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Nutrition For Dental Health

by Julie Lichty Balay, MS, RD

Saturated fat is found primarily in animal products such as beef, pork, poultry (particularly in the skin), and dairy products made from whole milk. Tropical oils such as palm oil and coconut oil are the only major plant sources of saturated fat. When eating animal protein, choose the varieties that are lowest in saturated fat, such as skinless chicken, fish, and low-fat or nonfat dairy products. Limit portions of animal proteins to one or two 3-ounce servings (about the size of a deck of cards or checkbook) per day; this will help control both saturated fat and calorie intake. Include more plant proteins such as legumes (lentils and dried beans), nuts, soy products, and whole grains, which contain very little saturated fat, in your menus.

Cholesterol is only found in animal products, so plant oils, grains, fruits, and vegetables do not contain cholesterol. Most foods containing cholesterol also come with saturated fat, making it easy to cut back on both at the same time. Foods highest in cholesterol are organ meats such as liver, egg yolks, and shellfish. Shellfish is actually very low in saturated fat, but its cholesterol content warrants eating shrimp, lobster, crab, and other varieties of shellfish only occasionally. Egg whites contain no cholesterol and are a good source of protein, so they are a better choice than whole eggs. Another popular source of cholesterol in the diet is dairy products. To enjoy dairy products while keeping saturated fat and cholesterol intake low, choose low-fat or nonfat dairy products, and minimize your intake of butter, cream, cream cheese, and whole-fat cheeses. Read labels on packaged goods, and buy foods whose % Daily Value for both cholesterol and saturated fat are no higher than 20% (and preferably lower).

Trans fat is found in packaged products containing partially hydrogenated oils and in many of the fried foods served at fast-food and other restaurants. Trans fat is now listed on food labels, so it can be easily avoided in packaged goods. Look for 0 grams of trans fat, and make sure the ingredients list does not list any partially hydrogenated oil. At restaurants, avoid fried menu items and baked goods (such as French fries, fried fish or chicken, doughnuts, and pies) unless you are sure that they do not use partially hydrogenated oils in their frying bins and baked goods. Keep trans fat consumption as low as possible; the American Heart Association recommends a limit of less than 1% of total daily calories (2 grams per day for someone eating 2,000 calories daily).

Cavities are also more prevalent among people with diabetes than in the general population. Cavities are the result of bacteria, plaque, an acidic oral environment, and the presence of carbohydrate in the mouth. Bacteria and plaque are best controlled through proper dental care, but acidity and the amount of carbohydrate in the mouth are factors that can be affected by diet.

A cariogenic, or cavity-causing, environment is one where the pH (relative acidity) is less than 5.5 (low pH means higher acidity). Certain foods such as fruit juice, soda (even diet soda), chewable vitamin C tablets, and sports drinks create a cavity-friendly level of acidity in the mouth. Most people with diabetes probably already limit their consumption of drinks with added sugar, but consumption of artificially sweetened sodas should also be limited.

Amount, type, duration, and frequency of carbohydrate intake all affect cavity development. However, choosing the right types of carbohydrate will reduce the risk of cavities while still controlling blood glucose levels. Consumption of high amounts of simple sugars like sucrose (table sugar) is considered highly cariogenic and should be minimized. Starchy foods such as rice, pasta, bread, and potatoes are not cariogenic unless eaten with added sugars. Dietary fiber has been found to help reduce the incidence of cavities, so eating unrefined starches should not promote cavities. Choosing high-fiber carbohydrates is already recommended for both people with and without diabetes, and having fewer cavities is yet another reason to do so.

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Also in this article:
Nutrients That Promote Oral Health



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