We regularly get emails from people in our community asking some really great questions. Many of our answers become posts on the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ board on our site.
Just today, I answered this question and thought you might benefit hearing our reply as well. (Thanks to Emma G. for reaching out to ask!)
“Can fruit be part of a healthy (cavity-free) diet?”
Or to put it another way… “Does eating fruit cause tooth decay?”
We believe that fruit can play a part in a cavity-free diet provided we keep a few key points in mind. Unlike many foods that are more obvious whether they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for us, depending on a few factors, fruit can either contribute to or undermine our oral health.
We all get that fruits are a good source of many photo-nutrients, including anti-oxidants which help us stay healthy and vital. So how can we weave fruits into our diet without undermining our oral health?
Let’s first grasp the main reason that causes fruit to be either health-giving or health-undermining for us…
We are hardwired to crave sweet food
Throughout human history, starvation has been a very real threat to survival. (Unfortunately, it’s still a very real threat for many people, but given the fact that you are reading this, it may not be a threat for you now.)
We are biologically hardwired to appreciate sweet flavors because eating a load of sugar at one time is going to convert the sugars to body fat that the body can save to burn as energy during a lean time.
This has been ok throughout human history until the obvious downfall… The availability of sugar-laden foods 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in every corner convenience store or coffee shop.
This over-availability of sugar causes a very real challenge to modern humans.
How the ‘sweet tooth’ shows up in our culture…
How does it impact our developing awareness as a toddler to hear, “You’re so sweet!”? Does it cause us to equate sweet with good?
Contrast that with, “Why the sour face?” or worse, “He is a bitter old man”, and we begin to see just how much this sweet flavor affinity impacts our psyche.
Is it any wonder why tooth decay is rampant in our society?
So, with this, let’s see how we can make sure fruits help us and don’t undermine our efforts toward a cavity-free life…
The problem with sugars (even fruit sugar)
Like we detailed in “Why teeth decay (and how to stop it)”, the issue with dietary sugar is that it causes a complete breakdown of the body’s natural system to remove the bacteria implicated with tooth decay from our teeth.
Called dentinal fluid transport, this amazing system is governed by a balance of phosphorus in our blood. The takeaway here is that regular sugar consumption throws off this balance, which causes the dentinal fluid cleaning system to go into reverse. This is really bad news if we want to live a cavity-free life.
In addition to the impact sugar has on dentinal fluid transport, there is also an ‘in the mouth’ aspect to how sugar influences the microbes and pH in our mouth. To explore this more, check out our article, “The perfect storm for tooth decay”.
So, how can we mitigate this damage and still get the benefit (and enjoyment) of eating fruits?
The biggest factors relate to the fact that we’re hardwired to crave the sweet flavor.
It’s all about quantity…
I recently told the following story in an article titled, “4 simple ways to help remineralize your child’s teeth“. If you didn’t catch that article, here’s a quick story from my childhood that we commonly use to explain the ‘how much fruit is ok’ answer.
As a child, my mother would put a little cardboard box of raisins in my lunch during the school week. I’m sure she thought she was doing something good for me. After all, she didn’t send me to school with a bag full of cookies (however, I certainly ate my share after coming home from school!).
But the issue with this is the sheer quantity of sugar in that little box of raisins for a growing child.
These ‘healthy snacks for kids’ have a whopping 25 grams of sugar and 34 grams of total carbs (carbs are sugar).
In the body of a small child, this little box of raisins will spike the blood sugar to the moon and definitely imbalance the body’s innate ability to resist tooth decay.
That would be the equivalent as me eating 4-5 of those boxes of raisins at a time and consuming 150+ grams of sugar. Talk about stress on the body!
The game is to keep the size of your child in mind when considering how much fruit to serve them. In our view, a whole apple has much more sugar in it than a young child should eat at any one sitting.
So, portion your sweet snacks to take into consideration the size of your child.
The Frequency Factor…
Dr Ralph Steinman, the researcher who discovered the dentinal fluid transport system, determined that the very best way to cause this system to go haywire and destroy one’s oral health is to consume sweet snacks between meals.
In other words, we really have to stay present with the sheer number of times in a week that we choose to eat something sweet, particularly a sweet snack between meals.
