Just a Quick Bite

Dec. 1, 2003
The hectic pace of dentistry leads to some ill-advised choices for nourishment on the run. Pay better attention to what you eat, and you'll feel like a healthy health-care professional.

by Kandice Swarthout, RDH, BS

It is 10 a.m. and you just finished two quadrants of scaling and root planning. You are about to start a continuing care appointment with Mr. Smith, and you know he'll need extra time. The plain bagel and fat-free mocha latte you had during the morning huddle have worn off, and you are starving. You have exactly two minutes to grab a quick snack before you seat Mr. Smith. The choices in the staff room include a box of Wheat Thins, one Hershey's Kiss, and a box of donuts delivered fresh from Dr. Perio's office to say, "Thanks for the referral." In a mad dash, you choose the donut and eat it faster than you can say "Streptococcus mutans." By noon you feel slightly hungry again. An appointment goes longer than expected with a patient who loves to chat, which leaves you 40 minutes for lunch. At this point, your only choice is the fast food restaurant next door. You order chicken nuggets, but super-size the fries because after all, you're having a diet soda.

By the time you finish with your last patient, you're so tired you nearly talk yourself out of your afternoon workout. You fight the urge to ditch the gym, and drag yourself there for what resembles a run on the elliptical trainer. Frustrated with your less than moderate attempt at exercise, you leave wondering why you don't have more energy. After all, you visit the gym at least four days a week. Isn't that supposed to make you feel better?

Does this scenario sound familiar? The reason you didn't have energy is because you didn't properly fuel your body for the day. If you drove a Porsche, would you put the wrong kind of fuel in it? Of course not — you would run it on the highest quality fuel to keep it at top performance. Why don't you do the same for your body? Your body is the most complex, finely tuned piece of machinery you own. It is a miracle of nature — a highly complex, beautiful, biological miracle. It needs "real" food.

Today's American diet is one of convenience and instant gratification. We put "fake" foods in our body every day, yet expect it to perform the way nature intended. This seems to be an unfair imposition and, quite frankly, our bodies don't appreciate it. Yes, everyone is busy and sometimes a quick snack is the only answer. Nonetheless, it's important to know exactly what's in your food before you partake.

Ma'am, step away from the bagel and latte

A plain bagel may seem like a perfectly harmless breakfast. It's low fat, has no chocolate chips, and is considered one of your daily grains, right? Well, not exactly. First of all, the average American sized bagel is starting to resemble the waistline of most Americans ... large. Next, a bagel contains white flour, which raises your blood sugar quickly and prompts the release of insulin. If you consume an abundance of sugars and carbs, your body does not have enough insulin to support the glucose; therefore, it is stored as fat. Insulin levels kept too high too long promote weight gain.

The glycemic index is the determining factor for this insulin-to-glucagon ratio. The glycemic index of foods is defined as "a measure of how fast insulin rises in response to the amount of sugar entering the portal vein at any given moment." The faster the sugar arrives, the higher the glycemic index. Simple carbohydrates (sugars and white foods such as pasta and rice) have a much higher glycemic index than complex carbohydrates (brown rice, whole grain breads and most vegetables). Simple sugars spike insulin levels much higher in a shorter amount of time, while their whole grain counterparts slow the rate of absorption and lower the insulin/glucagon ratio. This slower rate of absorption allows the body to use these healthy carbs over the course of the day instead of immediately.

What does all this mean? Basically, it means that people should stick to complex whole grains such as brown rice, oats, rye, barley, kasha, wheat, and wild rice. I recommend slow cooking brown rice and adding granola, almonds, walnuts, flaxseed oil, Stevia (a natural sweetener that does not affect blood sugar), and sliced apples. This is a great breakfast that can be prepared the night before. I always eat breakfast at the morning huddle, and this brown rice mixture is perfect after I add a small amount of milk and pop it in the microwave for two minutes.

Try to reduce the consumption of white, processed grains such as white pasta, white rice, and white breads. These high glycemic foods store sugar as fat and zap your energy. When a high glycemic food is introduced and the insulin responds, you initially experience an energy high. This rapid peak is followed by an unpleasant crash that results in fatigue. Remember that sugar is an ingredient in almost all processed foods. Read labels to see what has been added. A rule of thumb is four grams of sugar equals one teaspoon of sugar. This means that a can of soda pop that contains 40 grams of sugar (sucrose and high fructose corn syrup) has 10 teaspoons of sugar!

A fat-free nation

As we became a "fat free" nation in the 1990s, Americans became fatter and fatter. We were introduced to thousands of fat free snacks, and began consuming millions of dollars worth of these products to promote a healthy lifestyle and thinner thighs. What we didn't realize on this quest for a smaller waist was that these low fat and fat free goodies are packed with sugar. Sugars of all varieties are added to these snacks. Examples of these natural and man-made sugars include sucrose (table sugar), fructose (fruit sugar), maltose (grain sugar), dextrose, polydextrose, corn syrup, molasses, sorbitol, maltodextrin and high-fructose corn syrup. High-fructose corn syrup is the most common due to its low cost for food manufacturers. It is also the most detrimental to our "love-handles" because our bodies don't process it the same as other sugars.

People believed that since there was no fat in these products they could not make a person fat. The harsh reality is that sugars are the culprit in spiking insulin levels. The excess sugars are stored as fat and leave you feeling tired.

