For thousands of years, humans didn't need to consider 'dietary recommendations' or adjust their meals to trendy diets. Eating was simple. They ate food as they found it in the environment.
Today, we have the very fortunate problem of being surrounded by food, but that means we need to be able to discern the foods that will promote our health from the ones that won't.
The mouth is a great model for showing us which foods are good for us. What's good for dental health is good for overall health.
For strong teeth and gums, we have to identify and remove the modern foods that can be detrimental, identify the foods that provide us with vital, fat-soluble vitamins and, finally, incorporate foods that enhance our microbiome, an organ and biological entity in its own right in the mouth as well as the gut.
STEP 1: ELIMINATE
The first step is to identify and remove the harmful foods and ingredients that regularly reach your plate. Your overall strategy should be to remove all packaged and refined foods from your diet and to monitor your meals when you eat out.
At a glance
• Refined vegetable oils: NONE
• White flour: NONE
• Sugar: Maximum added sugar intake per week: 6 teaspoons for women, 9 teaspoons for men (1 teaspoon = 4.2 grams)
1. Remove vegetable oils
Removing refined vegetable oils from your diet can be difficult because they're in nearly all packaged foods, all the food we can get in supermarkets and all the food we can order in restaurants. The good news is that vegetable oils don't add any flavor to food; if anything, they can dull flavor. So eliminating them and eating more natural fat often makes foods taste better and feels more satisfying.
Avoid the following vegetable oils: Canola/rapeseed oil, soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil and peanut oil.
Replace them with: Coconut oil; animal fats including lard, tallow, butter and ghee; avocado oil; and olive oil.
2. Remove white flour
This can be a challenge if you're used to eating bread, pasta or white rice. But removing white flour can have an amazing effect on your health.
It's okay to substitute whole-grain alternatives to white flour, but you should stick to no more than two to three servings of even whole grains per week.
I recommend eliminating all grains from your diet for at least two weeks to let your body feel what it's like to live without them. That will also give you an objective baseline to measure against if you eat them again. If you do, keep it to no more than two or three times a week.
Whole grains include brown rice, barley, oats, millet, spelt and quinoa.
Remove: Flour, rice, pasta, breads, crackers and packaged cereals.
Replace with: Carrots, beans, lentils and chickpeas.
3. Remove sugar
For many of us, sugar has an addictive effect on our body. Eliminating it is probably the biggest challenge in the Dental Diet. Even when you replace sugar with the right foods, your body almost always goes through some kind of withdrawal: headaches, cloudiness, fatigue, body aches, jitters, trouble sleeping and even flu-like symptoms.
I recommend cutting all sugar from your diet for at least two weeks, which includes eliminating fruit, which is the only way my patients seem to escape the clutches of sugar addiction. This resets your taste buds and your hunger cycle and allows your body to crave foods that are actually good for you.
Remove: Packaged food that has more than 5 to 6 grams of sugar per 100 grams.
• Bottled, flavored drinks, including sports drinks. Drink water instead
• Fruit juices—these contain all the sugar but none of the healthy fiber of fruits
• Cereals—including the 'healthy' brands. Cereals are a minefield of white flour and sugar
• Salad dressings
• Canned foods
Other sources of sugar to watch
Dairy. Dairy contains lactose, which is a sugar that breaks down into galactose and glucose. Full-fat milk is, on average, naturally about 4.5 percent lactose. Any additional sugar is added sugar. If you can tolerate lactose, it's fine to consume, and you don't need to add it to your daily sugar tally since your body doesn't turn it into fructose.
Fruit. Generally, I recommend eating no more than two to three pieces of fruit per day along with minimizing your consumption of fruit juices.
Alcohol. Drink alcohol in moderation. I don't recommend cutting out alcohol entirely because fermented drinks like beer and wine have very little fructose. The biggest sugar traps with alcohol are mixers and dessert wines. Avoid them.
Generally, it's better to avoid artificial and even natural sweeteners, like stevia, because they don't allow your palate to appreciate flavors in nutrient-dense foods that provide fat-soluble vitamins.
Changing your palate is the key to reducing your sugar intake in the long term, so I recommend you stay away from anything sweet that could interfere with that process.
STEP 2: BUILD
Fat-soluble vitamins feed and maintain our mineral balance, our digestive and immune systems, and many other systems in our bodies, including
our mouths. Every meal should contain sources of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D and K2, as well as the supporting elements that work alongside them in the body, including magnesium, zinc and dietary fat.
Foods rich in vitamins, A, D and K2
• Whole, full-fat animal products, including the skin: beef, chicken, lamb and duck
• Organ meats
• Whole fish and shellfish
• Milk, butter, yogurt and cheese
• Colorful vegetables and salads, cooked or dressed in fat
• Magnesium: pumpkin seeds, leafy greens, dark chocolate (no added sugar)
• Zinc: kidney beans, flaxseed, shrimp
• Calcium: dairy, leafy greens, soups and broths
• Dietary fat: coconut oil, olive oil, lard, tallow
• Gelatin: skin, joints, bones
STEP 3: BALANCE
Fiber—lots of it
Cutting out refined carbohydrates will effectively create microbial chaos in your body, and you will have to rebalance the microbial populations in your mouth and gut. To do this, you need a balance of probiotics to deliver and replenish the 'good' flora in your microbiomes and prebiotics to feed those benevolent bacteria.
