Dr Kenneth Mak: indulgent treats that are actually good for your teeth

If you're trying to be more conscious of what you're eating and the effect of your diet on your teeth and overall health, you may be struggling to find enjoyable snacks that feel satisfying and sinfully delicious.

This is a common problem for many people who wish to have a healthier diet but are struggling to compensate for the lack of sweet treats available to them. We've compiled a list of 5 treats that are surprisingly good for your pearly whites, while also taking care of your sweet tooth.

#1 Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate is well-known for containing lower levels of sugar than milk chocolate. Its flavor is somewhat more bitter, but the upside is that it’s also significantly healthier and more filling. Dark chocolate also contains noticeable levels of theobromine, an alkaloid that comes from the cacao plant and provides numerous health benefits.

As well as being good for your heart, brain, and for reducing inflammation levels, theobromine is also fantastic for your bones and teeth. Over 140 times less concentrated than fluoride, it happens to provide twice the amount of protection. Scientists who have witnessed its effects have also said that teeth exposed to theobromine suffer 10% less damage than those using fluoride.

In fact, theobromine happens to be very similar to caffeine in structure, meaning that it provides adequate energy depending on the amount consumed. It's also one of the active ingredients in Yerba Mate, the hot beverage of choice in Argentina.

Another thing worth noting about theobromine in dark chocolate, is that you'll find a significantly larger amount of it in darker chocolate. That is to say, the darker the chocolate, the higher the levels of theobromine. Who says you can't enjoy chocolate while also caring for your teeth?

#2 Sugar-Free Gum

Recent scientific studies have provided surprising results, as well as an interesting conclusion: chewing sugar-free gum for 20 minutes after meals can significantly reduce the damage caused by tooth decay.

The power of chewing sugar-free gum can be traced to the saliva caused by chewing. Saliva is the body's way of naturally fighting off bacteria, and the amount produced from chewing a single stick of gum will keep teeth naturally clean in between brushes.

While sugar-free gum is better for your teeth and gums than the regular type, it still manages to retain its sweetness thanks to xylitol. Xylitol is a product derived from birch bark, which not only tastes good but also prevents excess bacteria from lingering and sticking to your teeth.

In order to encourage good oral hygiene, we'd recommend that you chew sugar-free gum after every large meal when you can’t brush. This will encourage a healthy environment for your teeth and gums that otherwise might be completely absent.

#3 Yogurt

Organic whole-milk yogurt is not only full of healthy nutrients and vitamins, it also happens to be very good for your teeth. One of the many benefits of eating it is that it provides a special kind of bacteria which will help to fortify and protect your teeth and gums.  Beyond that, whole-milk yogurt tends to be gentle on the stomach while still feeling like a treat.

#4 Raisins

Your mother probably tried to coax you into eating fruit during painful moments of your childhood, often using lines like "Fruit is nature's candy."  We all know, however, that fruit pales in comparison to high-sugar candy and treats in terms of satisfying the ol' sweet tooth.

One of the pleasant exceptions to this rule is raisins. They taste good, are affordable year-round, and also contain high levels of fiber. Additionally, one of the active components is oleanolic acid, which has antibacterial properties that protect your teeth from detrimental plaque.

#5 Cheese

For most, eating cheese often feels like an against-the-rules treat. So, if you're someone who loves to partake in sampling dairy's delight every now and again, you'll also be pleased to know that it's actually surprisingly good for teeth.

The dental benefits of cheese can be put down to Casein, which is a protein that both protects the enamel and also wears down the resistance of bacteria in the mouth.

#6 Honorary Mention: Tingz

While they're only currently available in the UK, Tingz are health-focused sweet treats for kids that opt for xylitol rather than sugar (just like the sugar-free gum mentioned above). They’re definitely worth checking out if you're looking for healthier treats for your young ones!

Taking care of your teeth should be a constant consideration, and you should always try to avoid going overboard with sugar-heavy treats. The added benefit of eating foods that are good for your teeth is that you'll also improve your diet and feel healthier overall. Talk about positive results!

