Tag Archives: diet

Tidying Up a Messed Up Diet

Check out this Kroger ad (via Mark’s Daily Apple):

Apparently, vegetables, fruit and nuts aren’t “natural.” Chips and electrolyte-spiked water are.

No wonder our diets are so messed up, our overall nutrition so poor. “Natural” is no longer a quality but a marketing gimmick. Truly natural food – whole, unprocessed and sustainably grown – isn’t easily branded. Nor can “value” be added to it without subtracting precisely what makes it so valuable: its being as whole and pure as possible in an ever more toxic world.

The health of your teeth – like the rest of your body – is affected greatly by what you eat. Good dental and physical health require a good, nutrient-rich, high quality diet.

Contrary to popular belief, eating well doesn’t have to be expensive. For instance, check out this Agriculture Society post in which Raine shows how she was able to make 7 meals using organic produce and pasture-raised meat at an average cost of $3.79 per person, per meal – cheaper than your typical fast food “value meal.”

Yes, time and energy can be factors in preparing quality meals – another common reason people give for relying on so much processed food. But a little planning ahead can make eating healthy, home-cooked meals as easy as heating up a frozen entree or picking up take-out. Just prepare entrees when you do have time – say, over the weekend – and freeze them.

It’s a matter of priorities, really. Making healthy choices often means taking the long view: accepting the possibility of some sacrifice of time, money and/or energy now to reduce the odds of having to pay for poor choices down the road – getting decayed or damaged teeth fixed or replaced, say, or treating diabetes, cancer, heart disease or other diet-driven illness.

One thing you can do to make the transition to healthier eating more doable is to let go of the belief that you’ve got to make lots of changes at once. When we hold this belief, change can seem so overwhelming, we often give up before we even try. But if we take small steps, one at a time, change becomes more manageable. Health is a journey, after all, and no journey is taken in one big step but many, many small ones.

So with diet, maybe you start by eliminating added sugars or even just cutting out soft drinks (sports and energy drinks, too). Or you switch to organic varieties of produce that tends to keep the most pesticide residues when grown industrial-style, as noted in EWG’s downloadable Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides. Or maybe you switch first to sustainably raised meat, eggs and other animal products, using a tool such as the Eat Well Guide to find local sources of these foods.

Once you adapt to the first change, make another. And another. You’ll be going forward. And one of the beautiful things about improving your diet is that as you begin to notice how eating better can make you feel better physically, you’ll likely want to improve it even more. You may even find that as you phase out empty-nutrient products and phase in high quality whole foods, you lose your taste or tolerance for your old ways of eating.

Where family lives together, ideally, all should take part in the dietary improvements. Those with young children, of course, may wonder how to help them eat better – especially if they’re “picky eaters” to begin with. While some kids are highly sensitive to the bitter edge some vegetables have, which can make them less willing to try new things even as their taste buds mature, one of the biggest barriers to kids eating more veg (lack of it is surely the biggest deficiency in the standard American diet) seems to be the “conventional wisdom” that it’s “always” a battle to get children to eat vegetables. Another issue is the fast-food-inspired environment in which school meals and “kids menus” cater to this perception.

Of course, if you believe kids won’t eat healthy food and then give them a choice – say, chicken nuggets and fries vs. pasta topped with lots of fresh veg – they’ll usually go for the less healthy option. (Interestingly, though, one study showed that preschoolers highly preferred broccoli to chocolate if that broccoli had an Elmo sticker on it.) But children’s tastes can be cultivated.

Beyond rules and special pleading – or Elmo stickers, for that matter – one promising trick is to serve the vegetables first. A study of this method with preschoolers was recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and the results were remarkable:

Children were provided with no carrots or 30 grams (about 1 ounce), 60 grams (about 2 ounces), or 90 grams (about 3 ounces) of carrots as the first course of their lunch.
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The children had 10 minutes to eat the carrots, after which they were served pasta, broccoli, unsweetened applesauce, and low-fat milk. Preschool children who received no first course of carrots, consumed about 23 grams (nearly 1 ounce) of broccoli from the main course.

