Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day - Time to Think About Your Kid's Teeth and Gums!

Valentine's Day is so sweet and fun. I love this day and so do kids. CANDY front and center! Any day that revolves around love and candy is a sure winner with kids. Today kids send
e-valentines to their friends instead of making those fun, collaged valentine shoe boxes.

Just like sending valentines, going to the dentist has gotten more user friendly. However, most kids still don't look forward to their yearly checkups. As essential as these health checks are, what your child eats between visits is the most important part of building healthy teeth and gums.

In addition to brushing and flossing, the vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients in a healthful diet protect teeth from decay and keep gums healthy and tight.

The Main Culprit
We all know that sucrose or sugar is the leading cause of tooth decay, but not the only cause. Did you know that in addition to sugary foods like cookies, candies, and sodas, starchy foods (like refined bread and cereal) also play a part in tooth decay? When starches mix with an enzyme in the saliva called amylase, the result is an acid bath that breaks down tooth enamel and makes teeth more susceptible to decay. The longer the foods linger in the mouth, the acid bath is prolonged and the damage greater. That is why your mom always told you to brush your teeth after eating!

Dried fruit and juices can also be problematic. While we usually think of these as healthy foods and beverages, both their high sugar content (think stickiness) and their high acid content make them contributors to tooth decay.

Unlike dried fruit and juice, fresh fruit protects your teeth. Fresh fruit, especially apples, are a good choice. Although sweet and acidic, the increased chewing required when eating fresh fruit (and vegetables) stimulates saliva flow. Saliva flow decreases mouth acidity and washes away food particles. Now you know why apples are called "nature's toothbrush." They not only stimulate the gums but also increase saliva flow and reduce the build-up of cavity causing bacteria.

Gum Disease
More teeth are lost through gum disease than decay. Poor diet, meaning a highly refined diet, alcoholism, and certain medications all contribute to poor gums. Poor hygiene and not flossing can lead to bleeding gums, but lack of Vitamin C can also be a cause. Fresh fruit and vegetables are your best source of Vitamin C.

Munching on hard fibrous food such as carrots, celery, seeds and nuts, and whole grains all help stimulate the gums.

Healthy Snacks that Don't Attack
Think fresh fruit and veggies, whole grains, beans and other lean protein, and healthy fats:
  • Cut up veggies with hummus or guacamole

  • Cup of tea - Tea is good for your teeth because it contains fluoride. (If you are concerned about the pigments staining your teeth, you can drink tea through a straw!)

  • Fresh fruit with natural peanut butter

  • Cabot fat-reduced cheddar cheese with whole grain crackers or fresh fruit

  • Plain low-fat yogurt with fresh fruit and nuts

  • Whole grain pretzels dipped in spicy mustard

  • Turkey slices wrapped around asparagus or roasted red pepper and avocado slices

  • Hormone free turkey or buffalo jerky

Remember you can also protect your teeth by ending meals with foods that do not promote cavities or may even protect them. Aged cheeses help prevent cavities if consumed at the end of a meal. Chewing sugar-free gum stimulates the flow of saliva which decreases acid and flushes out food particles. Rinsing your mouth and brushing your teeth after eating are also good strategies to prevent cavities.

A bright smile is usually a good indication of a healthy diet.

For more articles and resources about "Nutrition for Healthy Teeth and Gums," visit the Washington FAMILY Magazine web site -

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


More snow, hooray! I am celebrating because outside my kitchen window on the deck, atop the glass oval table, is a giant six feet long x three feet high cake made out of snow. I want to rush out and poke in some colorful candles, light them, and make a wish but unfortunately I cannot open the door due to all the snow!

So instead I have to come up with some other entertainment. Here are some fun (depending on your point of view) things to do while you are stuck in the house. This is also a great time to get ready for spring which I am certain is only six weeks away:

Make some hot chocolate. If you don't have a mix so much the better. For a single serving: In a mug, add 2-3 t. of real cocoa, 2 T. Stevia, brown sugar, honey or maple syrup, and a dash of salt; Heat 1 cup of whole, 2%, or non fat milk, almond milk, or soy milk in the microwave at HIGH for 1-1/2 minutes or until hot; Gradually add the milk to the cocoa and stir well.

Hershey's will do but I just tried Schokinag European Drinking Chocolate and it is delicious. If I look outside I can pretend I am in the Alps sipping my chocolate between runs on the slopes.

Cocoa mass is full of antioxidants and studies show cocoa helps lower blood pressure. So drink up. For those of you looking for a way to incorporate ground flax seed into your diet, if you are not a cereal or peanut butter eater, try adding some ground flax seed to your cocoa. It is a new version of liquid Cocoa Puffs, but much better for you.

Make some brownies or cookies. If you have power, baking is always fun on a snowy day. I like No Pudge Fudge Brownies which you can find at many grocery stores. Literally all you do is add some non-fat vanilla yogurt and pop them in the oven.

If you are baking cookies or brownies from scratch, use whole wheat pastry flour or a mixture of whole wheat and white unbleached. You can always mix in some oat flour or spelt flour too. Land O Lakes Spreadable Butter is good to use for baking. Half butter and half canola or olive oil, depending which one you choose, this increases the monounsaturated fat content (heart healthy) and lowers the saturated, artery clogging fats.

Add tasty ingredients like dried cherries, chopped walnuts, chocolate chips, or goji berries.

