Do You Know what is bad for Your Teeth?

By Angela C Torrence, Nutritionist

A survey of my pediatric patients reveals that they are well aware of which foods to avoid in order to keep their teeth healthy. Sugar is bad for your teeth! The kids explain that they should avoid candy, chocolate, soda, and gummies, but apples and cheese are acceptable snacks instead. Despite the knowledge these kids (and adults) possess, they often leave out food items such as: granola, potato chips, and pasta as potentially hazardous to the teeth. And so, I present two very important questions: Why is sugar bad for the teeth?  And more specifically, What is sugar?

Cute little girl is looking at her colorful lollipop, isolated over white

Certain bacteria living in the mouth (primarily S. mutans) metabolize fermentable carbohydrates (a.k.a. sugars) when it is introduced into the oral cavity. This results in a decreased pH or more acidic saliva. When bacteria degrades “eats” sugar that is introduced into the mouth, the medium in which the bacteria live (e.g. plaque biofilm) becomes acidic in nature and dissolves essential minerals from the tooth surface. This weakened tooth surface can often become cavitated, think: acid erosion, commonly referred to as cavities.

In other words, when fermentable carbohydrates (sugars) such as cakes, candies, chocolates, bread, bagels, pasta, and even fruits enter the mouth, they create a spike in acid production, which can essentially dissolve tooth enamel. To clarify, it isn’t the sugar itself, rather, it is the acid production affected by the sugar that is bad for the teeth. Often times when we think of sugar, we think of the candy bars next to the checkout line in the grocery store, but I want to redefine sugar in everyone’s mind to include sandwich bread, breakfast bagels, granola bars, pasta dishes and garlic bread, flavored yogurts, and even many sauces so that when your hygienist or dentist tells you to avoid sugars, he or she isn’t just referring to the soda and candy bar snacks.

You may have noticed that I included fruit in the list of harmful sugars to the mouth. While it is true that fruit contains fructose and sugar alcohols which can increase acid levels in the mouth, most fruits are also high in water content, which helps to wash away some of the sugar. While I would never instruct an individual to avoid fruit as they are extremely healthy and irreplaceable, I do instruct my patients to rinse with, or simply drink water after eating in order to wash away some of the sugar from the mouth. As always, be sure to brush at least 2x daily and floss daily in order to reduce the bacterial count in the mouth.

One more thing worth mentioning: Wait at least 30 minutes from the end of your meal to the time you brush your teeth to prevent self-inflicted damage to the enamel. Studies reveal that the acidic pH in the mouth occurs during mealtime, and continues for approximately 20-30 minutes after you finish eating.  This means that if you brush your teeth immediately after eating, you not only move the acidic plaque bacteria around the entire mouth, but you can cause additional damage to the acid-weakened enamel from your toothbrush bristles during that time. Dr. Greger discusses the research behind fruit and oral health in his video on NutritionFacts.

We’re not advocating avoiding fruits and breads, just keep in mind that you might want to brush your teeth after every meal.

Certainly, sugar should be avoided. However, the best cure for good dental health is to regularly brush and floss. You’ll also be helping your mouth out but moderating on the sugar intake. Remember to go to Fill Your Plate for all your nutrition information and recipes.


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The History of Adding Sodium

By Lisa Kaschmitter, Arizona State University Nutrition Student


Sodium levels in food and the way a high daily intake of sodium affects our bodies has become a major topic in health and nutrition. Many people have reduced their use of salt in home cooked recipes because of their concerns about sodium. Although this helps reduce overall intake, the foods that really drive high-sodium levels are restaurant meals, processed foods, and prepackaged meals. The sodium from these sources makes up over 75% of sodium in our diets.1


The daily recommended limit for sodium is 2,300 milligrams for the majority of individuals, but they recommend limiting sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams in some circumstances.2 You may recognize different wording that is used by the FDA when talking about sodium intake. For many vitamins, minerals, and nutrients they have a daily-recommended intake when it comes to sodium they use the word limit because our bodies need to intake very little sodium to function properly.1


