Regular readers here know about Dr. Weston Price and his important research on the relationship between diet and dental conditions. (Not familiar? I give a quick overview at the start of this video.) It was Dr. Price, of course, who showed that when people shifted from their traditional diets to a Western one, high in white flour and sugar, dental problems followed – problems such as cavities, narrowed arches and crooked, crowded teeth.
Archaeological and anthropological research has also suggested that the rise of agriculture and the accompanying shift to grain-based diets had a negative impact on health. Now a new study shows that this may be due to broader effects of this change. Based on her analysis of more than 300 skulls from 11 different populations, anthropologist Noreen von Cramon-Taubadel concluded that
the changes in human skulls are more likely driven by the decreasing bite forces required to chew the processed foods eaten once humans switch to growing different types of cereals, milking and herding animals about 10,000 years ago.
“As you are growing up… the amount that you are chewing, and the pressure that your chewing muscles and bone [are] under, will affect the way that the lower jaw is growing,” explained Dr von Cramon-Taubadel.
She thinks that the shorter jaws of farmers meant that they have less space for their teeth relative to hunter-gatherers, whose jaws are longer.
The study abstract is available here.
The problem with crowded teeth, of course, is more than just aesthetic. They can be harder to clean well, raising the risk of tooth decay and gum disease. They can throw off the bite and contribute to improper oral and facial function and/or habits that can lead to pain and other problems. They’re also more vulnerable to uneven tooth wear and breakage.
As ever, good dental health, like good physical health, depends on eating well. Yet for many, this isn’t always easy – especially with the economy still so bad and budgets tight. But “challenging” doesn’t mean “impossible,” as shown by projects such as 100 Days of Real Food on a Budget ($125 a week for a family of 4). More recently, a group of three bloggers – Sherrie Flick, Cory Van Horn and Hal B. Klein – did a variation on the Food Stamp Challenge, in which participants commit for a week of living on the average food stamp allotment of $4.50 per day. These bloggers challenged themselves to eat a healthy, varied meals on just $35 a week, supplemented by any food they grew themselves or bartered for.
One particularly striking aspect of their reflections was their observation that the food itself was just a small part of the challenge. As Flick writes,
The idea of bartering led to a discussion about the importance of community and friendship in food circles. It’s much easier to eat cheaply if you’re joining together with others.
We also talked about cooking skills—how knowing how to cook, how to garden and prepare food efficiently is one key to avoiding processed foods. We talked about time versus money. How, for me, having a non-traditional work schedule lends itself to, say, baking bread on a Monday morning.
For many of us, regardless of budget, the biggest obstacles are often time and energy. Affordable convenience wins out. Yet, as Edward Stanley wrote in The Conduct of Life, “Those who think they have no time for healthy eating will sooner or later find time for illness.”
So here are few tips for ensuring you eat well even if you have “no time” for it:
- Keep it simple
Who says you have to cook fancy recipes for every meal? It only takes 15 to 20 minutes to put together a tasty dinner of pasta and green salad, or meat, steamed vegetables and salad. Baked or roasted foods can be put in the oven to cook while you take care of other chores.
- When you want something fancier, know where to look
Lots of recipe websites have sections of nothing but “quick and easy” recipes and meal ideas, such as these at simplyrecipes.com and allrecipes.com.
- One word: crockpot
It doesn’t get much easier than throwing ingredients into a crockpot and leaving it to cook. And don’t think it’s just about soups and stews either. Sites like Slow & Simple offer a wealth of ideas for delicious crockpot/slow cooker meals.
- Cook less by cooking more
On the weekends or other off days, cook larger-than-usual meals and freeze the extra. Voila! Instant TV dinners! If you cook steaks or other meat, cook a little more than you need for your meal and use the rest for a quick and easy hash or stirfry on the next day.
- Plan and shop ahead
Make a list, check it twice and keep a pantry well-stocked with basics. If you stock it with a lot of processed stuff “just in case” you don’t feel like cooking, you’re apt to not feel like cooking a lot more often. Clean, cut and store veggies as soon as you bring them home. It’s less work down the road (and handy for snacking, too!)
- Keep healthy snacks at hand
When we’re on the go, it’s all too easy to default to vending machine and convenience store nosh – most of which is highly processed and loaded with sugars, salt and unhealthy fats. Keep things like fresh fruit, nuts and jerky at the ready.
- Eat out…of a brown paper bag
Or any other device for carrying your homemade lunch with you. If you’re not a morning person, why not make lunch the night before – even while you’re cooking dinner? A sandwich takes just a few minutes to make. If you make a point of cooking more than you need, those extras/leftovers can make fine lunches, too.
Decide on your preferred mealtimes and stick to them, even setting an alarm if you need a reminder. Just as you make time for those activities that mean a lot to you, you can make time for eating well. Being the foundation for good health – dental and systemic – it’s certainly deserving of all the commitment you can give it.
Image by pha10019, via Flickr