We are what we eat


  Posted by: anna.lambert      22nd September 2017


By Rachel Pointer

In early 2016, data from UK households who took part in a survey that documented food and drink habits between 1974-2000 was published.[i] We now eat less white bread, offal and fewer varieties of fish, but more pasta, pizza and chips. The purchase of ready meals went up fivefold between 1974 and 2000, with consumption of canned vegetables dropping by over a third in the same period.

There have also been huge shifts in how we eat. Whereas a hearty breakfast, lunch and dinner at defined times was the norm not too long ago, nowadays the rules are looser. We don’t always stop to eat. Snacking or eating between meals used to be frowned on; biscuits or cake were often only bought out for guests or for a treat.

A snack is generally defined a bar or packet of something that is cheap, requires no preparation and can be consumed anywhere. Brits love to snack and savoury snacks are the most popular choice; we eat more crisps than any other country in Europe.[ii] But snacks are no longer something small to keep us going until mealtime. Crisps and chocolate bars are available in super-sized packets and the calorie content of many popular snacks is higher than we think. So-called ‘healthy’ snacks, such as cereal bars, are often full of sugar. We must not forget calorific and high-fat beverages, either. Energy or sports drinks are massively popular and we have a thriving coffee shop culture that did not exist in the 1970s.

If size matters, should certain snacks be upgraded to ‘meal’ status instead? Although some health professionals advocate grazing on five or six mini meals as alternative to three big ones for a range of health benefits “in relation to appetite control, bodyweight management and improved blood glucose control in diabetics and pre-diabetics”[iii], this only works if people know what an appropriate portion size is.[iv]

Dental professionals must address the needs and changing habits of the modern patient and help them think about what they are eating. If snacks or mini meals are the reality of how they eat, help them make healthier choices. Cheese or unsalted nuts are better than crisps and chocolate for teeth (although not so good for waistlines). Get them to think about portion size and remind them that it is OK to stop when they are full! Alongside nutrition advice, teaching them how to brush using the correct technique and the best tools will keep their mouth clean and remove debris left over from regular meals and snacks. The comprehensive range from Tandex, including interdental brushes, is suitable for all ages and dental needs and supported by adjunctive products, including a mouthwash containing fluoride and chlorhexidine.

Going out to eat frequently, snacking more, bigger portions – the way we eat has changed drastically in the last 40 years. Reiterating nutritional advice alongside good brushing technique will help us fight the snack attack and encourage patients to think about their teeth as well as their waistlines.

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Author Rachel Pointer qualified from Guys Hospital as a dental hygienist and began work in general dental practice in Hertfordshire.  After working as staff hygienist for Professor Naylor she was appointed tutor dental hygienist at Guys Hospital before working in Australia.  Rachel has experience in hospital, specialist periodontal practice and in the private sector as well as setting up a PDU within a cerebral palsy home in Essex.  Working for 10 years for the British Dental Hygienists Association as their information officer plus membership and careers co-ordinator she presently works at Addenbrookes Hospital and in general dental practice and a few year ago branched out to teach in a Montessori school setting.



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