We have become afraid of fats. We run from them. We would do anything to free ourselves from the guilt of eating fat. However, fat is essential for good health and weight loss. The consumption of healthy dietary fat does not increase insulin levels, therefore it does not become fat in your body. Fat is necessary for cell maintenance, healthy hair and nails, regulating the digestive track, fertility, mood, avoiding sugar and carbohydrate cravings, and lean body mass. Remember that even though fat does not spike insulin, it still has calories, so moderation is key.

Where are these good fats? They are more abundant and attainable than you might think. Olive oil is an excellent source of healthy fat. It is monounsaturated and a good choice for cooking. Other fats come from fish oils. Salmon and tuna are packed with the fat necessary for a healthy and active lifestyle. Even though the avocado has gotten a bad rap for its high fat content, don't fear this friendly fruit. It will supply you with the kind of oils you need in your daily diet. Nuts are an excellent source of friendly fats. Some tasty choices include almonds, walnuts and cashews. Don't forget granola. A low sugar granola makes a great cereal, yogurt topper, or afternoon snack. Eggs are also a great way to get good fat, as well as protein. A recent study indicated that eating two eggs a day did not increase cholesterol. Don't be afraid of the yolk because it has tons of good nutrition and most of the protein.

Twenty-to-life for eating an Oreo?

Yes, doing time for eating an Oreo sounds extreme, yet an attorney in California tried to make eating Oreos illegal. It isn't because he has anything personal against this ever-so-yummy, black-and-white childhood pal of ours. He is trying to get a point across about the dangers of hydrogenated oils. Hydrogenated oils are fats that are chemically altered and put into foods to improve taste and preserve the product. These fats are reengineered by adding hydrogen to make liquid oils become solid. This is how margarine is created from corn oil. Labels containing these ingredients usually say, "partially hydrogenated soybean, sunflower, corn and cottonseed oils."

These dangerous fats are also created by overheating certain oils. Fast food restaurant personnel will cook French fries in the same oil day after day, heating it over and over to extreme temperatures. The body lacks the enzyme necessary to fully metabolize the fat into energy. I often use the term "fake" foods to describe products made with this type of fat. It's not a real food. Our bodies don't know what to do with it. It has no real nutritional value, and is damaging to our cells and heart, yet we continue to consume boxed cookies, donuts, crackers, "energy bars," and fast food.

But it is a diet soda

Aspartame (brand name Equal or Nutrasweet) is an artificial sweetener added to diet soda, some cereals, chewing gum and most everything labeled as "sugar-free". Aspartame is a chemical made from wood alcohol. In its raw form, it can cause blindness in the presence of heat. It turns to formaldehyde in the body, the same substance that is grouped in the class with poisons such as cyanide and arsenic. It can be the culprit for numerous health problems in which causes are never discovered. The Food and Drug Administration has documented over 90 symptoms of aspartame toxicity. These symptoms include: headache, muscle aches, vertigo, tendon and ligament pain, confusion, poor memory and fatigue. If you are consuming diet drinks on a daily basis, you may want to consider eliminating them totally and switching to water to cleanse your body of the toxins.

So now what?

Ok, so you're thinking that I have totally rained on your dietary parade. What are you supposed to eat now? Is there really anything left on the food chart other than green leafy veggies and the occasional fruit bowl? You would have to be a rabbit to survive on that diet. There are thousands of natural and quick meals and snacks to choose from. Shopping for products that do not contain hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup or aspartame is a good start. Read labels and educate yourself on which products are the healthiest.

It's all about eating whole, natural, real foods that truly nourish our bodies. My friends sometimes say to me, "life is too short to eat all that healthy junk. Don't deprive yourself." My response is that life is too short not to experience it to its fullest because I have abused my body with junk. Our bodies are our most precious asset and we need it to be healthy to live an active full life. Make wise choices and educate yourself on what you are fueling up with. Love your body and feed it what it deserves because after all, you are what you eat.

Some healthy and quick snacks

• Whole Kids Organic Peanut Butter or Laura Scudder's Natural Peanut Butter. Great on an apple, celery, or whole grain bread.

• Kashi "Go Lean" products. They have a variety of snacks from protein bars to cereal. You may notice a slightly higher carb and sugar content, but they are natural ingredients.

• Handful of mixed nuts. Make sure there is no added hydrogenated fat.

• Fruit/protein smoothies. Use frozen fruit (no sugar added), plain yogurt, scoop of whey or soy protein powder, a little water or your favorite juice and put it in your blender for a great afternoon snack or a breakfast on the go.

• Tuna or chicken salads prepared the night before make for a good midmorning snack or lunch. Adding walnuts, almonds and chopped apples to your salads is a great way to get good fats and extra fiber.

• Amy's brand makes a variety of quick frozen meals that can be heated in the microwave in a few minutes.

Kandice Swarthout, RDH, BS, is a graduate of Texas Women's University. She practices with a cosmetic and comprehensive care team in Dallas, Texas. Kandice is a Black Belt in American Freestyle Martial Arts and a kickbox fitness instructor. She has a passion for nutrition and fitness and is on a quest to educate herself and others on the dangers of the modern American diet. Kandice can be contacted at [email protected]


• Schwarzbein, Diana. The Schwarzbein Principle. The Truth about Losing Weight, Being Healthy and Feeling Younger. Health Communications, Inc. 1999.
• Experience Life Magazine. March/April 2003, September/October 2002. Lifetime Fitness, Eden Prairie, MN.