I collaborated with one of my favourite Youtube channels, Psychetruth, to the creation of this video about the violence in the media and the psychology of fear. I was inspired by Eckhart Tolle’s book A new Earth. Oprah Winfrey described it as one of the most important books of our time, and I totally agree with her. Enjoy!
When you are a person with some critical thinking it is very likely that you will have two different reactions at the food advertising tricks you see/hear in the media, or directly in the supermarkets.
The first is disappointment: you recognize that some people (the food industry marketing experts) are smarter than the average consumer, so they’re using their position to deceive that consumer by telling her misleading notions about nutrition and health. And you find it very unfair.
But the second feeling is amusement: since you are as smart as those experts and even more, you are invulnerable to their strategies. You see the lies skimmed of all the noise and the distractions. The idea that those techniques based on lies are used against you is just ridiculous. You know you can’t be fooled so easily. My usual reaction when I see food advertising tricks on television is: \:-] And after that I have a good laughter: “do they really expect that I buy this!” XD
So I decided to give birth to the top 10 food advertising tricks below. I hope that it will be useful to you for both reasons: you may discover that you are being told lies from the commercials and the packages, or you may have already discovered that, and you are ready to mock them with me. Let’s start.
1. The happy family
Mum, dad, kids: smiling all together, looking very happy and eating the advertised foods. It is very easy to see these scenarios in the commercials. The food marketers want you to associate the ideas of family, house, safety, happiness to their processed aliments, typically sugary biscuits, breakfast cereals and snacks.
Well, a first note is that behind those graciously smiling mums and dads there are usually hot actors aged 25-30, that probably in their real life pay a lot of attention to what they eat. I guess that outside the commercials they wouldn’t touch those junk foods even with a stick.
And another note is that this model, with which the media have been bombing us for decades, becomes dangerous because it makes you feel inadequate if your family isn’t exactly like that. What if your parents are divorced, if you’re a couple without kids, or if your daughter is disabled, for example? Personally and unfortunately, I watched hundreds on these tv commercials in my youth. In Italy there is a food company (called Mulino Bianco) that has shown to generations of Italians this kind family eating their sweets. “Your family is like that of Mulino Bianco” has become almost a proverb in Italy, meaning that your family is lovely and united. I’ve always secretly dreamed of seeing the off-air shootings of the Mulino Bianco family where mum, dad, kids all start to become rude, burp, fart, insult and fight with each other.
2. Sexy food
Sex is used to sell everything, and food is no exception. The reason is simple: it works, always (memo for me: add more boobs in the next articles). There are countless tv commercials that use hot models to market food, and here are two obvious examples, both with soda drinks.
In the first a guy is sailing on a boat with a hot girl. The boat bounces up and down because of the sea waves, and so do the boobs of the girl. The poor guy tries to pour the soda in a glass, but it’s an hard task since he is kinda hypnotized by the boobs going up and down rhythmically, just like the liquid in the bottle. Putting together, in the same shot, the soda and the boobs in the background is diabolically effective.
In the second, an old times classic, all the female employees in an office interrupt their job at a precise time each morning to watch a worker in the front yard who takes his break.
The employees have a strong motivation for interrupting, since the guy takes off his shirt (revealing a sexy body) and drinks his soda with great satisfaction, for the joy of the ladies. While the target is different, the strategy is perfectly the same: siding the product with a hot body.
3. A trick for the children and one for the parents
The food advertising tricks used with children are impressive. The food industry counts on two factors to make money in this field. The first is that kids are easy to attract with colors, cartoons, games: the marketing strategists use these things to make children want to buy their products. Usually they bind the snacks with little games, particularly with collectible items that create the need to “have them all” and consequently to do repeated shopping. The most typical example is the chocolate eggs with surprises inside.
Industry knows also a second thing: while the kids are easy to attract, it’s their parents who make the decision if to buy or not and take out the wallet. And parents are not as easy to trick with games: they are more concerned about the health of their kids. This is why we see campaigns like “chocolate egg x, the magic of the surprise (trick for children) and the genuineness of the milk (referring to the milk chocolate, this is the trick for parents… like if the milk in a chocolate milk egg would make it an healthy food!).