The Ill Effects of Too Much Sodium

There are many negative health effects of consuming too much sodium. For starters, there are strong links between high blood pressure and sodium intake.1 High blood pressure can translate into major, even life-ending health problems. Cardiovascular conditions including an elevated risk of heart attack and stroke are influenced by high blood pressure.1 A solution to this high blood pressure problem has been to reduce a person’s intake of processed and prepackaged foods, and reduce the frequency of restaurant meals.1


A great benefit of cooking at home is being more in control of the sodium levels in food. Many people worry that in order to cut back on sodium they must completely cut out canned products that are much more cost effective to use. Although it is true that canned products can have high amounts of sodium, it’s still possible to utilize canned foods for home cooking. The most important thing to do is to read the label.


Many products are available in low-sodium or no-sodium versions. It can be a fun grocery shopping game to compare the labels of the reduced-sodium foods to that of their full-sodium counterparts. For instance, 1 cup of canned green beans has 800 milligrams of sodium, while 1 cup of reduced sodium green beans only contains 400 milligrams of sodium.3 Both contain no cholesterol, 2 grams of fiber, 2 grams of protein, and 40 milligrams of calcium.3 They taste identical as well.


The History of Sodium in Our Diets

So if sodium is a major contributor to such negative health effects, why does so much of it end up in our foods? In order to understand this, we must examine the history of sodium use in food. Historians do not know when sodium was first introduced into our diets, but they do know there is evidence of the use of salt containing nitrates in 850 B.C.4 It played the same very important role it is used, for now, to preserve foods.1,4 The process of salting meat to preserve food is known as curing, and it dates back to the time of Homer, and Greeks and Romans were known to use the process as well.4


It was discovered in the 20th century that nitrate played a key role in preserving the redness of meat, because of the inhibition of the Clostridium botulinum organism that caused the meat to gray with age.5 The main uses of sodium have not changed through all this time. It is still used to preserve foods, to enhance flavor, and to improve the appearance of processed foods.1 When foods of today are processed they sometimes pick up unusual tastes that, as consumers, we might not like. These bitter and off tastes can be mitigated by the taste of salt.1 Sodium can also increase the shelf life of foods, and prevent bacteria from growing.1 Appearance-wise it can help to restore appetizing colors that may be lost during the processing of foods and it can stabilize textures that may otherwise change over time.1


If you want to avoid excess sodium in your diet, there are a few huge culprits to watch out for that you may not think of. The American Heart Association recommends people check labels to find low-sodium options for breads, rolls, cold cuts and cured meats (such as deli meats), and premade soups.6 They also recommend avoiding many poultry products due to increasing sodium content with certain preparation methods.6 Lastly, pizza and sandwiches can quickly add up to more than the recommended daily limit for sodium intake.6 In pizza, the bread and cheese are the major culprits. Try a flatbread with less cheese and more veggies to reduce sodium levels on this favorite. With sandwiches, it’s not only the bread and cheese but also the deli meat. They suggest half a sandwich with a side salad, or you can skip the cheese, half the meat, and add extra veggies.6 With either option your blood pressure and heart will thank you for it.



  1. Get The Facts: The Role of Sodium in Your Food. Centers for Disease Control. CDC. June 2012. Web. 30 November 2015.
  2. Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. USDA. Department of Health and Human Services. February 2015. Web. 30 November 2015.
  3. Calorie King. Calorie King Site. 2015. Web. 30 November 2015.
  4. Meat Curing. Frederick K. Ray. Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service. n.d. Web. 30 November 2015.
  5.  Historical Origins of Food Preservation. Brian A. Nummer. National Center for Home Food Preservation. May 2002. Web. 30 November 2015.
  6. The Salty Six- surprising foods that add the most sodium to our diets. Suzie Sodium. American Heart Association. 7 October 2014. Web. 30 November 2015.
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Advantame: the Newest Sweetener on the Market

By Lisa Kaschmitter, Arizona State University Nutrition Student


Have you heard about the newest sweetener to arrive in our U.S. market? About a year ago, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the introduction of advantame. Advantame is a new artificial ingredient boasting 20,000 times the sweetness of regular table sugar (gram per gram). 1 High-intensity sweeteners, (as they have been dubbed by the industry), are nothing new. Most Arizonans are familiar with seeing other FDA approved artificial sweeteners such as Equal, Splenda, and Sweet’N Low available on the table at restaurants, as well as a familiar staple in many homes.



