Got a picky eater in the family? Perhaps a six-year-old who won’t eat anything but hot dogs? Or an elderly parent who seems to eat nothing at all? If there are vital nutrients missing from a diet, one of the first places that there’s obvious trouble is in the mouth. Experts agree that the best way to get nutrients is through whole foods, so a shopping list that focuses on crucial vitamins and minerals while offering variety will ensure healthy, strong teeth and gums for every member of the family.
Calcium is perhaps the first nutrient that comes to mind when you think of growing strong teeth and bones. In saliva, calcium protects and strengthens tooth enamel, warding off decay and repairing areas that acid has damaged. Lean meats, milk, cheese and yogurt are great foods to give to your family, but fortified oatmeal or nut beverages (keep an eye on the sugar content!) will work too. Canned fish, such as salmon and sardines, have tiny, soft bones, that can make a valuable contribution to your intake along with dark, leafy greens such as kale, broccoli, spinach and collards. Don’t forget beans. Garbanzo, white, kidney and navy beans are all great sources of calcium and kids will often eat them when they reject other things on their plates. If you are catering to a vegetarian, tofu is worth considering in addition to fortified soy milk, soy beans and edamame.
Calcium can’t manage the job of building strong teeth alone. A crucial variety of nutrients are needed to ensure the calcium is assimilated optimally, such as vitamin D—a deficiency of which may decrease the absorption of calcium by as much as two thirds. Unfortunately, vitamin D is present naturally in very few foods and it is mostly produced when skin is exposed to sunlight. Because Americans spend a great deal more time indoors than their forefathers and we know that exposure to UV rays without sunblock can be hazardous, many foods are fortified with vitamin D to help us contend with an undersupply. Look for dairy products (such as yogurt), juices and cereals that have been fortified. In addition, fatty fish, beef liver, cheese, egg yolks and mushrooms all have a good amount of vitamin D.
Several other nutrients are important in assisting the absorption of calcium, such as potassium. Bananas, sweet potatoes and avocados have large amounts, as do tomatoes. Phosphorous, another crucial nutrient in the absorption of calcium, is found in a wide range of foods like fish, pork, beef, soybeans, lentils and pumpkin seeds. Finally, vitamin K, which blocks substances that break down bones, can be found in dark leafy greens.
Vitamin C will strengthen gums and the soft tissue in your mouth and can protect against gingivitis, which ultimately prevents your teeth from loosening. Vitamin C is generally found in foods that are mostly eaten raw, like fruits and salad greens. Kids’ favorites, such as kiwi, cantaloupe and strawberries, have high vitamin C content, so it can be easily slipped into almost any meal. Although not naturally present in grains, vitamin C is also found in some fortified cereals. A vibrant orange color, like is present in carrots and sweet potatoes suggests a high content of beta-carotene, which your body converts into vitamin A, a nutrient that is also essential for the protection of soft tissues and mucous membranes.
Despite your best efforts to round out any diet with whole foods, a multivitamin may be a valuable addition in your daily nutrient intake. Your physician can recommend one to suit each member of the family as well as the appropriate dosage. Make sure that everyone has regular checkups with their dentist, who may alert you at the first signs of a vitamin deficiency and will also be able to give you advice on the most nourishing ways to keep your mouth healthy.
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