When the children received 30 grams (about 1 ounce) of carrots at the start of the meal, their broccoli intake rose by nearly 50 percent compared to having no carrots as a first course.

But when the first course was increased to 60 grams (about 2 ounces) of carrots, average broccoli consumption nearly tripled to about 63 grams – or a third of the recommended vegetable intake for preschool children. The extra carrots eaten at the start of lunch did not reduce the amount of broccoli eaten in the main course, but added to the total amount of vegetables consumed.

Other helpful things you can do:

  • Provide a wide variety of vegetables to raise the odds of finding ones your child really loves.
  • Let your child pick out some vegetables while shopping and help with the preparation of them for meals at home.
  • Start your own vegetable garden and let your child help – or visit a farmer’s market with your child so he or she can learn how food gets from the farm to the table.

Teaching and guiding your child in this way might provide you with additional inspiration for optimizing your own diet. Our children can be powerful motivators.

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Dental Care Great, Dental Health Worse?

An article in the Vancouver Sun this week suggested that Baby Boomers have “unique” dental problems. Although, as a group, Canadian Boomers “are keeping their teeth clean and healthy, they are also experiencing an increase in such problems as exposed gums, dry mouth, acute sensitivity and tooth root cavities.” We see similar trends in the US.

Dr. Steven Weiner, an Ontario dentist featured in the article, generally attributes the phenomenon to better care early in life, more saved teeth and longer lifespans.

“In previous eras, if you had a toothache, you pulled the tooth. Then you had to deal with other issues that involved. People now are retaining their teeth longer – for a lifetime – and that wasn’t the goal back then.

“We see so many perfect teeth now, through orthodontics, great home and dental care, but what we have as a result of the aging population is great teeth and poor gums.”



How is it that a person can have “great home and dental care” yet have “poor gums” and other dental problems? And is this really unique to Baby Boomers? Or is it more that theirs is just the first generation to have these problems in large numbers?

My hunch is that there’s more truth in the latter.

The article mentions – almost in passing – some trends that I would argue are now having a big impact on people’s dental health. One of them is the increased use of pharmaceutical drugs, many of which cause dry mouth as a so-called “side effect” – drugs as varied as antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, antihistamines and muscle relaxants. Dry mouth may not sound like anything too serious, but it’s got some significant dental implications, raising the risk of caries (cavities), tooth erosion and periodontal disease. This is because one of the functions of saliva is to wash away the microbes that make up dental biofilm (plaque) and food particles that feed them. Saliva is also a source of the calcium and phosophate particles that help keep tooth enamel strong. The less saliva, the more conditions favor decay and other tooth damage.

There are a number of safe and helpful products available to help increase saliva flow and alleviate dry mouth – products such as GC Dry Mouth Gel and the Dental Herb Company’s Tooth and Gums Tonic. Drinking more water can help, as can eating more foods that require chewing, especially foods like crunchy vegetables.

This brings us to another major trend I see affecting people’s dental health: diet. Since the Boomers came of age, highly processed convenience foods and sugary soft drinks have become much more common – more available and consumed in larger amounts. High fructose corn syrup has become ubiquitous in processed foods, increasing our overall consumption of added sugars. Our intake of refined carbohydrates has skyrocketed, and few of us eat nearly enough whole grains, fresh vegetables and fruit. The result is a diet that is highly acidic, promoting tooth decay and inflammation. (Gum disease, like heart disease, is a chronic, inflammatory condition.) Moreover, the acids and sugars in sodas, energy drinks and similar beverages further contribute to tooth erosion, as a great many studies have shown.

If we, as a society, continue in these directions, we can expect the “unique dental problems” mentioned by Dr. Weiner to be the new norm. But it’s not too late to turn things around. By making positive, healthy life choices, we increase the likelihood of our having both healthy teeth and gums into our senior years.


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Good Nutrition for Healthy Teeth


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