A healthy, balanced diet supplies your children with all the nutrients they need to grow, including the proper development of healthy gums and teeth. With increased focus on the importance of oral health during National Children’s Dental Health Month in February, it is a good time to remind parents, grandparents and other caregivers about how their children’s nutrition choices can affect their oral health.
For example, we tell kids to drink milk for strong teeth and bones. From a dentist’s point of view, how important are milk and dairy products in keeping teeth healthy? Calcium is very important as teeth form, and milk and dairy products are the best source of calcium and can play a role in preventing cavities.
As young teeth develop, adequate calcium intake during childhood and adolescence is important for children in developing and maintaining healthy teeth throughout adulthood. In addition, many studies show that eating dairy products, especially cheese, after meals or snacks helps to prevent the bacterial coating on the teeth from converting food sugars to acid; reducing the risk for cavities. Cheese also stimulates saliva flow, which helps to clear acids from the mouth that can cause cavities.
Dairy products, again, especially cheese, can actually prevent teeth from losing minerals and in some people, may even restore minerals to teeth. Some studies even show that proteins and phosphorus in milk may reduce the risk for cavities.
Though eating more nutritious foods can help promote healthy teeth and gums, beware of those that can cause tooth decay. While some foods are obvious culprits, such as candy, juices and sodas, other foods high in carbohydrates such as fruits, peanut butter, crackers and potato chips increase the risk of cavities as well.
All sweet foods are not created equal. Sticky foods such as cookies and candies stick to the surface of teeth and linger. These foods should be limited because they stick to the teeth and saliva is unable to wash the sugar away.
In addition to food choices, dentists and dietitians believe that children who consume too much soda and not enough nutritional beverages are more prone to tooth decay in addition to serious ailments later in life, such as diabetes and osteoporosis. Drinking carbonated soft drinks regularly can contribute to the erosion of tooth enamel, which ultimately leads to cavities. If erosion spreads beneath the enamel, pain and sensitivity may eventually result. This can cause nerve infection and necessitate a root canal.
How can you help prevent this? Encourage your children to drink plenty of water. An article published by the Academy of General Dentistry recommends that school children should rinse their mouth with water after meals, especially at school. This leaves their mouth with a reduced sugar and acid content.
While we can’t follow are children around throughout their day with healthy snacks and a toothbrush, we can instill good habits by providing them with discipline and structure in making smart food and beverage choices and encouraging routine brushing and flossing.
In the same way that children wish for super hero powers, most of us would like to possess the ability to fight off the threat or onset of germs, the common cold or flu. In an average season, about 20 percent of Americans get the flu. This year, the H1N1 virus has led to many new flu cases, and finding ways to protect our immune systems from unhealthy invaders is mission critical.
Without super powers, we must rely on the forces we can control. Fortunately, foods with powerful nutrients and antioxidants can improve our immune system and help our bodies fend off viruses, toxins and even cancer cells. By including these nutrients in our daily eating habits, we can help strengthen a body’s immune system and improve our chances of staying healthy.
By increasing the number of white blood cells in the body, nutrients help rid our system of unhealthy toxins.
Important nutrients include beta carotene; vitamins C, D and E; iron, zinc; flaxseed oil; omega-3 fatty acids; garlic, selenium; and bioflavonoid which include citrus fruits, rose hips and other plants.
Topping the list are the three major antioxidant vitamins: beta carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E. You’ll find them in colorful fruits and vegetables such as those with purple, blue, red, orange and yellow hues. To get the biggest benefits of antioxidants, eat these foods raw or lightly steamed; don’t overcook or boil.
Found in yellow and dark green vegetables, beta carotene increases the percentage of white blood cells in the body, acting as another defender of immunity. The best way to get beta carotene is in fruits and vegetables such as kale, spinach and carrots.
Vitamin C enhances the function of immune cells and can be found naturally in citrus fruits, melons, berries, peppers, sweet potatoes and peas.
Vitamin E aids in the production of antibodies that destroy bacteria. In a Harvard School of Public Health study, researchers found that vitamin E lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease. Good sources for this vitamin are avocados, whole grains and greens.
In addition to the top super three above, Vitamin D is also essential to a healthy diet. Yogurt and other cultured milk products that contain probiotics, beneficial bacteria with immune-boosting benefits, are especially important. Look for the “live active culture” seal, which indicates that probiotics have been added. Early research shows that vitamin D may be linked to a seasonal increase in colds and flu and a higher incidence of respiratory infections.
In addition, iron is required for the body to manufacture white blood cells. Iron can be found in healthful foods such as apricots, lentils, kale and beets. Another important nutrient the body needs is zinc, to help heal wounds and strengthen its resistance to cold viruses. Zinc also is found in whole grains, seeds and beans.
The antioxidant selenium also is found in whole grains and seeds, as well as mushrooms.
Another immune-boosting hero, omega-3, is filled with fats that increase the activity of white blood cells that eat up bacteria and help strengthen cell membranes. These also speed up healing and strengthen resistance to infection in the body. In addition, flax oil and flaxseeds, salmon, mackerel, tuna, omega-3 eggs, nuts and seeds are all excellent sources of omega-3. An easy way to include omega-3 in your diet is to add ground flaxseed to baked goods, yogurt, cereal or smoothies
Garlic, with antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal agents, can also increase immune function. Garlic is an antioxidant that reduces the build-up of free radicals in the bloodstream. In addition, garlic is a good source of sulfur, which is important for healthy liver function.
