Sugar-free drinks, candies might not be as healthy as you think

With the change of the calendar comes a renewing of many families’ pledge to lead healthier lives. Many of these families might be replacing their cola and candy habits with diet drinks and sugar-free treats. But a new study says these seemingly healthier choices might not be as healthy as we think, especially when it comes to your family’s teeth.

The Melbourne University’s Oral Health Cooperative Research Centre tested several sugar-free products including sports drinks, sodas and sweets. They found that some of these drinks and candies can be just as harmful to your family’s pearly whites.

Bradley Berg, MD/PhD, FAAP, Division Director of McLane Children’s Pediatrics – Austin/Round Rock, said that the reason for this lies in the chemical makeup of these foods.

“The sugar-free sodas still have a lot of the acids and corrosive materials that eat away at the enamel of the teeth,” Dr. Berg said. “The cola doesn’t change just because you take the sugar away.”

This applies to sugar-free gums and candies as well.

“You’re getting rid of the sugar, but you’re still getting a lot of those sugar alcohols in the artificial sweeteners,” he said. “And the mechanical stress on the teeth is still there.”

More and more research is showing that man-made sweeteners are metabolized in the same way that sugar is metabolized, the pediatric division director said.

“Even though these drinks and foods don’t have any calories, it still effects the insulin response in the body,” he said. “You can even have weight gain by eating or drinking foods that contain artificial sweeteners.”

There’s even some research that suggests that sugar-free foods stimulate the hunger response, so you actually eat more than if you were eating a full-sugared food or drink, Dr. Berg said.

One of the only positives to consuming sugar-free products is that they don’t contain sugar or calories.

“Although you’re still getting the corrosive nature of the cola drink, you’re not going to get the sugar aspect, which is going to create the plaque build-up and the cavity formation.”

Dr. Berg said that whether you choose to cut out sugared foods or not, your children should be getting regular dental cleanings and exams to prevent bigger health problems later.

“It’s also important for children to have routine physical exams with their medical provider to make sure their weight and height are appropriate.”

About the author

Jessa McClure
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Jessa McClure holds a degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, TX, where she is currently an adviser for student publications. She has been a writer in the health care field since 2009.

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Sugar-free drinks, candies might not be as healthy as you think