4. The diet version
My personal recommendation is to stay away from the products that are “diet”, “light” and that in general make healthy claims. Real healthy foods don’t claim anything (have you ever seen a carrot with the label “diet carrot” or the commercial of a pear saying “pear light”?), while processed foods coming from the industry are usually sold with this kind of tricks.
Like in the case of organic white flour, the key point is: where are you are focusing? On something that is nutritionally relevant? Well, searching for the diet version of a crappy processed food is not relevant at all, it’s simply wasting your focus on choosing the less worse between two versions, regular and diet, of a food that probably shouldn’t be part of your diet at all.
5. Collect the points
When I was a kid I did many collections of points. With all my snacks, sweets and cereals I “won” a lot of prizes: bags, books, games, clothes. As a conscious adult now I see the deception behind this evil mechanism. The industry marketing strategists have strong reasons to release points and prizes with their food, to name a few:
- They push you to buy more and more, because you want to reach the desired prize as soon as possible
- They set a deadline for collecting the points and you’re pushed to buy more fast, because you want to reach the points you need before the offering expires.
- They make you loyal to their brand: if you change supermarket or city you will search for the same brand, because you want their points
- They make you round up your expense: sometimes the points are related to the money you spend: if you spent 38 dollars gaining 3 points, why not spending other 2 dollars to gain 4 points.
No thanks, no collections of points for me.
6. Crackers without lard
This is the specific case of a food that made me think about this top ten, and it goes in 6th because it’s very interesting. The package of these crackers claims “without lard”. When I saw it in the shelves I thought “what the hell? Is it a privilege now that crackers have no lard in them? To a point that it must be proudly stated in front of the package?” That’s very funny, since actually there should be no reason to put lard in crackers (!) there has never been, there will never be: they are just crackers!
Evidently this company is simply selling white flour based crackers that have no particular healthy merit (again: white flour is a useless food in terms of nutrition) but they really, really wanted to find some positive nutritional side about these crackers so they came out with this. “Hey guys, look at our crackers! We haven’t put pork fat in them, give us a pat on our back!”.
What they are using here, and what many-many-many marketing strategists use, is one of the most typical food advertising tricks you will ever see. It simply consists in not saying anything about the important negative sides of the product (white flour based, salt, additives) and creating and highlighting from nothing unimportant “positive” nutrition facts.
7. The game of %
“Contains only” is particularly frequent in the marketing of processed meat, cheese and yogurt. On the package of these products it’s easy to read things like “contains only the 1% fat” or “low in fat”.
First of all: who says that 1% is “only”? Actually 1% (or whatever percentage you see) is a lot if the fats are unhealthy fats, like those contained in most processed meats and cheese. “Only” must be contextualized, because used like this on the packages it doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a trick used to convince you that the food is not going to make you fat.
In the right context of nutrition instead, first we consider the kind of fat (is is a good or a bad kind of fat?) and then we consider from what food it comes (who cares if a yogurt has 0.1% fat if the yogurt itself is full of horrible artificial sweeteners?). Following this line it would make perfectly sense to advertise an avocado by proudly saying “it has 58% of great fats”, while it would make perfectly sense either to advertise margarine by cautiously saying “beware it has 1% of bad fats”.
8. Organic crap
Food advertising tricks in the organic market? Yes, the marketing strategists are able to use to their advantage the good reputation of organic foods to make you buy unhealthy products instead. I am a big supporter of organic aliments, in particular I buy a lot of organic fruits and vegetables. I think that the reduced amounts of pesticides and the more natural production techniques are definitely worth the higher price.
But even the being organic of a food, which is in general a very positive factor, can become a completely unimportant variable when it applies to an intrinsically unhealthy food, like white flour. And the same consideration is valid for all the foods that contain organic refined sugar. “Organic refined” is an oxymoron! Like saying “healthy unhealthy”!
Notice that now almost all the supermarkets have a section for nutrition freaks with healthy stuff, but even in these sections you can find advertising tricks that can push you to buy supposedly healthy foods that are instead sugary crap. For example, who cares if a donught made of refined flour and refined sugar is organic? It’s a donught! It has an high glycemic index, it causes tooth decay, it is fattening and it is unhealthy whether it’s organic or not!