Bioflavonoid aids the immune system by protecting the cells of the body against pollutants trying to attach to them. A diet that includes several servings of fruits and vegetables daily will ensure that you get the bioflavonoid needed to help your immune system work the best.
In every superhero story, there are always the villains. When it comes to your body’s immune system, there are certain foods that pose a threat to the body’s defenses. For example, consuming too much sugar, equal to drinking two cans of soda, can reduce the body’s ability to kill germs. Alcohol intake can harm the body’s immune system, suppressing its ability to produce more white blood cells. The more alcohol is consumed, the more it suppresses the immune system.
In addition, foods high in saturated fat and oils can increase the risk of obesity and harm your body’s ability to fight disease. White blood cells have to fight harder to multiply or produce antibodies, leaving your body more susceptible to germs or other “invaders.”
If you aren’t getting enough antioxidants and other essential nutrients in your diet by eating produce, a physician or registered dietitian may recommend a multivitamin. However, some nutrients can only be found naturally in foods. Be cautious when considering immune system supplements to boost immunity. Consult your physician or a dietitian who can recommend the proper vitamin regimen. Getting too much can be toxic.
By adding these super foods to your diet, you can help your body prevent — or better fight off — colds or flu this season.
In addition, you can develop healthier eating habits and contribute to overall improved nutrition and health.
Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans. In February, the American Heart Association recognizes American Heart Month as it focuses on raising awareness about the prevention of cardiovascular disease, including good nutrition. Adopting healthy eating habits is one way to reduce your risk of developing heart disease and stroke.
As you make daily food choices, base your eating pattern on these recommendations from the American Heart Association:
- Choose lean meats and poultry without skin and prepare them without added saturated and trans fat.
- Select fat-free, one percent fat or low-fat dairy products.
- Cut back on foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans fat in your diet.
- Cut back on foods high in dietary cholesterol. Aim to eat less than 300 mg of cholesterol each day.
- Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars.
- Choose and prepare foods with little or no salt. Aim to eat less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. Anyone with hypertension, all middle-aged and older adults should consume no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day.
- If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. That means no more than one drink per day if you’re a woman and two drinks per day if you’re a man.
- Keep an eye on your portion sizes.
As part of a healthy diet, an adult consuming 2,000 calories daily should aim for:
- Fruits and vegetables: At least 41/2 cups a day
- Fish (preferably oily fish): At least two 31/2-ounce servings a week
- Fiber-rich whole grains: At least three 1-ounce-equivalent servings a day
- Sodium: Less than 1,500 mg a day
- Sugar-sweetened beverages: No more than 450 calories (36 ounces) a week
Other nutrition measures:
- Nuts, legumes and seeds: At least four servings a week
- Processed meats: No more than two servings a week
- Saturated fat: Less than 7 percent of total energy intake
Be sure to eat a wide variety of nutritious foods daily. As always, small changes in lifestyle can make a big difference in improving your overall health.
Whether you are establishing a new exercise routine, increasing your fitness or looking for ways to maximize your existing plan, your body requires proper nutrition and hydration before, during and after you exercise.
Nutritional guidelines specific to sports, cardiovascular and wellness nutrition are designed to help you understand how much, how often and what kind of nutrients your body needs to improve performance and recovery.
For example, before exercise, it is important to consume a carbohydrate-rich snack or meal, along with small amounts of protein to help build and repair muscle tissue and reduce post-exercise muscle soreness. Low-fat and low-fiber foods are best to ensure optimal digestion.
Three to four hours before exercise, you should eat and drink a small meal or snack. Ideas may include:
- Peanut butter and honey on toast with an instant breakfast drink;
- Fruit and yogurt cereal with low-fat granola;
- Oatmeal with brown sugar and almonds, skim milk and a banana; or
- Turkey and cheese sandwich with fruit and a sports drink.
In addition, approximately 30 to 60 minutes before exercise, you should eat a light snack such as a piece of fruit or a small jam sandwich. Also, drink plenty of water or a sports drink.
Nutrition and hydration during exercise also is important, particularly during prolonged exercise such as a marathon or long bike ride. This requires the proper mix and timing of fluids, carbohydrates and electrolytes. Too much can result in cramping or other intestinal problems. Too little hydration can cause dehydration, fatigue and impaired performance.
Easily digestible foods such as a banana, low-fat granola or nutrition bars are recommended during endurance training and events. In addition, you should always drink plenty of water or sports drinks that contain carbohydrates and electrolytes to help speed fuel to muscles.
For short duration exercise, less than 60 minutes, water is a good choice to drink before, during and after exercise.
Following exercise, eating for recovery is important to restore fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat, replace muscle fuel utilized during activity and to provide protein to aid in repair of damaged muscle tissue and to stimulate development of new tissue.
If you have two training sessions per day or your next training session is within eight hours, nutrition recovery is crucial. Ideas for recovery snacks and meals include the following:
- Fruit and yogurt smoothie;
- Sports drink and nutrition bar;
- Graham crackers with peanut butter, low-fat chocolate milk and banana;
- Whole wheat pita sandwich with turkey and veggies; or
- Rice bowl with beans, cheese, salsa, avocado and whole grain tortilla.
A nutritional plan tailored to help you achieve your personal exercise goals will help you maximize performance and results. Experiment with foods and hydration to create a custom plan that what works best for you. A registered dietitian can assist you in designing a program based on the amount and intensity of your exercise schedule and your desired results.
Whether you participate in sports activities, aerobics, weightlifting or a competitive fitness program, following proper nutritional guidelines is critical to helping you achieve your goals.