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Nutrition Tips: How to Eat Healthy

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Healthy eating is essential for your overall health. Choosing foods and beverages that provide the right amount of energy and nutrients goes a long way toward maintaining not only a healthy body, but also a healthy mouth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer numerous nutrition resources, such as sample recipes, menus and educational tools that will guide you in picking out the right foods and drinks to consume. By knowing how to eat healthy, you can improve your physical and oral health, prevent disease and promote healthy growth and development for children and adolescents.

What Is a Nutritious Diet?

Eating a nutritious diet has many benefits. A well-balanced diet should include foods from the basic food groups and subgroups along with the right oils. Nutrients such as carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals are a staple of healthy diets, but it's also important to avoid eating too many or too few nutrients.

In an effort to assist consumers to learn how to eat healthy, the US Department of Agriculture developed the MyPlate website. MyPlate illustrates the five food groups, which include fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins and dairy, and provides several examples of each. Oils that come from different plants and fish are also recommended although they don't constitute a food group of their own. The selection of foods from these groups can be fresh, canned, frozen or dried. The site also recommends different ways to balance your caloric intake by increasing nutrients and decreasing the consumption of sugar and sodium in meals and snacks.

How to Select Healthy Beverages

Your beverage choices are just as important as your food choices. Consider consuming beverages that have nutritional value, such as water, fruit and vegetable juices and milk. Water on its own has numerous benefits, some of which are listed in resources available via the CDC link above. Water can increase your nutrient intake while helping to reduce tooth decay with the help of fluoride, assisting in maintaining a healthy weight and enhancing cognition in children and adolescents.

There are certain drinks that you should avoid consuming too often — namely, sports drinks and energy drinks, which contain sugar and acid-producing ingredients. Tooth decay is greatly enhanced by these acidic, sugary beverages, which continue to remain popular among children, adolescents and young adults. Frequent consumption will lead to an increase in the occurrence and rate of tooth decay.

Healthy Habits after Eating and Drinking

It is important to properly clean the mouth after eating or drinking to prevent oral health issues. Certain foods can stick to the teeth and lead to a greater risk of tooth decay. Foods containing sugars and cooked starches, such as breads, crackers, pretzels and potato chips, can also linger on the teeth. An acidic attack on teeth can occur for 20 minutes or more after sugars or starches come into contact with plaque. Therefore, it is important to remove food debris after eating by brushing with a toothpaste, flossing or at least rinsing with water. Chewing sugarless gum, particularly types with an ingredient called xylitol, will help increase the flow of saliva, which in turn facilitates the clearance of sugars and food debris and neutralizes plaque acids in your mouth.

Healthy Eating Tips

  • Snack in moderation — no more than three times a day.
  • Snacks should contribute to overall nutrition and health.
  • Foods with sugar are safer for teeth if they are eaten as a meal, not as a snack.
  • Shop smart; avoid routinely stocking the pantry with sugary or starchy snacks.
  • Water fluoridation is the most beneficial and inexpensive way to prevent tooth decay.
  • Eat various vegetables.
  • Focus on eating fruits.
  • Make sure your diet contains calcium-rich foods.
  • Pack your diet with lean proteins.
  • At least half of your grains should be whole grains.
  • Avoid fad diets, which can be unhealthy and limit your nutritional intake.

Diet and Dental Health

Routine dental visits are an important part of maintaining overall health. A dentist is able to provide a diet analysis, nutritional counseling and any necessary guidance in seeking a nutrition specialist. Preventive dentistry will promote a healthy smile and mouth, which will allow you to eat food more comfortably. Make healthy eating a part of your daily lifestyle.

About the Author: Yolanda Eddis, RDH, BASDH, is a clinical dental hygienist for the United States government. She is a member of the American Dental Education Association and Esther Wilkins Education Program and is a Colgate Oral Health Advisor. Her research interests include community outreach projects. Eddis is currently pursuing her Masters of Health Science degree in a generalist concentration at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.