9. Fast food
A lot can be said about the advertisement techniques used to sell fast food, but I must admit one thing: the companies rarely make healthy claims about their products (those would be impossible lies to tell in any case, considered how atrocious are the ingredients). No, for a market that is worth many millions around the planet, the strategy is pretty straightforward: take the food, highlight the great taste, be silent about the health issues.
You can be assured that the taste is great: it’s impossible to put that much sugar, salt, fat, flavors in an aliment and not make it taste great. Hamburgers, french fries, sodas, cakes, ice creams practically advertise themselves in the commercials when they appear so tender and juicy, or golden crispy, or fizzy, or colored and creamy.
What is missing -on purpose- in the picture is the heavy price you pay for the short-term pleasure of this taste. While hamburgers and co. are very cheap (health deterioration with fast food is within everyone’s reach) the tax on your body is huge. But of course, you will not hear anything about the long list of medical conditions caused by this crap in your diet.
10. With antioxydants
The final spot in this list of the food advertising tricks goes to something liquid: fruit juices and smoothies. The marketing experts use the good nutritional reputation of fruit to create “fruit based” beverages that actually contain minimal quantities of fruit (but this little content is the only one who is highlighted in the package and in the commercials) and, on the other hand, a lot of sugar and chemicals.
In the picture beside it’s shown one of these cases. The package states proudly that the juice has some “antioxidant virtue”, while if you turn on the back and see the nutrition facts label you find that there is only a content of …% of fruit, and plenty of added sugar. These few antioxidants have a too high sugar-price in my opinion.
It’s even possible to find fruit juices where the only fruit is the one shown on the label: inside it there are only artificial flavors and chemicals! Unfortunately the law allows that.
The only way not to get deceived by this kind of tricks is to go for 100% smoothies and juices. This is the secure way to know that you are buying really squeezed fruit and not sweetened, colored water.
How did I choose the elements in my top 10 of the food advertising tricks?
I considered these 10 because, even if the set is heterogeneous -some are generic techniques used in the food advertisement, some are the specific cases of certain foods-, I find them particularly insidious. I am sure that they impact a lot of people. It’s easy to fall into these traps if you’re not fully conscious, even when you are just shopping in the supermarket. But if you’ve come so far with the reading, now you are harder to deceive. And next time, when you see these tricks, you can \:-] and XD too.
Notes: this article is a “survivor” of my Nutrition freak project, a website that I created in the past entirely about nutrition and health. After awhile I decided to close that website, and publish my articles on nutrition and health here in my personal blog, together with the other articles on different topics.
old videos – da caricare
A certain job is performed every day by the media. They suggest and repeat over and over that for our society economic growth is super important.
In this video we’ll discuss how today’s over-focus on the economic growth goes at the expense of other important topics, like health and the quality of our life, and also why it promotes a food production model which is totally not sustainable.
Before we start, here is your question for today: what do you think is the difference between growth and development, of the economy and in general of the society? And which one do we need more? Pause the video, share your ideas in a comment, and come back to see if you guessed what I’m about to say.
In theory, economy is very simple: it’s a science about the desires of people. How people satisfy their desires in the market, trading their resources with other resources they want more.
In practice, economy has become very complicated over the last century, and now it serves mainly the desires of just a tiny fraction of the world population. This happened for a couple or reasons:
– First, economy has been increasingly confused with finance. The media depict it as a series of complex indexes, graphs, numbers that are very hard to understand fully for the average person
– Second, for long time now there’s been a steady pressure to increase the scale of the economy, and make it bigger and bigger, and global.
So, in the rest of this video we’ll see how these changes are impacting our life, in particular we’ll try to understand what is the relationship between the size of the world economies and the food we find in the grocery stores.
We need to be more competitive, we need to increase the profits, the economy needs to grow. These are ritual formulas pronounced by politicians and CEOs of the big corporations. Formulas that are punctually and… more or less mindlessly broadcasted everywhere by the journalists.
But do they actually make sense?
If the economy grows, does it mean well-being for us?
