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A Healthy Choice
For Dental Care

Last week, the Sugar Association – an industry group – filed a petition with the FDA, asking them to “ensure all sugar content claims related to sugar and sugar substitutes are truthful and non-misleading.” To this end, they want every ingredient that sweetens your food to be followed by the word “sweetener.” 

Why? 

More people are trying to avoid added sugars. Food product makers have turned to alternative sweeteners, from synthetics like aspartame to sugar alcohols like erythritol to “novel substances” such as stevia and monk fruit. That’s bad news for the sugar biz, who seem to think casting doubt on alternatives will make sugar look better in comparison. 

Of course, what they say is that they’re just very, very, very concerned about consumers. As the Sugar Association’s president and CEO puts it

Consumers deserve to know what is in their food so they can make informed decisions for themselves and their families.

Of course. But then shouldn’t that also involve letting folks’ know about what sugar can do to the body – especially if you’re positioning yourself as the “scientific voice of the US sugar industry”? 

While they do note that sugar contributes to tooth decay, they immediately cast doubt on the science and push fluoride as one of the “best ways to protect your teeth,” along with reducing the time that your teeth are exposed to sugar. (Just whatever you do, don’t stop eating it! you can practically hear them saying between the lines.) 

image of "Sugar Baby"This is totally in line with how they managed to undermine the National Institute of Dental Research (NIDR) back in the 1960s, when the NIDR made it their mission to eliminate tooth decay within the decade. Internal industry documents show how the Sugar Association cultivated relationships with NIDR leadership, funded research that focused on treatments like caries vaccines and fluoridation, and essentially shifted NIDR’s focus away from the much simpler solution of preventing decay by avoiding sugar.

“Without sugars,” noted one excellent paper in the Journal of Dental Research, “the chain of causation is broken, so the disease does not occur.”

And just as the Sugar Association minimizes the dental effects of sugar, they also work hard to downplay the relationship between sugar consumption and obesity, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other inflammatory conditions. 

But this is no surprise. After all, this is the same group that sued the Corn Refiners Association after they had the nerve to call high fructose corn syrup corn sugar and launched an ad campaign in the 1970s promoting sugar as a “useful diet aid.”

If the Sugar Association gets their way with labeling, though, the added transparency could be helpful. With more than two-thirds of all packaged foods containing some form of added sugar, the labeling could help clarify unfamiliar ingredients as sweeteners. That could be helpful for everyone, whether you’re eliminating sweeteners all together or looking for better alternatives. 

For although cutting back on sugar is crucial, many artificial sweeteners bring their own risks, and others – monk fruit or stevia, for instance – can provide a healthier way to sweeten foods

Of course, an even simpler way to avoid added sugars and sweeteners is to avoid packaged and processed foods to begin with. When the foundation of your diet is unprocessed and minimally processed foods – like organic vegetables and fruit, and grass-fed dairy products and proteins that you prepare and season yourself – there aren’t a lot of labels to read in the first place. 

Now that’s some sweet news!

public domain “Sugar Baby” image from the New York Public Library

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