Staying healthy on the go

On the goSherry Ratliffe, 36, is a mother of two. She’s the first to wake up in the morning, and she packs her families’ lunches while helping them get ready and out the door on time. She usually feeds the children a bowl of their favorite cereal and skips her own breakfast altogether. If there’s time, she’ll sometimes grab a bagel and coffee while commuting to her office.

Things don’t slow down at the end of the day: On the way home, she often stops at a convenience store to grab snacks before dropping the children off at soccer practice or music lessons.

“I know that eating on the run often means I’m paying less attention to what’s healthy and more attention to what’s convenient,” Sherry says. “But with all the activities my family is involved in, I find it hard to make sure we keep our on-the-go snacks and meals healthy.”

Convenience at a cost

“At my daughter Rebecca’s last dental visit, the dentist found two new cavities,“ Sherry says. “I feel that I should be paying more attention to what foods the kids are eating for snacks.”

She’s right. The sugars in many convenience foods, such as breakfast cereals, meal replacement bars and energy drinks, increase the risk of cavities. Bacteria feed on these sugars and produce acid, which causes tooth decay.

It’s not only sweet treats that cause problems: The starchy, refined carbohydrates in chips, bread, pasta and crackers can be just as harmful to teeth. Starches linger in the mouth and break down into simple sugars, which feed decay-causing bacteria and acids.

And, it’s important to remember that sugar is sugar – whether natural or not.

“I thought I was doing a good thing for my children’s health and teeth by giving them fruit juice to drink instead of soda,” says Sherry. “But the dentist explained that fruit juice can be just as harmful to teeth because it’s a concentrated source of sugars and sometimes acids. I was really surprised to learn that.”

Smarter snacks

Follow these tips to help keep your smile healthy when you’re pressed for time:

  • Think of snacks as mini-meals. Choose nutrient-rich, whole foods that you know are nutritious, like fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products.
  • Plan ahead. Keep a variety of nutritious, ready-to-eat snacks on hand, like whole-grain crackers, low-fat cheese and nuts.
  • Replace sugary breakfast cereal and starchy bagels with fruit, yogurt or oatmeal for a quick morning meal.
  • Crisp fruits and vegetables like apples, carrots and celery help stimulate saliva flow, are full of vitamins and minerals and can help remove plaque and food particles from teeth.
  • Cheese and yogurt are easy, portable snacks that supply calcium and other vitamins and minerals for strong teeth.
  • If you drink juice, use a straw to minimize contact with your teeth.
  • Rinse your mouth with water or brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste immediately after finishing your snack.
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