Let’s think about it, today there’s a real pressure over the citizen shoulders to have a compliant economic profile. To have a good social reputation, you must pay all the rates of the mortgage, have a stable job, have a good score with your credit at the bank, and pay all your bills regularly.
But what happens in the meanwhile is that there are a lot of people that are not compliant with many other aspects of their life, especially their happiness and health, which is where we will concentrate here. For example, could it be that there is not such a tight relationship between having great finances and having great health?
Some statistics definitely say so, as some of the countries with the richest economies in the world are pleagud by health problems related to a poor nutrition, like the united states. These are typically the countries where the market logic is global, particularly the food market logic. In these countries fast food is everywhere, and the farmers, instead of selling their food to people, sell their food to corporations. And what do corporations ask them?
Potatoes and apples that all look the same, like plastic balls, all without a single imperfection or, god forbid, a worm. But there’s definitely no risk that a worm would want to eat one of those globalized apples, as they are so sprayed with chemicals that it wouldn’t even recognize that stuff as food.
Under the rules of a global economy, the farmers must respond to the desires of the corporations rather than to the desires of people, and they are pressed to adopt gmo seeds, and to poison their foods with concoctions of chemicals. The same foods are later additioned with other chemicals and preservatives in the industries where they are processed, and finally wrapped with tons of plastic to be sent somewhere on the other side of the planet.
Of course the situation is not only limited to fruit and vegetables, but also to meat, fish, dairy, everything.
So, what are the first features of the global food that we can notice? First, it is frequently unhealthy. And second, it is definitely not sustainable. The global food has a monstruous fingerprint on the environment. And this is because we do really crazy things.
Why is it that here in Italy, we are the largest kiwi producers in the world, and you go to the grocery store and 99% of the times you find kiwi coming from new zealand? Or that we import canned tomatoes from China, while we produce fresh tasty tomatoes ripened at the sun of Sicily?
The crazy phylosophy of a global economy created a system where foods travel back and forth around the planet, they’re rarely eaten in the same region where they’re produced, and this mechanism is of course very taxing for the environment.
But then there is a third, horrible feature typical of the global food.
The waste. Not only the global food is dangerous for our health, not only it is environmentally not sustainable, it’s is also often produced uselessly. This model of production causes an enormous waste in the food produced, simply because the offer (which is the farmer) and the demand (the person who eats the food) are so distant that they can’t communicate directly.
One produces food for an unknown entity which is somewhere else in the world, without even knowing how that entity likes the food, and how much he needs of it. The famous report that came out last year “global food, waste not, want not” highlighted how up to 30-50% of the food produced in the world never reaches a human stomach. Either because it’s wasted at the origin, for poor production methods in the developing countries, or because it’s wasted at the destination, for the consumistic attitude of the customers in the developed countries.
It’s just crazy. That’s why now we start to talk about something that makes much more sense. Let’s make a comparison with the local food.
Food which is grown in the same area where it’s eaten, that doesn’t need to travel for miles to reach the destination. In this scenario the customer can go directly to the farmer to buy her stuff, she can see how the veggies are grown, she can tell directly to the farmer what products she prefers. It’s obvious that in this case things are much easier, more reasonable, and favor the production of natural foods that require less chemicals, plastic, and resources to be delivered.
How do these local grown foods look like?
Well, real apples, potatoes, and other vegetables that are not impregnated with chemicals are not perfect, and you have to remove the part with the worm sometimes. But this happens because, yes, life sometimes requires us to compete, but it’s not a competition for what country has the biggest economy and the biggest banks, it’s a competition between us and the other life forms to access something which is more important and concrete than pieces of paper: real food.
Food is the most important product men produce. Food is the thing we consume daily. But since food started to respond to the logic of a market dominated by a global economy, it became more fake, it started to make us sick, and it started to make the planet sick.
It’s evident that in recent times we’ve been making things in the exact opposite way as it would make sense. Few food corporations are profiting from this big-global-economy model, and a lot of people are being negatively impacted by it.
Now, this situation is not mandatory, there is not any natural reason why the economy must become enormous. In a planet where the physical resources are finite, it doesn’t make sense to press for an infinite growth. At some point we have to stop. Some errors have been made, and they started when the governments began to under-regulate the global economies and to over-regulate the local economies.
