How much sugar is hiding in your trolley?

Everything you eat and drink can have a major effect on the health of your teeth and gums. Tooth decay is a diet-related disease that commonly develops in response to our consumption of sugar. Sugar from the foods and drinks we consume is taken up by decay-causing bacteria that live on the surfaces of our teeth. These bacteria process the sugar, turning it into acid which is then excreted on the surface of our teeth where it draws out minerals from the tooth. If this process happens over and over, without any effort to prevent or stop the disease process, it can eventually result in the formation of tooth decay. So, what can you do?

Drink lots of water 
Water is the best choice for your teeth. It is good for you; it is sugar free and in most areas in Australian it contains fluoride. Drinking fluoridated tap water is one of the most cost-effective ways to try to prevent tooth decay.

Sugar-sweetened beverages such as soft drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks and even fruit juices are packed with sugar. These drinks provide no nutritional content and increase your risk of developing tooth decay as well as a range of other health conditions like Type 2 diabetes. Even the sugar-free varieties can cause damage to your teeth as these drinks have a low pH, making them acidic, which can cause the tooth’s surface to soften and become worn.

Spotting added sugar in the food we buy should be easy, right?
Just read the label. Actually, it is very tricky indeed. That’s because food manufacturers call sugar by more than 60 different names. Names range from the scientific sounding dextrose and maltodextrin, to attractive terms like sugar cane crystals or sorghum syrup.

Top tips for reading food labels:

Start at the very beginning
. Items on food labels are listed in order from largest to smallest by weight. If one or more of the names for sugar feature towards the start of the list, that’s a sign that the product is high in added sugar.

Red alert words. Words like “syrup” and “sugar” are highly likely to mean added sugar. Anything described as “crystals” or “concentrate” is suspect as well. 

An “ose” by any other name…. Words ending in “ose” often mean added sugar. Dextrose, maltose, sucrose are just a few.

How much is too much? Do you know that one 600ml bottle of soft drink, on average, contains 16 teaspoons of sugar? This is over twice the recommended daily sugar intake for adults.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that adults and children’s sugar intake be equal to 5% of the recommended daily total energy intake (kJ) to decrease your risk of developing tooth decay as well as other health benefits. For the average adult, this equates to 6 teaspoons (equal to 24 grams) of free sugar per day.

Calculating sugar consumption based on 5% of total energy intake: Kilojoules are the measurement of energy from foods and drinks used in Australia. In some countries, calories are still used as the unit of measure. For reference, 8360kJ = 2000Kcal.

5% of 8700kJ  > 0.05 x 8700kJ = 435kJ
435kJ = 6.3 teaspoons of sugar per day
68kJ (approximate kilojoules in 1 teaspoon of sugar)

Note: The kJ value in the above equation is the average adult intake. To give you a guide of your recommended daily kilojoule intake go to  If you would like to now more information about what is right for you and your health, talk to doctor or dietician.

Source: Australian Dental Association (2020). Sugar & Nutrition.