Saturday, June 29, 2013

Should your Teeth and Heart Follow Two Different Diets?

There's a lot of conflicting dietary advice around, but conventional wisdom contradicts itself on diet for a healthy heart v. diet for healthy teeth. The commonly recommended heart-healthy diet is low-fat, little meat, lots of whole grains, and fruits and vegetables. That doesn't quite square with "Foods and Drinks Best for Your Teeth" from that pillar of medical dogma,

The best food choices for the health of your mouth include cheeses, chicken or other meats, nuts, and milk. These foods are thought to protect tooth enamel by providing the calcium and phosphorus needed to remineralize teeth (a natural process by which minerals are redeposited in tooth enamel after being removed by acids).

Other food choices include firm/crunchy fruits (for example, apples and pears) and vegetables. These foods have a high water content, which dilutes the effects of the sugars they contain, and stimulate the flow of saliva (which helps protect against decay by washing away food particles and buffering acid). Acidic foods, such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, and lemons, should be eaten as part of a larger meal to minimize the acid from them.

Take away the apples, pears and milk, or limit them greatly, and you have a low-carb diet. They add,

The more often you eat and snack, the more frequently you are exposing your teeth to the cycle of decay.

What--no little meals throughout the day? Well, if you're eating just chicken, other meat, cheese, nuts, and crunchy vegetables (i.e., no potatoes), you probably won't need to constantly snack because with little starch and sugar, you shouldn't have roller coaster blood sugar levels and frequent appetite throughout the day. Further,

Poor food choices include candy -- such as lollipops, hard candies, and mints -- cookies, cakes, pies, breads, muffins, potato chips, pretzels, french fries, bananas, raisins, and other dried fruits. These foods contain large amounts of sugar and/or can stick to teeth, providing a fuel source for bacteria.

So those heart-healthy whole grains aren't so good for your teeth. For benefit of those who don't cook, starch is sticky. Fat isn't. Fatty food (without starch or sugar) doesn't even get stuck in your braces. But starch (which turns into glucose on digestion) not only sticks to your teeth and braces, it sticks to certain proteins in your body in a process called glycation (see AGE or advanced glycation end products). In laymen's terms, it gums up the works of different cells and eventually causes serious health problems including heart disease.

Starch and sugar provide a fuel source for bacteria not only in your mouth, but throughout your body. There's a school of thought that infection contributes to or causes heart disease.

Conventional wisdom tells us that whole grains and a starch-based diet are good for your heart, but bad for your teeth. On the other hand, cheese is good for your teeth, but too fatty for your heart. There's low-fat cheese out there, along with a thousand other low-fat products, but have foods that are good for both hearts and teeth been around for only a few generations since someone created them in a lab?

Humans and our ancestors have had two and a half million years to adapt to a diet of mostly protein and fat  along with plenty of cholesterol, but with little starch and sugar. To be sure, we didn't evolve perfectly and our paleo ancestors didn't enjoy perfect health. But it's an extraordinary claim to say that the heart--an organ that has to work pretty much perfectly at all times--isn't adapted to the diet we evolved on, and yet our teeth are very well adapted to such a diet, even though you can get cavities or lose some teeth and, even without dental care, go on living. If anything, it seems to me that vital organs with no backup (the heart, brain, liver and pancreas) would be the best adapted to our evolutionary diet. That low-carb and ketogenic diets are so therapeutic for patients with heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy and diabetes points in this direction.

Except in some special cases, there's no heart diet, GI diet, dental health diet, and so on. There are just good health diets.


Anonymous said...

That's a really useful point to make, Lori! Great post :)


Lori Miller said...

Thanks, Carole.