You already know the old, tried-and-true tips for maintaining a healthy smile. You brush and floss daily. You rinse with mouthwash. And you schedule bi-annual appointments with your dentist to clean your teeth and check for developing problems.
But did you know that these habits aren’t enough to prevent cavities entirely?
Your diet also plays a key role in whether you suffer from tooth decay and oral disease. The foods you choose and the ways you prepare them could make or break your teeth, literally.
If you want to keep your teeth and gums healthy, consider the following changes when you cook your food.
1. Rely on Natural Sweeteners
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting sugar intake to 6 teaspoons of sugar daily for women and 9 teaspoons of sugar for men. Yet despite this recommendation, the average American adult consumes nearly 19.5 teaspoons of sugar every day.
Although sugar doesn’t cause cavities directly, it does feed the bacteria already living in your mouth. As bacteria eat available carbohydrates, they produce acids which wear away your enamel.
While you don’t have to ditch sugar entirely, you should follow the AHA recommendations and limit the refined sugars you eat daily. As you cook, look for recipes that rely on natural sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, and agave nectar.
If you don’t have access to natural sugars, look for recipes that use significantly less sugar than their traditional counterparts. A quick Google search for “healthy chocolate chip cookies” or “apple pie less sugar” will bring up plenty of fun combinations that won’t compromise your teeth.
2. Choose Dark Over Milk Chocolate
Many dentists consider candy and sweets as the bane of teeth. Hard candies, such as jawbreakers, can result in loose, chipped, or dislodged teeth. Softer, stickier candies, such as taffy and caramel, lodge in the cracks and crevices and supply steady amounts of sugar for oral bacteria.
But if you have a sweet tooth, chocolate may just save the day.
Chocolate contains helpful polyphenols that fight oral bacteria and prevent sugars from sticking to teeth. Additionally, cocoa contains oxalic acid that reduces bacterial acid production.
However, for best results, you need to choose chocolate with higher amounts of cocoa and lower amounts of sugar whenever you cook, bake, or snack. Look for dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao. If possible, incorporate cacao nibs into your recipes, as the nibs do not undergo processing and offer the most nutritional benefits.
3. Substitute Avocado for Butter
While sugars wreak havoc on your smile, certain fats can have a positive impact on your oral health. Omega-3 fatty acids, in particular, have anti-inflammatory properties that significantly reduce your likelihood of periodontitis.
To easily increase your omega-3 intake, add a healthy serving of avocado to your diet. A single cup of avocado contains 8% of your daily recommended value of omega-3 fatty acids. Additionally, avocado also supplies an impressive amount of calcium, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin D, and other essential vitamins and nutrients for maintaining teeth and gums. Better still, studies show that avocado contains phytonutrients that attack oral cancer cells, stopping pre-cancerous growths without damaging normal cells.
Avocado makes a great addition to sandwiches, salads, dips, and burgers. However, if you don’t like eating avocado raw, consider swapping butter for avocado in your favorite recipes. Avocados have a smooth, creamy texture that makes them an effective substitute for butter, and they don’t significantly alter the flavor of your breads, cookies, muffins, or cakes.
When cooking, substitute 1 cup avocado for 1 cup butter. If your recipe seems a little dry, add a little more milk to compensate. Don’t forget to lower your oven temperature by 20 to 25 degrees to keep your foods from over-browning.
4. Soak or Sprout Your Grains
Whole grains such as corn, wheat, and brown rice offer a lot of undeniable health benefits. They supply plenty of fiber for improving digestion, and they contain plenty of protein, vitamins, and minerals that keep you in great shape.
But whole grains also have phytic acid, a compound that binds to minerals and reduces their absorption. Although research is limited, some experts have found that individuals who ate a diet rich in phytic acid (via whole grains such as oatmeal) had a greater likelihood of developing cavities than those who chose a grain-free diet and supplemented with vitamin D.
Fortunately, you can still enjoy the fiber and health benefits that whole grain has to offer without compromising your teeth. When you prepare your grains through soaking, sprouting, and fermenting, you can significantly reduce phytic acid content in your food. If you don’t feel comfortable preparing your grains yourself, you can purchase sprouted wheat flour at many health food stores.
Enjoy Your Food and a Healthier Smile
When you incorporate these four tips into your cooking habits, you can reduce your chances of tooth decay without sacrificing your favorite flavors or recipes. Better still, these cooking tips will also help you cut unnecessary fats and calories from your diet, so your overall health receives a natural boost.
But remember that these tips should only add to (not replace) your current dental regimen. Even if you eat a healthy diet, don’t wait to schedule a cleaning with your dentist.