Graph source:


Consumers and companies may consider the approval of this sweetener a win-win because this sweetener is a low-calorie sweetener and because of its potency, less will be needed to create a product, therefore lowering company production costs.2 Another consumer benefit that the FDA notes is that these high-intensity sweeteners typically do not raise blood sugar levels which helps companies cater products to people who suffer from illnesses that are effected by sugar intake and insulin levels, such as diabetes.2


What is Advantame?


Advantame is water-soluable and free flowing which means it is available to be used as a tabletop sweetener, while also having applications in baking, beverages, frozen desserts, and many more areas where sweetener is used.2 The advantame website states that:


“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Advantame, an innovative new sweetener, for general use in foods and beverages. Due to its excellent taste and functionality along with very low cost in use, advantame can be used to partially replace sugar, high fructose corn syrup or other high potency sweeteners. Since advantame blends well with caloric and non-caloric sweeteners, it provides food and beverage companies with an opportunity to reduce calories and manage their sweetness costs. Advantame extends sweetness duration in chewing gum and improves the sweetness profile of many confections. Maintaining the same sweet taste profile with less caloric sweetener can now be achieved with Advantame”3


The FDA cites the data from 37 animal and human studies to show advantame is a safe alternative to traditional sugar.1 These studies researched effects on the reproductive system, immune system, developmental system, and nervous systems.1 Although these tests showed no negative effects, many people still have concerns over the long-term effects. There were 4 human trials analyzed by the FDA, the longest of which, running for a 12-week time frame.4 These studies also were noted for their small sample size.4 Scientists agree that a larger sample size lead to more sound application of results.


Advantame contains phenylalanine, which is also a component of aspertame. Aspertame has been linked to many negative health effects if an individual consumes it over many years. Phenylalanine also can be difficult to metabolize for people with Phenylketonuria, (a rare genetic disorder). 5 The FDA attempts to clear concerns about both issues by reminding consumers that advantame is so sweet that it can be used in smaller amounts to produce the same sweet effect that aspertame needs larger quantities for and that artificial sweetener is just one of many sources of phenylalanine in the diet.4


One concern of those who suffer from Phenylketonuria is that advantame does not have to be labeled as an ingredient in products that use it.6 Their reasoning for this is that the levels of advantame that will be used to create an individual product are so small, that labeling is not necessary for public safety.6 This lack of labeling will make it hard for people who wish to track their intake, to know how much of an ingredient is being consumed during their daily lives.


Currently advantame is approved for use in the the United States, Mexico, the E.U., Austrailia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Taiwan.3




  1. Additional Information about High-Intensity Sweeteners Permitted for use in Food in the United States. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA, 25 May 2016. Web. 23 November 2015.
  2. FDA Approves New High-Intensity Sweetener Advantame. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA, 19 May 2014. Web. 23 November 2015.
  3. Advantame. Ajinomoto. Ajinomoto. n.d. Web. 24 November 2015.
  4. Food Additives Permitted for Direct Addition to Food for Human Consumption; Advantame. Federal Register. FDA. 21 May 2014. Web. 24 November 2015.
  5. FDA Approves New Artificial Sweetener. Melissa Healy. Los Angeles Times. 21 May 2014. Web. 24 November 2015.
  6. Coming your way- aspartame on steroids. Jenny Thompson. Dr. Leonard Coldwell. Web. 24 November 2015.
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5 Foods to help Replenish your Moisture

By Angela C Torrence, ASU Nutrition Student


Summer is around the corner; Arizona will be hot. As a result, do you feel the need to constantly battle dehydration? After moving west, I had to figure out what I could do to keep myself from feeling dry all the time.


