Say Cheese

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by Dr. Joseph D. Lim

WHILE food may be seen by many as the culprit in bad teeth, it is not so. Brushing your teeth and flossing regularly prevent tooth decay and gum disease. A regular visit to the dentist is also a must to maintain healthy teeth. Having said that, it is pleasant to note that some foods may actually help in oral health care.

According to researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago, for example, chemical components in black tea inhibit the growth of glucosyltransferase, an enzyme that helps plaque adhere to tooth enamel. Eating crispy fresh fruits and vegetables stimulates the gums and enhances saliva secretion that helps rid sugars and food particles.

If water is food, then it is glorious food in maintaining good oral health. Water prevents stained and discolored teeth caused by drinking all those tea, coffee and red wine. But here’s the really good news, for spaghetti, pizza and pasta lovers: cheese reduces the demineralization of enamel and neutralizes acids formed in plaques and, much like fruits and vegetables, helps flush out the sugar by encouraging the secretion of saliva.

Cheese also contains alkali which neutralizes the acid left by the food on your teeth. Cheddar cheese reportedly has the highest alkali content. Cheese, according to nutrition and dietetics instructor Katie Eliot at the Saint Louis University Medical Center, “is actually one of the most concentrated sources of key nutrients including protein, calcium and vitamin A and can be found in many reduced fat versions.”

Portion control is, however, essential. This is because cheese is high in saturated fat. Eating cheese the size similar to, say, two diced tofu or tokwa is already equivalent to one-third of the daily recommended saturated fat. Not all cheeses are created equal, Eliot says. She recommends serving harder cheeses, which are aged longer and typically more flavorful. This means a little will go a long, saving you fat and calories.

Mozzarella, because it is made of water buffalo (carabao) milk naturally contains less saturated fat than most other cheeses; mozzarella is also the most popular cheese in the United States. There are many ways to enjoy cheese, says Eliot who recommends, among many others, fondue. Use different flavors and combine some reduced-fat cheeses with regular varieties, she says, adding that ideal dippers are vegetables and fruits.

In making the classic macaroni and cheese, use whole grain pasta and mix in reduced fat and strong flavored cheeses like Gouda and cheddar. Place small bites of cheese and vegetables in barbecue sticks and grill; to reduce fat, use mozzarella. Cottage cheese is another low-fat food ideal for dips. So there you have it. Not only is cheese a good ally in oral health care, it is also delicious food in many ways.

This is one instance when you can have your cake, or cheese, and eat it too – without pangs of guilt.
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Dr. Joseph D. Lim is  the Dean of the College of Dentistry, National University, President/CEO of Dr. Smile Dental Care & Laser Center and honorary fellow of the Asian Oral Implant Academy and the Japan College of Oral Implantologists. For questions on dental health, e-mail jdlim2008@gmail.com or text 0917-8591515.

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