Now Christmas is over, many of us will be diligently ignoring the bathroom scales to avoid seeing how much all that Christmas pudding and mulled wine has added to our waistline. After all, putting on a few extra holiday pounds is a story as old as time – and it can be notoriously difficult to shed this weight in the cold, demoralizing months of January and February.
However, in recent years this need to lose a few extra holiday pounds has been superseded by a much more worrying trend: the rise of nationwide obesity.
Indeed, weight-related health issues are a growing concern, with the total number of obese Brits having effectively doubled since the 1990s. Around 3,000 NHS ward admissions a day are linked with obesity, and an estimated 31,000 people a year die from related cardiovascular diseases. This makes obesity a bigger killer than smoking in England and Scotland.
Reducing the burden of obesity will of course require a multi-layered approach, though increasing education and public awareness would be a major step. Health experts and policymakers should unite around the goal of giving the public the knowledge and skills they need to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle. After all, valuing our health starts at home; and so it is time to go back to basics with nutrition.
One way to do this would be to update the Eatwell Guide; the UK’s official set of dietary guidelines which hasn’t been reviewed since 2016. As a result, the current Guide has some stark omissions – particularly on the links between oral health and nutrition. For instance, it makes no mention of the fact that chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes, are directly linked to periodontitis (gum disease) and obesity.
A formal review process by the government would be an excellent way to draw attention to this, whilst highlighting fundamentals such as reducing sugar intake for better dietary health. In addition, a new guide could offer more practical advice for how individuals can improve their diets day-to-day, rather than merely sketching what ideal nutrition looks like on paper.
This might include a range of ‘dietary changes’ that anyone can make to nudge their dietary health in the right direction. Swapping sugary snacks to fresh fruit; choosing wholegrain options; or drinking water over juices, are small changes which can make a huge difference over time. Additionally, it could advocate chewing sugar free gum (SFG) between meals as a dietary aid.
My top three easy, sustainable ways to improve diet for better oral and overall health would be:
- Choose whole grains. Brown is best: rice, bread, pasta. And try ancient grains like spelt too. These options are higher in fibre, less processed and better for oral and gut microbes as well as blood sugar.
- Snack on fresh fruit/vegetables and nuts/seeds. Take it back to basics – forget the branded ‘healthy’ snack bars, whole foods are best. Not only will this up plant points, but reduce intake of free sugars too. Better for teeth, better for you.
- Drink water. Up your intake. Stay away from juices and fizzy drinks that are damaging for teeth and opt for adding fresh mint or cucumber for flavour or drinking herbal teas for a warming option. Lots of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties in green tea have been shown to benefit periodontal health and help prevent oral diseases. Sip throughout the day for a hydrated mouth and body. Hydration means better breath too.