Am I eating too much fruit?
by Charlotte Morgan | 19 October 2012 | 7 commentsTweet
A recent visit to the dentist has Charlotte Morgan reconsidering her five-a-day fruit fix.
An apple a day keeps the dentist in a job
I look after my teeth. That means using an electric toothbrush twice a day, avoiding fizzy drinks, and even giving my dental student sister’s bizarre ‘water jet flosser’ a go every now and then.
But despite all that, I was sent home in disgrace from the dentist the other day. Why? Because I eat too much fruit. My banana, apple, grapes, berries and satsuma every day fix is taking its toll on my pearly whites, attacking the delicate enamel that lines them.
The dentist told me that chewing fruit releases sugar into the mouth, which in turn attacks the teeth. Fruit juice or smoothies are even more problematic, given that blending breaks the fruit down further, thus increasing the amount of sugar released into one’s mouth.
Citrus fruit (which happens to be my favourite kind) is the worst, because it can soften tooth enamel. Although the enamel will harden again after about 30 minutes, if you brushed your teeth immediately after drinking orange juice, you would brush away some enamel and thus raise the risk of dental erosion.
The NHS on fruit
So now I have to cut down on my fruit intake, if I’m to reduce the chance of needing a filling. But when the government makes so strong a point of getting at least five fruit and veg portions a day, can I really be blamed for getting myself into this state?
A quick check of the 5 A Day section on the NHS website doesn’t reveal any warnings about eating too much fruit. Indeed, ‘almost all fruit and vegetables count towards your 5 a day’ according to the site, which suggests that you can eat five pieces of fruit to get to that quota – or even more, if the fruit you are eating is considered ‘small’. For example, you’d have to eat two plums, two satsumas, two kiwi fruit, three apricots and seven strawberries to reach five a day… that’s a lot of sugary fruit.
A quick Google reveals just how much sugar is in our favourite fruits. There’s the equivalent of a pinch of sugar in one clementine or one plum; over ½ a teaspoon of sugar in one kiwi or one orange; and a whole teaspoon in five strawberries or a glass of orange juice.
To be fair, in the FAQ section, the NHS does warn that ‘to get the maximum benefits, you need to eat different types of fruits and vegetables’ – because each one contains its own unique set of fibre, minerals and other nutrients. You could interpret that as a warning against getting your five a day only from fruit, but I don’t think it’s explicit enough.
The fruit juice curse
In fact, dentistry.co.uk reported that fruit juices are worse for your teeth than whitening is, if one American study is anything to go by. Lead researcher YanFang Ren, DDS, PhD, and his team from the Eastman Institute for Oral Health, University of Rochester Medical Center, US, determined that the effects of 6% hydrogen peroxide are insignificant compared to acidic fruit juices.
Commenting on the experiment, Dr Ren said: “The acid [in fruit juice] is so strong that the tooth is literally washed away. The orange juice decreased enamel hardness by 84%.”
The expert opinion
Let us consult the British Dental Health Foundation for some sound advice. This is what they say on snacking (which is when I usually eat fruit)…
“If you do need to snack between meals, choose foods that do not contain sugar. Fruit does contain acids, which can erode your teeth. However, this is only damaging to your teeth if you eat an unusually large amount. Try to limit dried fruit as it is high in sugar and can stick to the teeth.”
“If you do eat fruit as a snack, try to eat something alkaline such as cheese afterwards. Savoury snacks are better, such as raw vegetables, nuts, and breadsticks.”
It is important, they say, to keep sugary foods and drinks to mealtimes only.
So what’s the answer? Only eat a couple of pieces of fruit a day, and only eat it as part of a meal? Tricky, given that no-one really wants an apple for pudding.
What do you think? Are you worried about the amount of fruit you eat? What do you think is an appropriate amount of fruit to eat per day? Talk to us in the comments box below.
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