About the Author: Dr. Kenneth Mak is a general and cosmetic dentist practicing in Los Angeles with partners Dr. Dennis De Mesa and Dr. Rodney Kleiger at MKD Dentistry.  When he can, Dr. Mak likes to contribute to several health and lifestyle blogs, where he can help readers shape their daily habits around oral health.  To learn more, head to www.MkdDentistry.com.

Dr. Kimberly Dyoco: 4 Surprisingly Terrible Foods for Your Teeth

If I controlled the world, we’d be able to teleport to our favorite places, read people’s minds and French fries would be as healthy as broccoli.

Unfortunately for all of us, I don’t control the way things work – we still have to endure a long flight to go spend a week in Spain, and French fries are frightfully bad for you.

It’s a sad fact of life that some of our favorite foods are not our bodies’ favorites.  But you can’t give up everything delicious that’s on the unhealthy side of the spectrum. Instead, it’s best to do your darndest to avoid the ones that wreck the most havoc on your health.  Start by trying to steer clear of these 4 foods that are worse for your oral health than you probably think.

1.     Crackers

Crackers seem like such a harmless food, don’t they?  They’re so plain and innocent, how could they be hurting your teeth?  Well, as we often learn the hard way, looks can be deceiving.  Most crackers, like saltines, are a hyper-processed, starchy carbohydrate.  The problem with that is that simple carbs are basically just sugar, which is the favorite food of your mouth-dwelling bacteria. 

Cavities and tooth decay occurs when bacteria multiplies and hangs out in your mouth for an extended period.  Oral bacteria have a field day with stuff like crackers, which also become sort of sticky as you chew, and then get stuck between your teeth. Given that crackers are such a commonly consumed food, it may be tough to give them up.  Instead opt for whole-grain versions, which don’t do as much damage

2.     Dried Fruit

It’s easy to assume that any form of fruit or veggie is healthy for you.  And sure, dried fruit can be a good alternative to processed, corn syrupy sweets.  But, they aren’t risk-free when it comes to your teeth.  They are super sticky and packed with sugar – natural sugar, but still sugar.  As you eat that yummy dried apricot, the sugar feeds the bacteria and the sticky bits get stuck in your teeth.

As far as snacks go, however, dried fruit is pretty healthy.  So, instead of just giving up on the stuff, remember that when you eat it, it’s important to brush soon after.  The point is to not allow the sugar-fed bacteria and remnants to stay in your mouth for very long.  If you don’t have a brush handy, it’s always good to rinse well and chew on some sugar-free gum to help mitigate the damage. 

3.     Pickled Veggies 

In the foodie world, pickling has become pretty en vogue.  But as cool as eating your veggies pickled may be, it’s not such a cool scene in your mouth. In its natural state a cucumber is a friend of teeth, but once it’s been sitting in a vinegar and sugar bath for several weeks, it turns into a foe that’s a far cry from the healthy veggie it once was. 

Now, it’s bursting with acid and sugar and will declare war on your teeth and enamel.  If you do get the occasional (or frequent) craving for something pickled, go for it.  But just make sure that you have a big old glass of water to sip as you eat.  And then, get yourself to a toothbrush as soon afterwards as you can.

4.     Peanut Butter

Most Americans have a positive, childhood-related association with peanut butter.  It’s a comfort food for most of us.  But when you learn the impact that PB has on your teeth, the thought of it might be slightly less comforting.  First off, most of your garden variety peanut butter on the grocer’s shelves is overflowing with sugar.  Second – now get ready for a shock – peanuts are not nuts, but actually legumes.

Legumes are essentially carbohydrates, which, as you know, are broken down into sugars, which are broken down into teeth-damaging acid in your mouth.  So, peanut butter is basically just a carb-sugar overload.  You can lessen damage to your teeth by only eating the natural recipe kinds – when shopping, look for ingredient lists that aren’t lists at all, just one thing: peanuts. 

I told you this wasn’t going to be easy.  You probably groaned a bit as you learned the ways that your go-to eats damage your teeth and I don’t blame you.

The good news is that consistent self-care like brushing and flossing, as well as regular check-ups with your dentist, can help you keep an eye on the state of your teeth and limit damage from the food and drink you absolutely adore.

Dr. Kimberly Dyoco is a top dentist in Chicago, a health writer and the founder of One Mag Smile Dental Practice.  She’s also a frequent contributor to several online publications, in which she shares her expertise about how people can maintain excellent oral health by improving their daily habits.  To learn more, head here and find Kim on Google+.

