Does the idea of eating broccoli, carrots or spinach get your patients hyped? For most Americans, the answer to that question is likely no.
Most parents can understand the struggle of trying to encourage their children to eat vegetables, but it’s not just kids who resist them. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 90% of Americans don't eat the recommended 2-3 cups of veggies in their daily diet. This means most are not getting essential vitamins and nutrients that bolster oral health.
This article will explore why we don’t eat as many vegetables, how you can encourage patients to add oral health-friendly ones to their diet and delicious ways to prepare them that will have them coming back for seconds. You may even find some inspiration, too!
What do we have against vegetables anyway?
First, it is important to understand why we tend to be vegetable adverse. There are a few reasons for our lack of veggie intake:
- Produce isn’t used in time. Fresh produce has a short lifespan once it is brought to your home. Without a plan to use it, many well-intentioned Americans end up throwing up away rotten or wilted produce. The U.S. produces more food waste than any country in the world: nearly 40 million tons each year, which is 30-40% of the country’s food supply.
- Not everyone has access to fresh produce. Many communities across the country find themselves in “food deserts,” which are areas that have limited access to healthy foods. This is usually due to living on a limited income or having to travel further for other food options. In many cases, processed foods tend to be cheaper than fresh.
- Memories of veggies may leave a bad taste. Perhaps someone only had them overcooked and mushy as a child. Or, as an adult, they recall being forced to eat veggies and choose not to bother with them now. Psychology can play a powerful role in our perception of certain foods.
How can we incorporate more veggies into our day?
If you or your patients are having a hard time folding in vegetables, we have a few tips to share:
- Plan ahead of time. Before you run out to the market, spend some time with your morning cup of coffee to jot down a few meal ideas. That way, the vegetables you buy will have a designated purpose. If you are stumped, the internet has an infinite number of options. (We are fans of The Kitchn and Serious Eats.)
- Frozen and canned vegetables are just as good. Fresh isn’t the only option here. Not only do frozen and canned vegetables tend to be much less expensive, but you can also still reap the benefits of their nutritional value and flavor. (For canned veggies, we recommend rinsing them first to wash away excess salt that was used for preservation.)
- Properly preparing and seasoning vegetables is a game-changer. Having a handle on a few cooking basics can elevate your vegetables to a whole other level. Our next section will take a deeper dive into this topic.
What are tasty ways to make oral health-friendly vegetables?
Now that you and your patients are (hopefully!) inspired to add more vegetables to your rotation, let’s break down which ones are the best for your oral health. As a bonus, we’ve included some of our favorite recipes that will help turn these veggies into your meal’s star!
Not only are carrots loaded with vitamins A and C, but they also have the crunch factor. When we chew fruits and vegetables that are crunchy, it increases the production of saliva, which cleanses the mouth of food particles and bacteria. That means a reduced risk of cavities.
Ways to make carrots:
- Cut into strips and serve with an easy peasy hummus
- Roast them in the oven with orange slices
- Sautee them in a pan and top with honey and fresh thyme
- Got an air fryer? Make some carrot fries
If you ask us, broccoli is a mighty vegetable. It is loaded with vitamins, minerals and nutrients that give your gums a significant boost. Like carrots, broccoli can also cut down on plaque thanks to its ability to generate saliva. Plus, when cooked, the flavor is enhanced significantly.
Ways to make broccoli:
- Roast in the oven with the made-in-heaven combo of lemon and feta cheese
- Bored with the same sandwich? Try a broccoli Reuben
- Stir fry with your favorite vegetables and serve over rice
- Sorry, potatoes: we are all about these broccoli tots
If you are looking for vitamin-rich goodness, look no further than spinach. It is high in calcium, which promotes building tooth enamel, and contains folic acid, a B vitamin that has numerous health benefits. We can’t promise you’ll grow muscles like a certain cartoon sailor, but spinach will do wonders for your oral health.
Ways to make spinach:
- Sweet potatoes and spinach in a curry? Yes, please
- Make it for breakfast in a quiche
- Sautee in a pan with olive oil and garlic
- Yes, you can roast spinach. And it’s delicious
A large dose of dental-friendly vitamin A? Check. Anti-inflammatory properties that regulate blood sugar? Check. Delicious vegetable that can be prepared in endless ways for any palate? Oh yeah. Sweet potatoes can do It all.
Ways to prepare sweet potatoes:
- This sweet potato and kale salad makes plenty for lunches. Hint: you’ll want extra dressing
- It’s a classic for a reason: roasted sweet potatoes shine with few additions
- Bust out the sheet pan for these sweet potato and chicken Korean bowls
- Use them in a chowder with sage and paprika
Red bell pepper
All bell peppers are flavorful and healthy, but the red ones are the most nutrient-dense of the bunch since they have been on the vine the longest. In fact, just a half cup of red bell pepper gives you 47 percent of your daily immunity-boosting Vitamin A intake and 159 percent of required Vitamin C, a vitamin that fights gum disease.
Ways to prepare red bell peppers:
- Try a new spin on taco night with these sheet pan fajitas
- Add bell peppers to this brown rice bowl, also featuring asparagus and cashews
- Roast them with chicken sausage in the oven
- Try a healthy spin on classic stuffed peppers
The bottom line: With a little creativity and planning, you and your patients can turn fresh, frozen or canned vegetables into wholesome, healthy dishes that can give oral health a major boost.