You are what you eat! There is a direct connection between the foods that toddlers, children, and teens eat and both their oral and eye health.
Nutrition and Oral Health
A diet rich in lean protein, calcium, fiber, and antioxidants paired with low sugar and low acidity is not only the perfect recipe for healthy teeth and gums, but it promotes overall wellness in individuals of all ages. Some quick tips:
- Consuming sugary foods too often can lead to tooth decay. Sugar is also highly inflammatory, and overconsumption is linked to multiple diseases. Opt for low sugar choices as often as possible.
- Protein is a good source of phosphorus, which helps build strong tooth enamel, aids in cellular repair and feeds your muscles, skin and bones.
- Find ways to get fiber. Fibrous foods require more chewing, which cleans the surface of the teeth and removes food particles while stimulating saliva production. Fiber also helps regulate blood sugar and maintains a clean gut by moving waste out.
- Calcium keeps teeth strong, especially tooth enamel, defending the entire mouth from erosion and cavities. Calcium is also important for bone health and supports both muscles and nerves.
- Antioxidants, including vitamins A, C, E, and K help prevent plaque buildup, fight gum disease, and heal and repair soft tissue. Additionally, vitamin A is essential for immune function, C is supportive of wound healing, E is beneficial for cellular repair and K aids in blood clot formation.
In addition to the above, highly acidic foods can damage tooth enamel. For example, the sugar in soda is metabolized by oral bacteria and creates acid, which attacks the teeth with vigor. Ongoing acid attacks weaken tooth enamel and exponentially increase the risk of cavities and gum disease. This is not to say to cut out sugary drinks altogether, but rather be mindful of the family’s intake. When enjoying juice or soda, use a biodegradable straw and encourage family members to rinse their mouth with water when they are done for an added level of protection.
Soda, of course, is not alone on the smile-ruining mission.
Foods with high acidity include most citrus and tropical fruits, most iced treats on a stick, tomatoes (and by extension – ketchup), corn, pizza, lunchmeat, energy drinks, sports drinks and fried foods. Consider moderating these foods and substituting them with plant-based proteins, natural sweeteners like raw honey or maple syrup, fresh vegetables, beans and lentils, ginger, and popsicles made with natural ingredients.
Other mouth and body-happy food choices?
- Flaxseed, which can easily be mixed into a smoothie, is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce inflammation and may protect against gum disease.
- Strawberries have malic acid, an enzyme that cleans teeth and helps remove surface stains, and happen to be full of vitamin C
- Chili peppers are rich in Vitamin A, which can help reduce inflammation and infection in the tissues of the gums.
- Milk, cheese, and yogurt are high in phosphate and calcium, which helps neutralize the acid while supporting strong bones.
Nutrition and Eye Health
Despite what cartoons taught us, there is more to nutrition and eye health than simply eating carrots (though they do help!).
Several foods can help reduce the risk of chronic eye diseases. Leafy green vegetables, egg yolks, durum wheat and corn are packed with Lutein and Zeaxanthin, both critical in potentially reducing the risk for macular degeneration and cataracts. Research also indicates Vitamins E and C, both powerful antioxidants, protect cells in the eyes from unstable molecules called free radicals, which break down healthy tissue. Vitamin C can also aid in the production of collagen, a protein that provides structure to the cornea and sclera (the white part of the eye). You can find Vitamin E and/or C in tasty snacks, like sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts, peanut butter, spinach, pumpkin, red bell peppers, kiwi, strawberries, pineapple and potatoes.
In addition to reducing inflammation and protecting against gum disease, Omega-3 fatty acids with high levels of EPA and DHA play a vital role in the development and maintenance of retinal function and preventing dry eyes. Other foods with Omega-3 fatty acids include fish and eggs. And finally, the Zinc found in lean meats, beans, nuts, seeds and lentils play a vital role in producing melanin, a protective pigment in the eyes.