These errors brought us to the paradoxical situation where it’s more convenient to import kiwis from new zealand rather than from the farmer next door. But things can change and corrections can still be made.
We can have our health back, we can stop devouring the biosphere by creating a network of local economies. Economies that are closer to the needs of people, in which the food is produced by the farmer nearby with natural methods. GMOs and chemicals are definitely not a necessity.
And here we get to the initial question: do we need growth or development?
It’s obvious that an endless growth in a planet with finite resources is impossible. And if the resources remain the same, while the economy keeps on increasing its size, the only possible result is that the economy loses contact with the reality. And it becomes just an abstract system built on pieces of paper with no value.
So how do we avoid this situation? How do we avoid the paradox of rich economies sided by unhappiness, bad health, and the series of other problems that we didn’t discuss in this video, since here we’re focusing only specifically on health?
The shift in mindset that we need is to understand that more than growth we need development. That’s what will bring us well-being: developing towards a system which is near people’s needs, where resources are used more effectively for the benefits of many, possibly everybody.
On a final note, before closing this video, I want you to reflect on something. It’s been awhile since we started to give this exxaggerate attention to the economy based on pieces of paper. And since then, we’ve been neglecting not only our health, but a lot of other disciplines, like art, phylosophy, architecture. The ancient civilizations, like Romans, Egyptians, Greeks produced incredible wonders, think to the Coliseum, or the pyramids, with technologies that were ridiculous compared to our present technologies.
And today, we have an enormous potential and what are we producing? What are we leaving as heritage to the future generations? Maybe it’s time to worry less about money and start again to worry about creating beauty! What do you think?
I love quotes. Through history smart people have sent us amazing messages of wisdom and truth. Simple phrases from them, short and easy to remember, are often very effective to vehicle these messages.
Meaningful quotes are from people who lived hundreds, thousands of years ago. Others are from contemporary people who live in other countries, other cultures. It is fascinating to feel a sense of connection with them: I mean, seeing things like someone who lived in such different conditions. But of course, some of my favorite quotes are from people who had experiences similar to mine too.
I have a sort of vision board above my desk. There I attach memos with the things I want/have to do. And there is always space for some inspirational quote. One I see now is “A man can do all things if he will” from Leon Battista Alberti. Very interesting concept.
More in the specific, I’ve read and reflected over many quotes about health and nutrition. And since some of them express so well the criteria I use to write here at Nutrition Freak, I decided to compile this mini-list of my favorites, packaged in a top five.
1. HAVING GOOD HEALTH IS VERY DIFFERENT FROM ONLY BEING NOT SICK (Seneca The Younger, 4 bc – 65 ad)
This is a masterpiece. The importance of this quote lies on where-is-the-focus.
Generally speaking, unconscious people tend to keep their focus on things that have little impact on their lives. In case of nutrition, a good example are people who focus on counting the calories (little impact) versus people who focus on eating nutrient-dense foods (big impact).
A lot of people tease nutrition freaks, saying that they prefer to enjoy the food they like instead of living few years more. They are missing the point. There is an abyss between only being not sick, which still means living a whole life struggling with low energy, inactive mind, bad mood, migraine, constipation (and so on)… and being really healthy,
that means having high energy, alert mind, full reasoning capacity, will to do things, good physical outlook.
I see ‘only not sick’ people daily: relatives, friends, colleagues. Some of them basically spend their life by digesting one unbalanced meal after the other. I have clear in my mind the image of my colleagues who come back after lunch, and sit in front of the computer with a sleepy face and a neon banner on their forehead: “brain switched off”.
Remember: “having good health” — abyss — “only being not sick”.
2. THE DOCTOR OF THE FUTURE WILL GIVE NO MEDICINE, BUT WILL INTEREST HIS PATIENTS IN THE CARE OF THE HUMAN FRAME, IN DIET AND IN THE CAUSE AND PREVENTION OF DISEASE (Thomas Edison, 1847 – 1931)
A positive view of the future, and I share it. I think the time for medicine as we know it now, with physicians curing the effects of the diseases instead of eliminating their causes, will end one day.
