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Updated from the original post for July 11, 2013

Drink Your Fruit & Veggies?

smoothiesThink you can just drink your fruit and veggies in a delicious fruit smoothie? Research from the BDJ might make you think twice – at least if you care about your teeth.

Researchers found that smoothies can, in fact, be quite damaging to enamel – the hardest tissue in the body, protecting the softer tissues within. But a number of things contribute to erosion, including dry mouth, medications, bruxing (habitual grinding and clenching) and sugars and acids like those you find in the typical smoothie.

Damaged enamel means sensitive teeth and a heightened risk of cavities.

While certain fruits proved to be more damaging than others, the BDJ study found that “some fruit smoothies have the potential to bring about dental erosion if consumed irresponsibly.” To lower the risk, the authors suggest eating while enjoying your smoothie (which, you may argue, may defeat the purpose of having a smoothie, but we urge you: read on).

The trouble with smoothies – as with fruit juices – is their reputation of being “healthy.” There are those who, instead of eating fresh fruit and veg, drink lots of such beverages for a nutritional boost – or, more worrisome, give them to kids instead of whole produce. The drinks’ sweetness makes them especially appealing. Like other animals, we’re evolutionally partial to sweets since they’re associated with high energy foods. (Cats, in fact, may be the only animals that grew out of the sweet tooth.)

Although the sugar in smoothies can be a problem – and there can be a lot of sugar (see this and this, for instance), as as much or more than in most sodas – the BDJ study was concerned more with acidity. Food and drink with a pH value lower than the critical pH of tooth enamel (5.5) are erosive. Most smoothies have a pH value around 2 or 3. Most sodas do, too.

This PSA from the Wisconsin Dental Association pounds the point home:

What about using a straw? Some say it helps get the beverage past the teeth while getting nutrients into the consumer, but that skirts a related issue. As Dean Kathryn Harley of the Faculty of Dentistry at the Royal College of Surgeons has suggested, if kids are constantly exposed to sweet foods like juice, candy and desserts, they may increasingly reject lesser sweet foods such as whole fruits and vegetables.

Remember that the easiest way to get your fruit and veggie intake up is by eating them, not drinking them. To get kids to eat vegetables, try serving them alongside foods you know they enjoy, or serve fresh vegetables as a snack. In her excellent post on “11 Proven Ways to Get Kids to Eat More Vegetables,” blogger Darya Rose suggests using the one bite rule: require your child to try one bite of an unfamiliar food before rejecting it altogether – along with 10 other great ideas.

None of this is to say that you have to cut out smoothies or juices completely. If you like them, enjoy them once in a while. But here’s an added plus of opting for more whole fruit and veg over smoothies and juice: Not only do you avoid the sugars and acids, the more complete nutritional intake can help remineralize your teeth, keeping them strong and healthy. Foods rich in nutrients such as calcium, antioxidants, Vitamin D and phosphorous are especially beneficial.

Image by Ken Hawkins

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