Published July 7, 2019. The following is an article written by Dr. Joiner for the Capital Democrat Staying Healthy Column.
This week’s column is focused on snacking strategies for kids during the summer. Even though this article is aimed at parents of school-aged children, the fact is we are all kids at heart and many adults slip in to the same habits.
Too often, summer becomes a time where routines are lost and bad habits are gained – many times this includes an increase in snacks and sugary drinks. As most people know, sugar is the fuel for bacteria which leads to tooth decay. But the benefits of limiting sugary snacks and drinks are not only good for your teeth but for your overall health as well.
Three areas we can strategize in regard to snacking includes the amount of sugars in our snacks, the number of snacks and the types of food we snack on.
How Much Sugar
In the age of quick and easy snacks and drinks, it is easy to consume far more than the recommended amount of sugar. The US Food and Drug Administration recommends no more than 12.5 teaspoons of added sugar per day which is roughly the amount in a single can of soda. The World Health Organization recommends half of that for adults at six teaspoons and only three for children.
Food labels are usually in grams so a quick conversion is one teaspoon of sugar equals 4 grams. Therefore by keeping track of labels, children should have only 12-50 grams of added sugar per day.
In the age of technology, there are many apps that you can use to track this. If your children are older, try to get your child involved in inputting the foods they digest into the app you choose so they can see the totals and risks involved. Hopefully this will allow them to become engaged in their own health and understand what they are putting in their bodies.
How Many Snacks
When it comes to oral health – less is more when it comes to the number of snacks. The bacteria typically have around 20-30 minutes to utilize sugars every time your child eats or drinks something with sugars in them. Therefore, the most damage is possible in kids who consume sugary snacks and drinks throughout the day.
The best strategy is to have a dessert with meals and if needed, limit snacks to once per day. Not only is this best for oral health it also encourages kids to consume higher quality foods at meal time rather than relying on lower quality snacks which many American households consume.
Types of Snacks and Drinks
Snacks are not all created equal. Most everyone equates candy to an increased risk of tooth decay, but there are other snacks that are as bad if not worse. Sticky snacks such as fruit roll-ups, dried fruit, and raisins are as bad as candy for your teeth but many times parents assume they are better since they are natural or contain fruit.
Crackers are another example of snacks that are worse for teeth than many people realize. Crackers and many types of chips are basically cookies with salt. Both breakdown to simple sugars which cause cavities. Studies have shown that crackers and chips will stick in the grooves of teeth and release sugar longer than many types of candies.
Snacks that are best for oral health include dairy products, nuts, and fresh fruits and veggies.
Juice is high in sugar and calories, therefore the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no amount of juice is healthy for a child under one year old. They also state that between the ages of 1-6 should have no more than six ounces of juice (the typical size of a juice box) and less than 12 ounces up to age 18. Even the lower sugar varieties are acidic and not good for teeth; therefore, it is best to focus on water first and milk as the second choice for drinks.
Most people are aware of the dangers of soda as it relates to tooth decay and erosion of teeth. Therefore the same principles apply – if you choose to allow your children to have soda, it is best to do so at mealtime only. The most damaging habits with soda involve slowly sipping it for long periods of time. This allows the acidic drink to erode the teeth and the sugars to be consumed and used by the bacteria to greatly increase the risk of tooth decay.
Set an Example and Remove Temptation
The final strategy to discuss is being the example for your children and removing temptation. Children will follow the lead of parents, so the first step is to have good habits yourself and if not, then at least keep the tempting snacks out of site of the kids. Many kids tend to graze (snack whenever they want) in the summer. If all that is available to them are healthy options, you are much more likely to instill good habits.
Hopefully these few strategies will help in creating a lifetime of good habits and oral health for your children.