Nutrition, coupled with diet, and exercise are keys to lifelong health. What we eat and drink greatly affects our mouths and entire bodies. The United States Surgeon General has stated that without attention to oral health you can’t be your healthiest self! We need to have good nutrition and a healthy diet to be able to have our best gums, teeth, and smiles.
In today’s world, food is not just a source of nutrition – it is a part of our culture and society. It is important that we do our best to maintain a healthy diet. This means a diet that includes all nutrients in the right amounts. A healthy diet is based on variety, balance, and moderation.
Nutrients have three basic functions in the body:
- provide energy
- regulate functions
- contribute to its building structure
Very few foods consist of just a single nutrient. In fact, one of the only ones is table sugar. It is exclusively a carbohydrate. Most are a combination of nutrients. Milk, as an example, contains carbohydrates, proteins, fats, water, vitamins, and minerals.
These nutrients are classified in six major categories:
- carbohydrates (sugars, starches, and fibers)
- proteins (animal or vegetable)
- fats (animal or vegetable
- vegetable liquid is preferred)
It is important to understand the difference between a calorie and a nutrient as well. Calories are measures of energy. Carbohydrates and proteins provide about the same amount of calories, gram for gram, whereas fats provide double the amount. Energy is vital to have, but excess energy is stored in the body as fat. Nutrients serve auxiliary functions, fats provide insulation, and proteins give the building block for tissues and muscles.
My Plate is a program celebrating its 10-year anniversary that is helpful in making every bite count. Its personalized program allows you to track and better understand if what you are putting in your body is what you want to be putting in your body.
Children and teenagers are constantly growing so their diet is even more important in ensuring healthy teeth and bones. A major risk for children is constant sugar exposure in the mouth, leaving teeth susceptible to breakdown and then to cavities. Sippy cups are a leading cause of constant contact of the teeth with sugars. In older children and teenagers sugary beverages such as juices, sodas, and sports drinks bring about these risks. Drinking plenty of water is always the best choice.
Maintain a variety in food selection. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and variable protein sources comprise a balanced meal. Always keep in mind how important what we put in our bodies is for our oral and overall health. Restricting sweets to an occasional dessert helps keep sugar levels in control. Reducing snacking between meals also is a great change to make. Taking care of our body with good diet and nutrition will give us the best chances to have our most beautiful smile!
Dr. Shohreh Sharif has been practicing dentistry for 25 years. She is: Associate Professor, Howard University College of Dentistry Diplomate, American Board of Pediatric Dentistry Diplomate, American Orthodontic Society IAD Top Pediatric Dentist among Leading Physicians of the World Fellow, American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry
Acknowledgements: American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (2021) Department of Human Health Services (2019)