Of course there will always be congenital diseases that will need drugs and surgery (I have some of them), but today there is too much influence of money over the patients health. Pharmaceutical companies have strong interests in keeping the patients sick, so they can sell their drugs. And often they do that with the support of the media.
Think at the hypes the media created about the H1N1 flu and the Avian flu. Were these alarms justified? With few people affected, a world scale alert was broadcasted in both cases. How much money do you think the pharmaceutical companies made by just selling disinfectants during the H1N1 alarm? I guess billions.
In order for the population’s health to improve, physicians should stop simply curing their patients, they should focus on instructing them. About, as Edison said well, “the care of the human frame, diet and prevention of disease”.
3. TAKE CARE OF YOUR BODY. IT’S THE ONLY PLACE YOU HAVE TO LIVE. (Jim Rohn, 1930 – 2009)
This is a very important thing to remember. Changes happen, sometimes initiated by us, sometimes initiated by someone/something else. Almost nothing is certain in life.
Hours, weeks, months, years from now, and you may be living in a different continent, have lost your loved ones, or have new loved ones, you may have a different job, different friends, you may have become poor, you may be running to become president of a nation. Anything is perfectly possible, who knows?
But one thing, you take it for granted: wherever you will be, whatever you will be doing, with whomever you will be, until you will be living you will have this unique certainty: your body. The body you are now using to read these lines. The body in which you are in is an interface: from you to the outside. And one of the few certain things in your life is that whatever kind of interaction you will have with the world, it will happen through your body. This is why you should seriously take care of it.
(ah… obviously this is valid only until progress will not allow us to switch these ridiculous biological bodies with more efficient and fashionable robotic bodies)
4. I SAW FEW DIE OF HUNGER; OF EATING, A HUNDRED THOUSAND (Benjamin Franklin, 1706 – 1790)
Franklin was obviously thinking to his America when he said this, but this suits well all the western societies today.
Yes people die from hunger, in countries like Africa. But still, think at how many other people live there with surprising little amounts of food. And guess what? They are much healthier than many western eaters, who consume ten times more food.
Health requires eating good foods, in moderate amounts. Benjamin Franklin noticed that many people tend to do the opposite: eat junk foods, in huge amounts. They cause themselves all possible kinds of diseases, and eventually die.
Funny, this quote makes me think a lot about mothers, who always care about their children eating enough. They rarely question adequately about what they are giving to their children, they’re usually too busy giving them enough food so “they can grow”. It’s like if their kids are always risking starvation. And I know this well, since I have an Italian mother.
Typical piece of conversation at the phone with my mother:
- mother: how are you? do you want to come to eat by us?
- me: I am fine, I just left the office. I am going to the gym and I will eat just some fruit later at my house. What did you do today?
- mother: eh we had all day your nephew here, messing the house and crying. I made some lasagna at lunch and there is still some, why don’t you come eating it?
- me: no, I’ll just have something light this evening, I don’t feel hunger. Did you call grandpa?
- mother: Yes I called him. He is fine but he says he feels a little weak and his back is still sore. Usual stuff, you know. Why don’t you come to eat by us? Are you ok?
- me: yes yes, I am ok. Ah, see if you find that book in my room. I really can’t find it anymore, it must be at home.
- mother: I will see again, but I think you left it somewhere else because here there is nothing. When will you come here, Sunday? Are you sure you don’t want me to prepare you anything? In the fridge there is…”
- me: mum I am sure. Entering the gym now, I’ll come Sunday for lunch ok? Say ciao to dad”
- mother: ok ciao. But would you come if I’d cook…”
- me: click.
It makes me smile because I see so many things inside this phrase. There are different aspects in the relationship one can have with food. And there are many quotes about health and nutrition that describe these aspects:
- how sad are those who are too fixated with healthy food
- how serious, instead, you should be about eating healthy food
- how difficult is to give up the junk food
- how dangerous is the food industry conditioning
- how much joy, or guilt, food can provide
The truth is that finding a balance, being able to eat tasting and nutrient food without useless stress, is an art. And especially being able to manage the feelings towards food…isn’t it curious that there areso many strong feelings towards food, which is an inanimate thing?