One of the first critical moves was to carry a water bottle with me at all times. While water is a necessary part of staying hydrated, food has to become a part of the equation too, especially when you live in the dry West. The following foods are examples of hydrating foods which should become a part of your water-rich diet.


  1. Celery – Low in calories and high in fiber, celery is about 95 percent water. It can be a great and easy snack which adds water to your body!


  1. Watermelon – According to Live Science Contributor, Jessie Szalay, watermelons are roughly 92 percent water with a good amount of electrolytes to help keep you hydrated.


  1. Coconut water – An excellent fluid to hydrate and replenish electrolytes and potassium, keep your coconut water unsweetened to reduce excess sugar. Coconut water is good to help prevent muscle spasms and cramps as it helps to improve nervous system function too.


  1. Aloe Juice – Anti-inflammatory, aloe juice is mostly water with great hydrating properties. It can help promote digestive health and improve the appearance of skin.


  1. Chia Seeds – These little seeds can absorb about 10x their weight in water and can help prolong hydration by holding onto water and electrolytes. You should pre-soak the chia before consuming in order to keep the hydrating properties. Naturally high in omega 3s and soluble fiber, this superfood can be a great addition to your diet!


While nothing can replace water, these foods can help supplement your body’s hydration and help you keep your moisture.


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3 Liquid Sweeteners You Need to Know More About

By Angela C Torrence, ASU Nutrition Student


I was about to put honey in my tea when I realized agave nectar might have a better flavor for that particular tea. That’s when I questioned, putting flavor aside, which liquid sweetener is the best for me? In my house I have maple syrup, honey, and agave as viable options. I know there are a number of other sweeteners such as molasses, brown rice syrup, or barley malt syrup, but I want to focus on these three commonly used sweeteners. When health benefits, glycemic index, and the likelihood of these sweeteners to make me fat come into consideration, I want to make the best decision in my foods.

honey in a spoon on white background


Produced by bees, it is antibacterial and antifungal. Honey can aide in weight loss (in small amounts), provide a pre-workout boost of energy, provide antioxidants, and it contains vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, calcium, and iron. Honey may improve the appearance of skin and if used topically, it might assist in wound management. If you want to keep the healthful benefits, avoid cooking with honey as the heat might harm some of the healthful benefits.


Comparing raw honey to the runnier, processed version sold in stores, I found two very differing glycemic indexes. I found the raw honey glycemic index to be 30, while standard (more processed) honey’s glycemic index was 55. I would consider honey a better alternative to sugar with sugar’s glycemic index of 68.


Remember to check out Fill Your Plate’s product drop down. Several of our farmers also harvest honey from bee hives.


Maple Syrup

Boiled sap from maple trees makes this delicious syrup! Maple syrup contains calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and has a great amount of manganese. The majority of maple syrup is sourced from Canada and is graded based upon how much light passes through the liquid.


It can be a good post-workout replenisher with manganese and zinc that aid in muscle recovery. It can also be a good pre-workout boost with the simple carbohydrates. Still a high source of sugar with a glycemic index of 54, I would consider maple syrup a better alternative to sugar.



Agave Syrup

Filtered and heated sap from the agave plant, agave syrup is a relatively new addition to popular liquid sweeteners used in America. The taste may be preferred to other sweeteners, but according to one article, the beneficial properties of true agave nectar are not shown in the “agave nectar” sold in our grocery stores. In fact, the sweetener sold in stores would be more accurately labeled as agave syrup since it is further processed from agave nectar. The touted health benefits of agave are primarily based off of its low glycemic index of 15, which is preferable for diabetics.


However, the high fructose content in agave syrup which is more slowly absorbed and processed by the liver can become converted into fat if consumed in excess. I would consider agave sweetener sparingly if the flavors of other sweet alternatives are incompatible with my food.


With so many liquid and granulated sweeteners available, it can be difficult to choose which ones to use. The more natural sweeteners are preferable to the highly processed counterparts, but in this country where obesity is on the rise, it is absolutely imperative to limit all sweetener intake in favor of whole foods. Your body and your waist line will thank you.

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