Eating more vegetables is a simple and healthy way to do this. Basing every meal on a good foundation of vegetables helps deliver the full range of soluble and insoluble fiber your microbes need to function properly.
It's important to add probiotics—along with prebiotics—to your diet to balance your microbiome. There's a huge trend for taking probiotic supplements, but the best source of beneficial microbes is food itself. The microbes that live in cultured food replenish and reinvigorate the good bacteria in your gut. Every meal should be carefully crafted to keep the 'good' microbes thriving and prevent the harmful ones from taking over.
Probiotics are found in fermented foods. To keep your microbiome healthy, you should aim to have two to three doses of fermented foods per day—equivalent to just one spoonful of sauerkraut per meal. Other sources of probiotics include pickled vegetables, kombucha, kimchi, active cultured yogurt, cheese, butter, kefir, miso, ciders and vinegars.
Prebiotics (fermentable fibers)
The different types of fiber are classified as soluble and insoluble, but a more useful classification might be fermentable and nonfermentable. Prebiotics are the soluble fibers that specific microbes consume, via fermentation in the colon, to produce short-chain fatty acids. Two such prebiotics have been identified, inulin and fructo-oligosaccharide, that we know bacteria can convert to short-chain fatty acids. It's important to eat plenty of the foods that contain them, including artichokes, asparagus, onions, leeks, bananas, chives, chicory root, dandelion greens and garlic.
There are many other types of fiber that we don't fully know how our bodies process. Still, many of them are likely to benefit our microbiome, and that's why we should consume other types of fiber in a wide variety of vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds. As in all things, diversity is key.
How to beat sugar cravings
If a sugar craving sets in, try one of the following antidotes to keep yourself from reaching for a sugary treat.
• 1 Tbsp coconut oil: The medium-chain triglycerides in coconut oil will be absorbed quickly into your bloodstream, and this often stems sugar cravings.
• 1 Tbsp melted butter: Good, old-fashioned butter helps you feel satisfied, plus has a vitamin-rich dose of fat.
• 1 Tbsp sauerkraut: Even though it's not very sweet, sauerkraut helps reverse the body's craving for sugar.
• 1 handful spiced nuts, especially Brazil nuts, which are high in selenium, an element that reduces cravings for sweets.
• 1 handful coconut chips.
• A hot (or cold) shower. Resetting your body temperature can often disrupt the cycle of craving.
• Exercise! Go for a walk, run, or do 10 push-ups, jumping jacks or star jumps.
• Green tea or peppermint tea.
Breakfast or lunch
Green Frittata, serves 2
3 green onions
1 bunch baby spinach
1 bunch basil, chopped
1 bunch parsley, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 handful pumpkin seeds
2 Tbsp coconut oil or lard
½ cup cream
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 Chop green onions, zucchini and spinach into small, roughly even-sized pieces.
2 Cook basil, parsley, green onions, zucchini, spinach, garlic and pumpkin seeds in coconut oil or lard in a medium-size sauté pan for 5 minutes, until lightly softened.
3 Whisk in eggs. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes and turn over until both sides are brown. Add cream and olive oil, and pour over cooked vegetables.
Spice to taste.
As you embark upon the program, it's important to make sure your body has enough of the three main fat-soluble vitamins—A, D and K2—as well as their supporting nutrients. They'll aid your dental healing and, of course, your overall health. The following supplemental foods will make sure you get them.
Extra-virgin cod liver oil: Take daily, as directed on the package. (Warning: You should always read labels and stick to recommended dosages of cod liver oil to prevent an overdose of vitamin A.)
Sunlight: Our bodies synthesize vitamin D from sunlight, so the best supplement for vitamin D is spending 30 minutes a day in sunlight whenever possible. Cod liver oil is the best natural alternative source. Some people will additionally need a vitamin D supplement; be sure to talk to your doctor and get your blood levels checked to address your personal needs. (See page 76 for WDDTY's pick of vitamin D supplements.)
Emu oil or high-vitamin butter oil: To make sure you're getting enough of the crucial vitamin K2, you can take high-vitamin butter oil or emu oil in capsules (as directed) or 1 teaspoon per day, after the largest meal of the day. For supplementation you can take 150 to 200 milligrams of MK7 vitamin K2. (Warning: If you take warfarin, you should talk with your doctor before supplementing or changing your intake of vitamin K1 or K2.)
If you don't have time to cook your own bone broth, you can buy collagen powder. Make sure it's sourced from grass-raised animals. Mix it with soup or hot water.
Apple cider vinegar
This is one of the easiest fermented foods to obtain. You can buy it from almost any grocery or health food store. Add it cold to salads or add a tablespoon to a glass of water. (Take one "dose" per day for better digestion.)
Homemade chicken or beef broth. Add this broth to meals when you can. One cup a day is great. (Tip: If you can't cook beef broth, add collagen powder to soups or hot water.
Homemade fermented food of your choice
Shoot for two to three small servings per day of sauerkraut, kefir or kombucha.
If you experience symptoms of dairy intolerance, replace dairy products with almond milk, coconut milk, coconut yogurt or coconut kefir when possible.
Adapted from The Dental Diet by Dr Steven Lin (Hay House, 2018)