I consider myself an artist for many things. For example I draw very well, and this is because I spent countless hours of my life drawing with a pencil. And after all the things that I’ve read and studied about nutrition, I thing that I eat in a more intelligent way than the average person. And yes, that I am an artist eater (which somehow sounds like I’d need to be brought to the mental hospital).
Considered how crucial health is, I’d suggest you to find your art dimension in eating too.
Tooth decay is caused by sugar.
It is a disease traceable far away back in the human history (Australopithecus), but it’s with the modern crazy habit of adding sugar everywhere that tooth decay has exploded. 90% of the population experiences caries in their lifetime. I am in it.
Sugar feeds the bacteria present in our mouth. Bacteria produce acid. Acid erodes the enamel. It’s simple. And once the enamel is eroded to a point that a hole forms in the tooth surface, there is little hope for decay not to appear. With all the foods that pass in the mouth daily, imagine all the stuff that goes in and out the hole.
A tooth is in a constant process of mineralization (thanks to saliva, fluoride toothpaste) and demineralization (“thanks” to the acids). The hole is formed when demineralization is faster than mineralization. So the key question is: what are the foods responsible for a too fast demineralization?
Here we go with the top 10 causes of tooth decay.
1. STICKY CANDIES
These are evil. Super dangerous because they stick to the surface of the teeth for long time. A key criterion that decides how harmful a food is for decay is time. How much time teeth are exposed to sugar, and consequently exposed to the acids.
Now visualize the image of you trying to suck these candies away from the teeth, using the tongue for minutes. They are so sticky and it’s hard (despite sweet) to remove them. This is what I am talking about. Worst choice.
Examples: gummy bears, licorice candies, sour candies, jellies.
Super bad choice. Again, the problem is the exposure period. Lollipops are all sugar and even if they are not sticky, they last for minutes and tens of minutes. Some of them are so big that last for hours.
Visualize the poor unaware kid, whose parents bought a super-size lollipop at the amusement park. He will spend the whole day continuously feeding the bacteria in his mouth by licking it.
3. HARD CANDIES
They are an awful thing to eat anyway. Today, cigarette producers have to write on their packages causes cancer and death. I dream a day where candy producers will have to write on their packages causes tooth decay and teeth death.
4. MILK CHOCOLATE
Milk chocolate is preferred by the vast majority of people because it is sweeter (it has more sugar) and creamier (it has milk powder). Cocoa and sugar are added in inverse percentages in chocolate: 75% cocoa means 25% sugar, 65% cocoa means 35% sugar.
The harm that chocolate do to teeth vary depending on many factors, for example a filling of glue-like sugary substance makes it worse. But I rate 4th the simple milk chocolate for an additional reason over the sugar content: the pervasiveness. It melts in the mouth and reaches every hollow space between the teeth.
This is a big category, but I consider here all the sweets that combine two damaging elements for teeth. In fact, beside tons of sugar, they usually have a foundation made with white flour. And does white flour promote tooth decay too? Definitely yes. I will explain it later with white bread.
Examples: pies, muffins, cookies, tarts, donuts…and infinite other types.
Notice the quotation marks.
But these things have nothing to do with real cereals. They are non-foods, extra processed and depleted of all the nutrients. They are packed with colorants, preservatives, sugar. In my trips to America and Canada I was horrified to see immense shelves of these at the supermarkets.
Names like “Special something” don’t make them especially good for your health, just make them especially useless in terms of nutrition… and especially dangerous for tooth decay.
7. WHITE BREAD
It’s a common misconception that only the foods that taste sweet contain sugar.
There are many starchy foods (pasta, rice, chips, tortillas) but I consider white bread as the emblem of the refined foods category because it is so common. People consume so much of it daily.
The most dangerous for teeth is the sliced white bread with mushy consistency used for sandwiches. Very unhealthy bread.
8. ICE CREAM
Ice cream is risky because you stay there licking and sucking sugar for minutes, thus -again- feeding the bacteria for awhile. They can be less damaging than the previous foods because of their soft consistency. They flow away easily in the oral tract.
