We know that sugar is bad for our teeth and our overall heath. Yet the issue is not straightforward. We do eat some sugar in fruit and other natural foods, which is an essential for our health. The problem seems to be that modern processing allows us to separate sugar and eat it in isolation, or in greater amounts than nature would usually allow. Yet even then there are people who are healthy despite the sugar they consume, and people who are unhealthy despite a reasonable diet. Nonetheless, overconsumption of sugar is one the major causes of dental and health problems.

There are substitutes for sugar, but none of them are perfect, they often cannot substitute for sugar in all situations, and the long term effects are still no known.

Acesulfame potassium:  This is 200 times as sweet as sugar, and can be used as a substitute in most circumstances; unlike some sweeteners it can be used for cooking. Unfortunately it can have a bitter aftertaste in high concentrations, though this can be reduced through combining it with other sweeteners. Unlike sugar it will break down if stored for too long, though its shelf life is usually far longer than the foods that contain it. Since being discovered in the late 1960s there have been some suggestions that it is linked to cancer, but it is generally considered safe. It does not appear to cause any dental problems.

Aspartame (NutraSweet/Equal):  a controversial sweetener, it has no calories but is liked to several health concerns. The Food and drug Administration (FDA0 receives more complaints about aspartame than other product. Individuals with phenylketonuria disorder will suffer allergic reactions to this products; it may be connected to many other allergic reactions. Because it breaks down under heat it cannot be used when cooking. It does not appear to cause any tooth decay.

Honey: Coming from bees this is fairly natural. We require less honey that we do sugar, so we end up consuming fewer calories, but the improvement is only moderate. It has a considerably more gentle effect on blood sugar levels than straight sugar. Unfortunate it does cause tooth decay, being almost as bad as sugar. Antibacterial properties in honey can be beneficial, but dental and calories considerations are still serious.

Agave Nectar:  A honey like substance derived from cactus. Like honey it is sweeter than sugar, so less is required. Its effects on dental heath are still being studied, but the smaller portion size required means people will consume fewer calories. It appears to cause smaller blood sugar spikes than alternatives, but its suitability for diabetics is still under uncertain as it may affect insulin sensitivity.

High fructose corn syrup: Another controversial sweetener – it is cheap, it tastes quite similar to sugar, and is no worse in terms of calories. The problem is that it seems to make people hungry, so they eat more. This might be because it is mostly found in cheap junk food, but it is probably best to avoid junk food and this sweetener. It can cause tooth decay.

Neotame:  Still quite new. This is 10 000 times sweeter than sugar, and has negligible calories. Being chemically similar to aspartame it might cause similar problems, but the reduced portion size means the effects will be less noticeable. It should not cause tooth decay, but its other health effects are still being investigated.

Stevia (stevia Leaf extract): being derived from a plant this is reasonably natural. It does not taste quite like sugar, but is does have less calories. Combining it with sugar (an approach used by Coke Life soft drink) gives you a reasonable taste and reduced calorie intake. Unfortunately, it is only slightly better than sugar when it comes to tooth decay and dental problems.

Xylitol: This sweetener still contains considerable calories, but its great selling point is that it does not cause dental problems. Other health issues are still being studied, so moderation is advised.

For any concerns, health wise or dental, Sydney has many fine health and dental services. Most have contact details available online.

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