 

IN SEASON: what to do with wild garlic?

As the first signs of spring finally break through, seasonal cooks can look forward to a whole basketful of fresh ingredients. From asparagus to crab, broad beans to gooseberries, nature’s larder really springs into life this month.

Wild garlic is a particular treat, often found growing in woodland near clumps of bluebells or along the roadside, its distinctive long leaves are easily identified by the pungent aroma they give off. Most greengrocers can source it for those who prefer to buy rather than forage their food, although you may need to ask as wild garlic has yet to reach the attention of the mainstream supermarket shelves.

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As an ingredient it is the leaves, rather than bulbs, that are most sought after. These are at their best in early spring before their flowers start to bloom and have a delicate garlic flavour that requires very little cooking. They can replace basil to make an amazing pesto, be chopped and added to ricotta and mint as a super-quick pasta sauce, form part of a fresh seasonal salad or be used to make a luxurious wild garlic and cream soup. If you need any more convincing, wild garlic leaves are also a health “superfood” with research showing them extremely effective in reducing high blood pressure and preventing strokes. But, however you use them, be quick - the season can be as short as eight weeks and will be over by the end of May.

Try my recipe for lemon sole with wild garlic sauce.

This blog was first published in the Ashburton Cookery School online newsletter.

Home cured salmon - inspired by Akvavit and 6-ft blondes

Since my attempts to get in shape by eating more soup, I have discovered that countries with a penchant for raw fish tend to have the lowest incidence of global obesity.

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Studying in Denmark in the 1990’s I remember the joys of rollmops and cured fish being a revelation compared to the student diet of beans on toast I was used to.  In fact, elements of the Scandinavian diet have stuck with me ever since, along with some of the other great passions that make up my life today, including lego, akvavit and 6-ft blondes. Add in the ridiculous price of central London sushi, which has been winding me up for a while, and the fact that Nordic cuisine has taken over as the next-best-thing in gastronomy, and there are plenty of reasons to be curing your own fish. As well as looking amazing, it’s also easy – very easy - although I'd suggest keeping that to yourself as home-curing is one of those techniques guaranteed to raise a congratulatory gasp from unexpectant dinner guests.

To get started, why not try my beetroot and vodka cured salmon:

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Tomato soup - the route to a bikini body

This week I decided to knock up a batch of tomato soup.

It’s been a while since I fell off the new-year-eating-what’s-good-for-you-wagon.  My typical lunch now consists of mass produced sandwiches, a packet of salt & vinegar crisps and chocolate that bears no resemblance to anything that ever came from a cocoa pod.  But as the evenings get lighter and summer is on the way I’ve realised that it’s time for urgent action to get back into bikini shape.

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The first lifestyle change I've decided to make is to improve what I eat when I get home late at night.  According to my not-so-scientific brain, this is the meal that's most likely to get converted to an extra inch on the hips - afterall, all you do is lie down for eight hours afterwards.  Based on this I concluded that more soup is the answer. It’s easy to make, you can control what’s in it and even the human body can’t convert almost-liquid foods into solid fat (see previous comment about lack of scientific logic).

For inspiration, I googled “best tomato soup recipes” and was surprised to find two popping up repeatedly in reviews from like-minded bloggers.  The Nordstrom Café recipe, which controversially uses tinned rather than fresh tomatoes, and Marcus Wareing’s effort using Worcestershire sauce and balsamic vinegar to add some zing.

I have to say that my experience of fresh tomatoes in the UK is variable and so I begrudgingly admit that the tinned approach gives more consistently flavourful results (although I take this a step further by adding passata and a spoonful or two of tomato puree).  I also find Marcus Wareing’s offering a little overpowering, more “balsamic vinegar with tomato” soup than the other way round, so decide to tone this down and add a little sugar to counteract the sharpness.

My version went down well with the ultra harsh food critics at home, but the new-new-years-resolution was watered down slightly by the fact that it was served with two slices of cheese on toast made with a particularly mature cheddar I found in the back of the fridge. Mmmmm…

Click here for my roasted garlic, basil and tomato soup recipe.