey.

  1. Slowly cut back the amount of sugar you add to your food and drinks. For example, if you usually use three packs of sugar in your coffee, cut down to two. Once you're used to that level of sweetness, go down to one. Eventually, you may enjoy your coffee without any sweeteners at all. But don't use sugar substitutes; they are sweeter than sugar and can fuel your cravings.

  2. Over time, replace soda (diet and non-diet) with water or unsweetened seltzer. Skim milk is a good option too. Drinking lots of soda eventually makes water and other unsweetened beverages less enjoyable. You can also dilute juices and noncarbonated drinks with water, increasing the water ratio as your palate adjusts.

  3. Start swapping sugary snacks for healthier, less-sweet options. Check food labels for sugar content and buy lower-sugar versions, but avoid artificially sweetened snacks. Also keep in mind that low-fat snacks are often much higher in sugar than the original variety. Once you aren't craving sugary treats, raw fruits and veggies, cheeses and assorted nuts may begin to be your snacks of choice, so keep your fridge well stocked.

Less Sugar, Better Oral Hygiene

Even though you've reduced your sugar intake, for healthy teeth and gums, you still need to keep up with a great oral hygiene routine. Be sure to brush twice a day with a toothpaste that strengthens teeth with active fluoride, like Colgate Total Clean Mint toothpaste,which fights plaque to keep gums healthy. In addition, floss daily, and visit your dentist for regular checkups and cleanings

If you think you consume too many sweets or are addicted to sugar, now is the time to tackle the problem. The holidays are over, giving you a nice, long stretch of time to focus on a healthier version of you, before the next tempting season begins.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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Tips for a Healthy Diet

  • Foods high in sugar are a particularly common cause of tooth decay. Making these foods a treat rather than a staple will help protect your teeth.

  • To maintain a balanced diet, eat a variety of foods from each of the five major food groups.

  • When choosing a snack, go for nutritious foods such as cheese, raw vegetables, plain yogurt or a piece of fruit.