Foundations of Good Oral-Systemic Health: Healthy Eating, Part 2

, we looked at some basics of healthy eating, such as enjoying a wide variety of veg and fruit. There are a few reasons for this, including care of the environment. (Breeding animals for food uses far more resources than growing crops.) But they’re also your best option for getting the full array of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and phytochemicals your body needs to effectively and efficiently do what it was designed to do.

Sure, you could take supplements, but your best source of nutrition is always whole, minimally processed food. For as Dr. Royal Lee pointed out years ago, a whole food – an orange, say, or broccoli – is a total nutritional package, a whole complex of compounds working synergistically. The vitamin C in that orange is only part of the story. It’s helped along by other components in the fruit, such as vitamin K, bioflavonoids and tyrosinase.

Vitamin C isn’t really vitamin C without those other compounds.

Yet most mass-marketed supplements – including those used to “fortify” processed food products – have only synthetic versions of the isolated nutrients. Unless you use whole food supplements, you’re not getting the full nutritional punch you may be seeking.

The Nutrients Your Teeth Especially Need

Generally speaking, all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients you need for good overall health are those you need for good oral health – for healthy teeth and gums and bone to support them. But some are especially important. Here’s a quick look at what they are, why they matter and foods that contain a lot of each.

Antioxidants
These include vitamins A, C and E, along with manganese, iodide, and a vitamin co-factor called CoQ10. As anti-inflammatory agents, antioxidants support healthy gum tissue. They also help keep the body a little less acidic, a little more alkaline, which (among other things) helps control the growth of oral biofilms (plaque).

While vitamin A is found only in animal-based foods, your body can synthesize it from beta-carotene, which is found in a wide variety of vegetables, including carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin, and dark leafy greens.

Oranges, grapefruit and other citrus are just the most well-known sources of C. You’ll also find good amounts in guava, red and green peppers, kiwi, strawberries and Brussels sprouts. Nuts and whole grains are great sources of E.

Nuts, seeds, tofu, beans, spinach and kale are all good sources of manganese, as is a variety of seafood. For iodide, look to foods like sea vegetables, cranberries, organic yogurt, strawberries, beans and cheese.

While some of the best sources of CoQ10 are meats, it’s found in some vegetarian foods, as well. These include avocado, spinach, sesame seeds, peanuts, olives, grapeseed oil, and sulfurous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower.

Vitamins D and K
These are both essential for maintaining strong teeth and supporting bone, and they work in tandem to help you better absorb calcium (yet another essential nutrient, which we’ll get to in a moment). Good vegan sources of K include dark, leafy greens, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, avocado, kiwi and grapes. It can also be found in meat and eggs.

D is something your body can make on its own with exposure to sunlight. About 10 to 20 minutes in the sun a few times a week is generally enough for the average person to produce enough of this nutrient.

Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc, Iron and Phosphorous
These minerals are critical for keeping both your teeth and the supporting bone strong and healthy through the ongoing process of remineralization – restoring minerals lost through everyday wear and tear and aging. Zinc also supports good immune function. It can be found in good amounts in spinach, nuts, seeds, beans and mushrooms, along with beef, lamb, pork, chicken and shellfish.

While dairy is probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think of calcium, there are plenty of vegetables rich in this mineral. Good calcium sources include dark, leafy greens, tempeh, tahini, soybeans, almond butter, broccoli and fennel.

Like vitamin K, magnesium is needed for you to be able to absorb calcium well. Here, too, we find a lot of usual suspects among good sources of this mineral: dark, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, beans, avocado and bananas. It’s also found in fish.

Iron is another nutrient that many people think you can only get from meat or other animal products, but there are a number of great vegan sources. These include tofu, cooked soybeans, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, white beans, spinach and lentils.

Peanut butter, whole grains, broccoli, corn, beans, nuts, sunflower seeds and garlic are all good plant-based sources of phosphorous. Cheese, turkey, beef and fish are also rich in this nutrient.