Generations of kids (and adults!) have grown up eating off-the-shelf breakfast cereal. From wheat squares to crispy flakes to brightly coloured shapes, it’s safe to say that most of us have eaten breakfast cereal at one time or another. But is cereal healthy?
It’s a complicated question. Breakfast cereal isn’t one of the best foods for teeth, but it’s also not necessarily the worst foods for teeth, either, depending on what you choose. Clear as cereal milk? As your East and South Vancouver dentist, I’d like to break it down so you can decide if it’s time to break up with your favourite breakfast cereal.
Sugar, Sugar, Sugar!
A stroll down the cereal aisle reveals an almost endless selection of breakfast cereals. The main thing that separates healthy cereals from the ones to think twice about? Sugar content. In a Government of Canada study, cereals marketed to kids were found to contain more sugar (and less fibre and protein) than cereal marketed to adults.
Additional food for thought? None of the kids’ cereals included in the study were sugar-free and they were three times more likely to be considered “less healthy” than adult cereals. Now, to be fair, kids’ cereal that’s low in sugar does exist, but they typically don’t have the bright colours, sugar coating, fruity flavours, or chocolate taste kids gravitate towards.
Watch Those Portion Sizes
A UK study found that portion size also can contribute to an unhealthy amount of sugar in kids’ cereal. For nine of the 13 cereals studied, the portion size shown on the front-of-box image was often three times the portion on the nutrition label. So factoring how much sweet cereal eaten in a sitting plays a part in putting you over your recommended daily intake of added sugar.
Sugar + Starch = A Food That’s Bad For Teeth
So we’ve established that high amounts of sugary cereal make it unhealthy. But it’s not just the added sugar that makes it one of the worst foods for teeth. There’s also the starch in cereal that turns into sugar when you eat it. Together, the refined sugar and carbs become a feast for your sugar-hungry oral bacteria. This process produces acids that damage enamel and make teeth more susceptible to tooth decay and cavities.
Can You Offset The Sugar So It Becomes A Healthy Cereal?
As a food that’s generally bad for teeth, is there a way to mitigate the effects of sugary cereal on teeth? Asking for a friend. Well, according to the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry study, drinking milk after eating sugary cereal raises oral pH. In other words, milk lowered the enamel-damaging acidity in the mouth.
Now, I should mention that drinking milk after eating sweet cereal isn’t the same as drinking the milk that sits in your bowl with your cereal. According to observations in the study, consuming cereal milk is like rinsing your mouth with a 10% sugar solution and won’t offset the acids in your mouth like plain milk.
Opting for Healthy Cereal That’s Low in Sugar
You and your kids can do it! The team at Nest Dental believes in you. Like I mentioned earlier, healthier cereal and cereal low in sugar does exist. Look for cereals that have less than six grams of sugar per serving and at least two grams of both fibre and protein per serving. The amount of fibre is important since it tempers sugar spikes. We suggest adding fresh fruit, nuts, or seeds to your breakfast for more fibre and for overall teeth health.
A few other tips for introducing healthy cereal in place of sugary ones:
- Mix half healthy and half higher-sugar cereal as a transition
- Pair breakfast cereal with protein sources like yoghurt or cheese
- Measure the actual serving size indicated on the box to see how much it is
- Periodically check the nutrition label — recipes and ingredients can change
- Try sugar substitute cereals like this one which have less sugar
Of course, it goes without saying that practicing diligent oral hygiene helps get rid of sticky plaque on your teeth from sugary foods.
Making Even More Good Choices for your Dental Health with Nest Dental
Now that you’re well informed about unhealthy vs. healthy breakfast cereal, let’s talk about an equally important choice in maintaining healthy teeth: visiting the dentist! Your Vancouver dentist, Dr. Sonia Sahi, is here to provide healthier, more confident smiles for all ages in the Fraser Street area. Our cosy, modern studio with private rooms is designed as a relaxing experience, while our high-tech approach makes your time with us efficient.
Get in touch for a check up and let’s chat about more ways you can switch to choosing the best foods — including breakfast cereals — for your teeth.