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Healthy Eating Habits to Protect Your Pearly Whites

There’s a difference between “diet” and “nutrition,” although for practical purposes you can’t separate the two. Your diet is whatever foods you eat. Your nutrition comes from your diet.

This Nutrition for a Gleaming, White, Healthy Smile (chapter) is a little different from the others, because when it comes to maintaining the health of your teeth and gums, yourfood choices have both short-term effects and long-term nutritional consequences.

The foods you eat immediately affect what is going on in your mouth. For example, if you snack on potato chips, the food particles that get stuck in your teeth become food for plaque, and bacteria will start munching on your teeth for the next 20 minutes or so. Your hair and skin won’t suffer—but your teeth might. If you eat potato chips every afternoon and night at the expense of other nutrient-rich foods, your teeth and gums, as well as other aspects of your health, may suffer.

Nutrients That Nourish Your Teeth and Gums

Teeth are built to last. When you were a kid, you probably were taught that brushing, flossing, and visiting the dentist would be enough to keep your teeth and gums healthy. Today health-care professionals know this is no longer enough, because nutrition plays a huge role in maintaining an attractive smile. If you brush and floss regularly, make regular trips to the dentist, and get the right nutrients from your diet, you should be able to use your teeth for a hundred years. Following are some of the major nutrients you’ll need to keep your teeth and gums healthy and bright.

CALCIUM. Most people realize that children need calcium to build their adult teeth. From there they assume that by the time adult teeth come in they are “finished.” The truth is that adult teeth still need calcium and other trace minerals to make them more resistant to decay. We also need calcium to support the health of the alveolar bone. Statistics indicate people with healthy calcium levels have significantly lower rates of periodontal disease, while low calcium intake is associated with higher rates of periodontal disease. All of my Top 10 Beauty Foods contain at least trace amounts of calcium, but the best source is plain low-fat yogurt, with 448 milligrams in a cup (about half your recommended dietary allowance). Other good sources of calcium include dairy products, Chinese cabbage, and sardines.

Calcium’s Role in Beauty

Recommended Dietary Allowance

WOMEN: 1,000 mg (ages 19 to 50), 1,200 mg (ages 51 and above)  
 MEN: 1,000 mg (ages 19 to 50), 1,200 mg (ages 51 and above)

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. More than 99 percent of the body’s calcium is in the bones and teeth, where the mineral provides beauty-boosting benefits. The remaining 1 percent is found throughout the body. Good sources of absorbable calcium include most milk products, most types of tofu, some dark green leafy cabbage family vegetables, turnip greens, and canned fish such as salmon and sardines that include bones. Moderately good calcium sources include ice cream and most green leafy vegetables. Cream cheese and cottage cheese contain calcium, but not nearly as much as other types of cheese.

10 Good Whole-Food Sources of Calcium:

1. Yogurt, nonfat, plain, 1 cup, 448 mg
2. Ricotta cheese, part-skim, 1/2 cup, 337 mg
3. Sardines, canned in oil, 3 oz. 324 mg
4. Milk, fat-free, 1 cup, 316 mg
5. Mozzarella cheese, part-skim, 1.5 oz. 310 mg
6. Swiss cheese, 1 oz. 272 mg
7. Salmon with bones, 3 oz. 205 mg
8. Turnip greens, cooked, 1 cup, 200 mg
9. Cheddar cheese, low-fat, 1 oz. 118 mg
10. White beans, 1/2 cup, 96 mg

VITAMIN D. This vitamin is necessary for the absorption of calcium. Vitamin D is not found in very many foods, which is why commercial milk, cereals, and other foods are fortified with it. You can synthesize your own by sunbathing, but sun exposure prematurely ages the skin and carries the risk of skin cancer. Among my Top 10 Beauty Foods, vitamin D is found in salmon and oysters. Other good sources include fortified milk, cod liver oil, and sardines.

MAGNESIUM. Magnesium is a major component of teeth and bones. This mineral works together with calcium and plays many other important roles in the body. Spinach, walnuts, and dark chocolate, three of my Top 10 Beauty Foods, all contain magnesium.

VITAMIN C. We know a deficiency of vitamin C (scurvy) loosens teeth and causes bleeding and swelling in the gums. Vitamin C is extremely important to the health of your mouth, not only for its antioxidant properties but also because it helps maintain and repair connective tissue. This multitasking vitamin is essential for the formation of collagen, which helps keep your gums healthy. Without vitamin C, gums and the connective tissues holding teeth begin to erode. In a study involving more than 12,000 U.S. adults conducted at the State University of New York at Buffalo, people who consumed the lowest amounts of vitamin C were at the greatest risk for gum disease. Vitamin C also enhances immune function and promotes healing. Among my Top 10 Beauty Foods, you’ll find significant amounts of vitamin C in kiwi, blueberries, sweet potatoes, spinach, and tomatoes. You can also get your daily dose of vitamin C from foods like peppers, oranges, strawberries, lemons, and broccoli.

OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS. Omega-3s are helpful to gum health because they help reduce inflammation and support bone health. A study published in Clinical Nutrition concluded that alveolar bone destruction in periodontal disease is associated with an imbalance between the omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids and that it makes sense to treat gum disease by increasing omega-3s in the diet because this will shift the body away from the production of arachidonic acid and inflammationboosting prostaglandins. Among my Top 10 Beauty Foods, you can obtain omega-3 fatty acids from salmon, spinach, and walnuts.

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