Chew on This! Eating Smart for Back-to-School

Medical professionals as well as nutritionists all agree that combining healthy food choices with activity and exercise results in a higher performance from school age children.  Maintaining low sugar, fat and salt content in school lunches and snacks not only promotes a healthier body but also a healthier mind that is better prepared to understand and retain the information that is learned in the classroom.  By the same token, these “smarter” food choices can also help promote a stable oral environment that is low on disease and high on health!

Sugar, Fats and Salt…Oh my!

Tasty and often  very comforting , foods and beverages high in sugar make us feel happy and rewarded for a job well done.  The initial impact of donuts, cookies, candy, soda, and even fruit snacks can be described as euphoric and envelop children in a “sugar high”.  Consumption of these types of foods raises the blood glucose levels, providing a quick onset of energy.  Children have been observed becoming awakened and excited, in some cases their behaviors hyperactive.  Unfortunately, shortly after, what goes up must come down and so their energy levels crash.  The ensuing drop in blood sugar levels can leave them tired, unfocused and their brains less like a sponge and more like a brick!

Often mistaken for a healthy snack, “fruit snacks” rarely contain a measurable amount of natural fruit. On average, each single serving pack can contain nearly 3 teaspoons of sugar.  Rarely is one pack enough and so the sugar rollercoaster begins.  In addition, the sticky nature of these tidbits invites the added sucrose to remain in contact with the enamel covering of the teeth long after they have been chewed and swallowed.  This prolonged contact of sugar, combined with the bacteria in our mouths work together to produce damaging acids that weaken the hard enamel surface, causing cavities.  Refined carbohydrates like potato chips, white bread and rice (white starchy foods) are also sticky and begin changing into sugar before we even swallow, thereby leaving our teeth vulnerable to the subsequent acid production and potential cavities.

High levels of salty snacks have been linked to high blood pressure and force the heart to work harder. Foods higher in fat content have been linked to child obesity, especially with the observed increased inactivity as a result of playing video and computer games instead of running around outside.

Some beverages can also have hidden health consequences affecting performance and oral health.  Soda and powdered drink mixes are empty on nutrition and contain high amounts of sugar and calories contributing to obesity and diabetes.  And let’s not be fooled by sports drinks, as they also have been linked to an increase in caries rate in children, as this is often a drink of choice amongst young athletes, and sometimes crosses over into lunches and after school snack time.   Fruit juices contain sugar and when consumed in large quantities can have the same result as the other high sugared drinks.  In addition, any of these beverages sipped over a period of time, like having several juice boxes throughout the day, bathes the teeth in sugar and creates a prolonged exposure time to higher amounts of acid.

A good rule to follow is to allow juices and milk with meals and sticking to water all other times of the day.

Keeping it Simple!

There seems to be so much for us parents and caregivers to think about before fueling our kids!   Am I causing harm?  Is it my fault they have a cavity?

Well, eating healthy and keeping our body, mind and teeth strong is easier than we think.  Natural food choices, high in fiber leads to our children feeling full longer, regulates digestion and keeps blood sugar on an even keel.  In addition, their teeth are exposed to less sugar and naturally cleaned by chewing raw crunchy foods, keeping acid production at lower levels.  Suggestions for school lunches and snacks include:

  • Raw baby carrots 
  • Apples
  • Nuts
  • Yogurt
  • Celery
  • Oranges
  • Grain Breads
  • Low/Non Fat Milk
  • Broccoli
  • Grapes
  • Cucumber
  • Melons

When fresh is not available, fruit cups in natural fruit juices provide some nutritional benefits while being kind to our teeth.  In addition, though thought to be taboo and responsible for cavities in young children when consumed in high quantities, raisins are most recently being thought to actually be helpful, as they possibly possess a natural occurring anti-cavity chemical.  However, their sticky consistency can compromise dental health, so tooth brushing and flossing after is encouraged.

Keeping young minds and bodies strong and healthy will only benefit our children and result in success in and out of the classroom.  A diet low in sugar, fat and salt will allow our children to be the very best they can be and reach their shining potential.

So grab a bottle of water, put out some baby carrots and humus, celery sticks smeared with peanut butter, light popcorn or whole grain crackers with cheese sticks and celebrate the fruits of your labor!

by Julia Guerra, RDH, BA


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