What’s the takeaway?
If you’re going to eat some sweet food, consume it with a meal, particularly with this strategy…
Eat sweet foods with fats
If you want a sweet treat, make sure you have your fruit with plenty of health-giving fats.
This helps us in several ways.
1. Fat accentuates the sweet flavor.
That means that we can make something with less sugar in it and still have it appeal to our sweet tooth.
2. Fat helps us feel full faster.
Part of the problem with modern sweet foods is they are also made either low fat or with very unhealthy fats. Since our bodies have a limit to the amount of fat we can eat at a time, making the sweet food rich in quality fats allows you to eat less and satiate your sweet tooth faster. (You know that you’ve crossed that fat limit when you hit that I-can’t-take-another-bite feeling.)
3. Fats help slow digestion and provide a slower absorption of sugars into the bloodstream.
Slower uptake of sugars into our systems means that we aren’t going to spike our blood sugar, which will put less stress on our dentinal fluid system.
Watch out for really acidic fruits…
We have a friend who destroyed his teeth by drinking a half gallon of fresh squeezed orange juice everyday. He would drink the orange juice throughout the day, and the constant citric acid bath on his enamel day after day destroyed his teeth.
Called ‘acid dissolution’, this is a very real risk to our oral health. If you want a deeper dive on this, check out our article ‘How to drink kombucha and not destroy your teeth’.
Also, remember that whenever you have any acidic foods or drinks, be sure to rinse your mouth with water after the acidic food/drink to mitigate the acid challenge on your enamel.
Incidentally, this is why we avoid eating pineapple. Even though it’s a super local food for us here in Hawaii, for us, the risks outweigh the benefits.
Our top choices for fruits…
To get the biggest phyto-nutrient benefit in relation to the amount of sugar, we really prefer organic dark berries.
Hands down, fresh blueberries are our favorite. Second up are organic raspberries and blackberries. Third place goes to cherries and honorable mention to organic strawberries (quite a way down the list in health benefit, really).
For a deeper dive on what to eat (and not to eat) to navigate this path to a cavity-free life, be sure to download our FREE resource guide, “How to stop tooth decay and remineralize your teeth” here.
One of our family’s favorite sweet treats…
As an OraWellness first, we’d like to share one of our favorite desserts that brings together a few of these qualities.
While not specifically made from berries, this dessert definitely will provide you plenty of sweetness while maximizing your fat consumption. We find that a spoon or two of this delectable treat easily hits the spot for a sweet something after dinner.
Lemon Curd recipe…
Full disclosure, this lemon curd recipe that we use is very rich in quality fats and is not vegetarian/vegan friendly (but feel free to modify it to suit your dietary needs/restrictions). We have found that our family can share a serving of this as 1-2 spoons is enough to satisfy our desire for dessert.
Prep time: 15-20 minutes, best to make early and set to cool.
Servings: 2-4 (depending on palate 🙂
6 pastured egg yolks
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup honey (or less to taste)
2 tbsp water
1/2 cup organic butter (cold and cut into small pieces)
1. In a double boiler, whisk together egg yolks, honey, lemon juice and water.
2. Once well blended, slowly add butter, 2 pieces at a time, constantly whisking.
3. As the pieces of butter melt and incorporate, continue to add butter until it’s all melted and fully incorporated.
4. Once all butter is incorporated, cook on double boiler 10-12 minutes, stirring regularly until curd thickens (like pudding).
5. Place into containers and set in refrigerator to cool.
Serve cold with multiple spoons. A little goes a long way! We are purists and like lemon curd by itself. But you could definitely add some fresh blueberries or raspberries after it’s cooled to bring some berry to the table.
How do you manage the fruit issue with your family? Have you found a way to successfully include fruits into your diet while keeping them in the necessary moderation so they are health-giving?
And, if you have enjoyed this different article from us, please let us know in the comments! Who knows, maybe we will start sharing more of our kitchen favorites here!
Helpful, Related Resources:
Why teeth decay (and how to stop it) [article]
The perfect storm for decay [article]
4 simple ways to help remineralize your child’s teeth [article]
How to drink kombucha and NOT destroy your teeth [article]
How to stop tooth decay and remineralize your teeth [FREE ebook download]