Did you know that the foods you eat affect your whole body, including your mouth? It’s true! Spinach and beans keep your teeth strong, and tomatoes can prevent your teeth from coming loose prematurely. It is pretty amazing what a few veggies can do!
To help you maintain a healthy diet and meal planning routine, we talked with Katrina Samuels, a registered dietitian here in Arizona, about the impact that food has on our oral and overall health.
JA: Thank you for chatting with us, Katrina! We know how important good nutrition is for our oral and overall health, so we’re excited to learn more from you. Can you tell us a little about your background?
KS: I’ve been a dietitian for six years now and I work at an outpatient nutrition services company. I also recently started a virtual weight loss program for military spouses. My husband is retired military, and my father was also in the military. I grew up in Arizona and Germany but I’m originally from New York state. While my husband was active duty, we moved all around the world. Before I obtained my degree at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, I attended three different schools in two different countries. Being a military brat prepared me for that challenge.
JA: You really have traveled the world—which has probably given you insight into so many different foods and cuisines! Can you talk more about the connection between what we eat and our oral health?
KS: Vitamins and minerals wouldn’t be called such if they didn’t play an important role in the human body. We can’t survive or thrive without them. Food is the source of those nutrients and different foods have different nutrients. A variety of foods will have what’s needed to develop and maintain good oral health. Choosing meals that contain mostly carbohydrates may be less than ideal because of how the carbohydrates can affect your teeth (as they break down into sugar). Beverages such as soda and citrus juice can cause tooth decay. People still don’t understand this. They focus on the calories in soda, but I’ve seen young people rot their teeth because of soda. Fresh water is best.
JA: What are some of the best ways to think about good nutrition? Do you have some specific tips that would be helpful for people to follow?
KS: The best thing you can do for your health is eat a variety of foods. Especially whole foods. This is the best way to consume the nutrients you need. Highly processed food tends to have limited vitamins and minerals that your mouth craves.
Aim to include vegetables with meals most days of the week. Pair vegetables with lean protein like chicken or fish, starchy options like baked potatoes or beans, and healthy fats like avocados.
JA: What would be some examples of foods to eat that benefit our mouths and our smiles?
KS: Different foods have different nutrients. Incorporating foods that contain calcium, vitamin D, vitamin K2, phosphorus, zinc, and vitamin A is essential for good health and good dental health.
Without vitamin C our gums can bleed more easily. Without vitamin D or calcium our dental enamel becomes weak. Foods like broccoli, carrots, dark green salads, onions, bell peppers, cheese, dairy milk or plant-based milk, berries, apples, melons, nuts and seeds, fermented foods and lean meats like chicken or fish all contain nutrients that help protect your oral health.
JA: What do you personally love about being a dietitian?
KS: I love being able to provide people with hope about their health. When patients come to me, they usually have no idea how to eat properly and they feel stuck and helpless. The diet industry is a fraud and often causes chronic diseases to become worse. I take pride in teaching people the truth about good nutrition and how it affects their body.
JA: What does “healthy eating” mean to you?
KS: To me, eating healthy means eating for nutrition and enjoyment. I like balance. Plenty of vegetables, whole grains, protein, and healthy fats. I don’t restrict any foods. Fish and vegetables are my favorite foods.
JA: What’s the one piece of health advice you wish people wouldn’t follow?
KS: The one piece of health advice I wish people wouldn’t follow is to restrict food. I always tell my patients that foods aren’t bad, no matter what you’re eating. Food is food and its nutrients play a role in our bodies. I especially see this in the Hispanic community. Patients always tell me how they believe their traditional foods are bad, but it’s not true. These are false beliefs. Could you imagine thinking beans are bad? They’re so high in fiber and protein. Restrictions lead to stress-related eating habits and sometimes eating disorders. Focus on eating balanced meals and restrictions won’t be necessary.
JA: On the flip side, what’s the one piece of health advice you wish more people would follow?
KS: I wish people would understand you have to be patient and consistent. You’re not going to make lasting changes in 3 weeks, or even in 3 months. Our bodies work as a synergetic machine. Eat whole foods, limit sugar and alcohol, manage your stress and exercise most days of the week. And be consistent about it.
JA: That’s an easy message to digest (pun intended). Do you have a favorite recipe you like to whip up in the kitchen?
KS: I do have a favorite recipe! I’m not a huge fan of beans, but they’re such a superfood I had to find a way to enjoy them.
- One small onion, chopped
- Olive oil (a garlic flavored variety is nice)
- 8 oz. spicy turkey or spicy pork breakfast sausage
- 2 cans of soldier beans or pinto beans
- Sauté the onion in a bit of the olive oil.
- Add the spicy turkey or pork breakfast sausage and cook until browned.
- Add the cans of beans and allow them to heat through.
- Transfer to a dish and enjoy!