Clean your pantry: This is fun when you are done and the rewards last longer than the immediate gratification of a brownie or cookie. Look for bulging cans, expired dates, and open containers. Throw them out unless just opened. Use chip clips to keep bags sealed.

Check to see how long your cooking or salad oil has been in there. If longer than a few months, toss. Rancid oils are linked to inflammation. Buy small bottles and keep them in the refrigerator to avoid rancidity.

Don't be surprised when the olive oil gets solid. Just run it under warm water for a second to loosen, pour out what you need, and then pop in back in the refrigerator. Other oils like corn, canola, safflower, and soy won't harden due to a process called "winterization." This means the oil is chilled and filtered to remove the naturally occurring waxes and stearates before it is bottled and sold. They generally do not winterize olive oil. Winterizing is not bad.

Use cold pressed olive, toasted sesame oil, or cold pressed canola. Corn, safflower and soybean oils are high in omega-6-fatty acids and linked to inflammation. So if you have atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) or arthritis or any other inflammatory condition or if you want to have optimal health avoid corn, soy, and safflower oils. Corn oil is linked to an increased incidence of mammary tumors in animals. Hey we're animals so connect the dots. Corn oil is used in most processed foods because it is cheap. Read labels and avoid it.

Take out your cookbooks: Stews, soups, rice dishes, and good old fashioned potatoes are great on a cold snowy day. Start browsing and mark the recipes that sound delicious. If you don't have any of the ingredients and cannot get to the store, make Stone Soup!

Look for recipes with exotic spices. The spices will not only wake up your taste buds but the aromas will warm up the kitchen. Indian, Thai, Italian all have hearty filling dishes.

Go for a walk: Snow storms can be transforming and I don't just mean to the terrain. I find the change of scenery is good for the soul. Seasons reflect the cycles of life and every season, no matter its severity, has elements of renewal. You don't have to wait for spring to find rebirth.

A snowy day gets you in touch with the wonders of life: the color of the sky against the frosted tree branches, the birds darting in and out looking for food, the kids laughing as they play in the snow. Talk to your neighbors, talk to your kids, and call your mom.

Life is fleeting, you've got to grab it while you can, even on a very snowy, stuck-in-the-house day.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Eclectic Medicine Chest

Food as Medicine - This concept is finally grabbing hold in both mainstream medicine and in mainstream America. With this trend in mind, my trip to Costco yesterday was enlightening.

Costco represents the best and the worst of America. The best because we can see how productive we are as a nation (although many of the products are not made here) and how abundant is our food supply. And yes the prices are great. Yet, walking into a warehouse filled to the brim with over sized boxes of goods and with shopping carts to match confirms the obvious, we are obese in body and in mind.

Not only do you need a large vehicle to carry home all the items purchased, you also need a tremendous amount of storage space at home. I know many businesses purchase their goods at Costco, hence the large packaging, but for the average family it is overkill.

However, Costco gets a high five when it comes to stocking great products that promote health and wellness and for less money than Whole Foods or Trader Joe's. Plus it is great to be able to buy cleaning and household products at the same time. Take a friend with you on your next trip and share the bounty. Here are some products I like:

  1. Kirkland Whole Dried Blueberries - These are really good and have no sulfur dioxide added. However other than raisins, all of the other dried fruit did. Even though blueberries are high in antioxidants, remember that dried fruit is also high in calories so 1/4 cup equals a serving of fruit. Add to Irish oatmeal or with almonds for a quick pick-me-up. Good with plain yogurt too.

  2. Pacific Organic Chicken Broth - Great to have on hand for quick homemade soups and rice.

  3. Amy's Organic Soups - Both the lentil and minestrone look good and the sodium content is reasonable. Full of fiber and low in fat. Good for when you have no time. Add a salad and a hunk of whole grain bread dipped in olive oil and you are good to go.

  4. Home Foods Tofu - Good for all you vegans. Add to Pho soups, stir fry, and eggs.

  5. Brothers All Natural Crisps - Freeze dried fruit! Sweet and delicious. Throw these foil packs into your lunch bag, purse, or back pack. Keep in the car. Great for hikes too.

  6. Cheese - Lots of great low fat choices. Favorites include: Cabot reduced fat cheddar and Babybel Light.

  7. POM - With all the grim news on diet sodas being more addictive than cocaine, POM is a good way to kick the habit. Mix 1/4 cup of POM into an 8 oz. glass of bubbly water. Add a lime and you are good-to-go. Plus sodas are now linked to heart disease because of their role in elevating triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood. POM is full of antioxidants and great for the brain. Other juices like grape, black cherry, and cranberry are also good.

  8. Fresh Produce - Here is where Costco shines, especially in winter when there is no local produce available.

  9. Olive oil - Lots of good cold pressed brands. Only problem is they come in huge bottles and unless you use lots of olive oil it may go rancid before you finish the bottle. Once opened, store in your massive Sub Zero to keep fresh or if you have a normal refrigerator pour into smaller bottles and share with friends. If the opened bottles are not used within about four weeks, store in fridge. Loosen oil under hot water for a second before using.

There are of course many other great products at Costco but beware of all the junk. Just like real life, you have to steer clear of trouble so forget purchasing sweets in bulk and read labels to avoid bad fats, refined flours, and additives. So, despite its flaws, shopping at Costco can contribute to your eclectic medicine cabinet, also known as your kitchen.