We regularly get emails from people in our community who are asking some really great questions. Many of our answers become posts on the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ board on our site.
We recently answered this question and thought you might benefit from 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 that we keep a few key points in mind.
Unlike many foods that are more obviously ‘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 phytonutrients, including antioxidants (which help us stay healthy and vital).
So how can we weave fruits into our diet without undermining our oral health?
We’ll answer that question below, but first let’s explore why we crave sweets and the main factor 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 all at one time is going to trigger our body to convert the sugars into body fat that our systems can save to burn as energy during
This has been ok throughout human history until the obvious downfall that has shown up in modern, industrialized times: 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 when as a toddler we 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 to live a cavity-free life.
The problem with sugars (even fruit sugar)
As we explained 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 for removing the bacteria implicated with tooth decay from our teeth.
This amazing system (called ‘dentinal fluid transport’) is governed by a balance of phosphorus in our blood.
The takeaway here is this:
Regular sugar consumption throws off our blood phosphorus balance, which causes our 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
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 fruit?
It’s all about quantity…
I recently told a short story from my childhood 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 recap of my story, which we commonly reference in our answers to questions about how much fruit is ok.
As a child, my mother would send a little cardboard box of raisins with 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 of them after coming home from school!).
The issue here is the sheer quantity of sugar in that little box of raisins, especially 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. It will definitely imbalance the body’s innate ability to resist tooth decay.
That would be the equivalent of me eating 4 to 5 of those boxes of raisins at a time and consuming 150+ grams of sugar. Talk about stress on the body!
The key is to keep the size of your child in mind when considering how much fruit to serve them. From our view, a whole apple has much more sugar in it than a young child should eat in any one sitting.
So, portion sweet snacks according to 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.
What’s the takeaway?
We really have to stay mindful of the sheer number of times in a week that we choose to eat something sweet.
Also, if you’re going to eat some sweet food, it’s better to consume it with a meal (alongside plenty of healthy fats) than as a snack.
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 if we make something with plenty of healthy fats and less sugar, and it will still appeal to our sweet tooth.
2. Fat helps us feel full faster.
Part of the problem with modern sweet foods (and drinks) is that they tend to be either low-fat or made with very unhealthy fats.
Our bodies have a limit to the amount of fat we can eat at a time, so 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 every day. He would drink the orange juice throughout the day, and the constant citric acid bath on his enamel destroyed his teeth over time.
This very real risk to our oral health is called ‘acid dissolution’. If you want to take a deeper dive on this topic, check out our article, “How to drink kombucha and not destroy your teeth“.
Incidentally, this is why we avoid eating pineapple. Even though it was a super local food when we lived in Hawaii, to us, the risks outweigh the benefits.
Remember that whenever you consume any acidic foods or drinks, be sure to rinse your mouth with water (without lemon) right afterwards, to mitigate the acid challenge on your enamel.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s also best to avoid brushing your teeth right after having something to eat or drink, especially if that something was acidic.
Our top choices for fruits…
To get the biggest phytonutrient benefit with a lower 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 (which are really quite a way down the list in terms of health benefit).
For more information on what to eat (and what 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”.
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.
It’s not made from berries, but this dessert will definitely provide you plenty of sweetness while also maximizing your fat consumption. We find that a spoonful or two of this delectable treat easily satisfies our craving for a sweet something after dinner.
Lemon Curd recipe…
This lemon curd recipe that we use is very rich in quality fats. It is not vegetarian or 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 spoonfuls is enough to satisfy our desire for dessert.
Prep time: 15-20 minutes, best to make early and then set aside to cool.
Servings: 2-4 (depending on your 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)
- In a double boiler, whisk together egg yolks, honey, lemon juice and water.
- Once well blended, slowly add butter, 2 pieces at a time, constantly whisking.
- As the pieces of butter melt and incorporate into the mixture, continue to add butter until it’s all fully melted and mixed in.
- Once all butter is incorporated, cook on a double boiler for 10-12 minutes, stirring regularly until the curd thickens (like pudding).
- Portion 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.
Enjoy! (And remember to swish with plenty of clean water afterwards.)
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?
If you have enjoyed this different article from us, please let us know in the comments section below! Who knows, maybe we will start sharing more of our kitchen favorites here!
Helpful, Related Resources:
Frequently Asked Questions [support]
What causes tooth decay (AND How Can We Stop it?) [article]
The perfect storm for decay [article]
4 simple ways to help remineralize your child’s teeth [article]
Why eating healthy fats is our #1 diet hack to heal cavities [article]
How to drink kombucha and NOT destroy your teeth [article]
Can Brushing After a Meal Damage My Teeth? [article]
How to stop tooth decay and remineralize your teeth [Free ebook download]