Health Tips from Dietitian Rachel Jeffery

Hi Everyone,

As winter sets in we all like to sit in front of the television on a cold, rainy night with our comfort foods such as chocolate, cake and hot drinks. But what damage are we doing to our teeth?

This week I will talk you about how to look after your teeth through food. We also check the latest on salt, sugar and fibre.

Tooth Decay
We all have been told that eating too much sugar and not brushing our teeth regularly can lead to tooth decay (dental caries). But did you know that having regular serves of diary foods can actually help prevent tooth decay?

Tooth decay is probably one of the most common diseases. Just about all of us suffer from decay at one point in our lives. It occurs when the bacteria in our mouth use carbohydrate or sugary foods to produce acids, which damage the enamel surface over our teeth. The enamel is a protective covering but once damaged causes a hole in the surface; tooth decay (or dental caries) begins.

Dairy foods contain casein, calcium and phosphorus. All these nutrients are beneficial for dental health.
Casein is the protein found in dairy foods. It can form a protective film over the enamel, on our teeth; this can prevent the acid formed in our mouth from attacking our teeth.

Calcium and Phosphorus are essential for the normal growth and maintenance of our teeth. Significant amounts of these minerals are found in our teeth, but are also present in our saliva, which helps to wash away sugars and replace any loss of these minerals on the tooth surface.

The Australian Dental Association recommends a small amount of cheese after eating sugary foods can help to prevent the attack of acid leading to tooth decay.

When looking at drinks, water and plain milk are our best choice. But if you are looking for something sweeter then flavoured milk is probably better than soft drinks and cordial as they contain casein, calcium and phosphorus.

After eating or drinking sweet foods you should always try to brush your teeth, if you can't do this at least rinse your mouth with some water. The other alternative is to eat some cheese or have a glass of milk. Always remember to have 3 serves of dairy foods each day, by doing this you are helping your bones as well as your teeth in the process.

For more information on dairy foods and dental health go to

Some salt in our diet is necessary for good health. It is needed for maintain water balance and blood pressure in our bodies. Salt is readily available in so many foods we eat. We do not need to add salt into our diet. Eating too much salt can lead to problem with high blood pressure.

It is recommended that we all keep our salt intake to <2300mg per day. This is the equivalent to ~ one teaspoon. That is not a lot of salt and most of us eat far more than that each day in the commercial foods we buy.

There are a variety of salt types on the market:

Rock salt and sea salt are the too main types. There is no difference between rock salt and sea salt as they all originally came from the same source. Though the sodium content varies slightly from 250-350mg/1gm

Vegetable style salts (garlic, celery and vegetable salt) range in sodium content from 45-300mg/1gm. These may not have any health advantages over regular table salt, so always read the label if you are looking for one with a lower sodium content.

So many of our commercial foods contain salt, so if you are trying to cut back on the amount of salt in your diet here are some foods that are known to be high in salt: stocks, gravies and sauces, processed meats (i.e. ham and bacon), cheese, canned vegetables. Look around you supermarkets for reduced or low salt varieties.

Over preference for salty foods is learned. It is possible to reverse this taste for salt by cutting back on the salt we add to cooking and at the table. It takes a few weeks for your taste buds to adapt so be patient and you will find that soon enough you aren't looking for the salt shaker.

Sugar and Honey
Many of us have a sweet tooth. We can't live without sweet foods such as chocolate cake, ice-cream and chocolate. But is sugar good for us or are we better eating honey?

Sugar is added to foods for flavour, texture, bulk and as a preserving agent. Sugar is found in many commercial foods we buy from sauces, canned fruits, desserts, lollies and soft drinks.

Sugar is part of the carbohydrate family and is the name given to the white crystals (sucrose) we use in our tea and coffee. But the word sugar actually incorporates 5 main products. They are:
Sucrose: or what most of us know as sugar. Small amounts are found in fruits and vegies. It is the main component of brown sugar, golden syrup, molasses and maple syrup.
Glucose: also known as dextrose. It is found in sweet fruits like grapes and berries. It is ½ as sweet as sucrose and is what we measure in our blood stream.
Fructose: is the sugar found in fruits, in small amounts in vegetables and honey. It is slightly sweeter than sugar.
Lactose: or milk sugar is the sweet taste in milk
Maltose: or malt sugar is the sugar from barley and wheat. It is about ½ a sweet as sugar

Sucrose or Sugar as we know it provides us a good source of energy, but unfortunately that is about it. It does not contain any protein, vitamins or minerals we need to health.

Like fats and oils, gram for gram white, brown or raw sugar contains the same amount of energy. So brown sugar is not healthier than normal white sugar it just has a stronger flavour.

What about honey?
Honey comes from bees and the flavour depends of the nectar collected by the bees. It about 20% water, so has a few less kilojoules than sugar. It does contain a few vitamins and minerals but they are insignificant for health.

When honey is produced from the nectar of plants, other substances from the nectar remain giving some honeys antiseptic or antioxidant properties.

But as with sugar, too much honey can raise blood glucose levels and lead to weight gain. So having a small amount of sugar or honey as apart of a healthy diet is not a problem, but as sugar is apart of so many foods we eat, all of us can afford to cut down the amount or sugars and honey we have in our diet.

You always hear Doctors and Dietitians telling us to eat more fibre. But how much do we really need and are some fibres better for us than others?

Fibre or dietary fibre is the part of plant food that is not digested in the small intestine, where most of the other food digestion takes place. The fibre moves largely unchanged into the large intestine or large bowel where it is fermented by good bacteria. This produces stool bulk (helping to eliminate waste products and some cholesterol) and gases that are very beneficial for health.

Eating foods high in fibre
It is recommended that we all eat at least 30g fibre each day. But most of us probably only eat about 2/3 of this each day. Eating more dietary fibre can help to keep the digestive system healthy and reduce the risk of constipation, diverticular disease, haemorrhoids and bowel cancer.

~30gm is equivalent to:
¾ cup Bran flakes or 2 whole wheat breakfast biscuits (5gm)
4 slices of Wholemeal/wholegrain bread (8gm)
3 pieces of fruit with skin (apple, pear and orange (10gm)
2 cups of vegies (10gm)

It is important to eat foods that contain both soluble and insoluble fibre.

Insoluble fibre has a laxative effect as it absorbs water to help soften the contents of the bowel, helping to keep the bowels regular. Insoluble fibre is also very filling. Foods higher in insoluble fibre include:
High fibre breads and cereals, the outer skins of fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds

Soluble fibre can help blood glucose control in diabetes and may help to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. Soluble fibre also slows stomach emptying, thus keeping us full for longer after eating. Foods higher in soluble fibre include: fruits and vegetables, dried beans, lentils and oats

So remember trying cutting back on the amount of salt and sugar in your diet will benefit your waistline and over all health. If you are eating sweet foods and can't brush your teeth straight away, having a piece of cheese or glass of milk will help lower your risk of tooth decay and don't forget we all could use an extra serve of fruit or vegies in our diet to improve our fibre intake.

Have a good week.

Rachel Jeffery
Accredited Practising Dietitian

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