But some have syrups, nuts, candied sprinkled all over their surface: these increase the detriment for the teeth.
9. SOFT DRINKS
Soft drinks like Cola and Energy Drinks are terrible for health in general, and for the teeth of course. I saw some videos showing how many spoons of sugar a soda can contain: it was shocking to see it explicitly.
Their “advantage” (to say so, but remember that this is a list of atrocities) over the upper foods is that they are liquids, so the teeth are flooded by a sugary river when you drink and stop.
The troubles happen when you drink repeatedly during the day. Then soda can become a much more determinant factor in the formation of cavities.
For similar reasons: sugary juices and tea
Two observations about popular sauces like ketchup, mayonnaise and salad dressings.
First, they are not popularly associated to sweets, but they are sweets. It is just that they also contain so many other strong flavors that the person’s taste is distracted and does not focus on the sweet.
Second, even if sauces are not among the worst tooth decay causes, they become a factor when used in conjunction with bread, chips, tortillas, and other foods that are already harmful by themselves.
This top 10 is not omni-comprehensive.
Many other foods could have been considered: unfortunately there are thousands of convincing candidates produced by the sugar industry. Some foods could rank higher or lower depending on condiments, fillings, preparation methods. There are midway possibilities between these shown, for example white bread coated with chocolate cream.
Natural foods like fruit could have been considered as well. Fruit is wonderful for health but it contains sugar too, and bacteria do not discriminate between processed or natural. They use it anyway.
However, I still think this simple list is very useful to understand the judgment necessary to decide which foods are dangerous for our teeth. Sugar amount, stickiness, exposure time are important factors that determine the birth of tooth decay.
SLEEP AFTER EATING
Another crucial factor.
Not a food itself but a big ally of the foods listed above: sleep. This is a very important point that I don’t see highlighted often enough, or explained too clearly.
Do you know they usually say to brush your teeth after eating? Commonly after breakfast, lunch and dinner? I really feel like recommending you this: pay extra attention to the after dinner brushing. Never forget. And brush your teeth whenever you are about to go to sleep, even if it is a nap in the afternoon.
Sleep is extremely dangerous for the teeth, especially in proximity of a meal. Why is that?
When you sleep saliva diminishes. There is not the flow that you have when you are awake. All the swallowing and the tongue movements are significantly reduced.
If you eat something, do not brush, go to sleep right after, there will be not much saliva protecting you with its buffering function. Sugar will not be diluted but will stay there around your teeth. Bacteria will work silently and effectively, destroying your teeth.
This is how many dental caries happen. A good example is baby bottle tooth decay, a common issue for babies. Mothers leave their children with bottles of sugary liquids like milk (lactose is a sugar), juices and formulas. The babies sleep right after sucking, and it’s done.
For example I usually brush my teeth twice a day, after breakfast and after dinner. I eat less sugar than many people so I can afford not to brush my teeth after lunch. But if some day I don’t work and want to take a nap after lunch, I add the third brushing.
I spent ten years of my life struggling with cavities, approximately from age 10 to age 20.
All my molars and some front teeth now have fillings.
My mother was not aware of the information I discussed so far, and fed me with all sorts of sugary snacks.
I remember going periodically to the dentist to cure my cavities as a teenager. I think I considered normal to have dental caries from time to time. My dentist used to say with not much emphasis that I should have reduced sweets.
In a typical day I had cookies or “cereals” in the milk for breakfast, sugary snacks at school, other sugary snacks after lunch, things like pane e nutella in the mid afternoon. No surprise my teeth were continuously at stake.
Around age 20 I had the nth filling and thought “what the hell? This is not normal and has to finish!”. I simply decided to cut sweets completely. That was a great decision not only for my teeth but for my mental and physical health in general, but I will discuss this in other articles.
Now is about ten years since I ate my last piece of chocolate or cake, and never developed new dental caries in the period. I know it’s “slightly” drastic, but I am used to this kind of extremities about health. Of course I am not saying you have to do the same. What I am saying is that it worked.
It proved clearly that it was not genetics, it was not that I had a weak enamel. It was just that…
Tooth decay is caused by sugar.