Monday, May 5, 2014

Oil Pulling - Is it Effective?

Last week I went to the dentist for a routine cleaning. My hygienist knows I'm getting my Masters in nutrition and she likes to chat with me about different health-related topics. Somehow we started talking about the latest buzz around coconut oil. And she asked me if I had ever heard of oil pulling.

I hadn't.

She went on to explain that oil pulling is touted as the newest natural way to promote oral health. And people are placing 1 tablespoon of oil (usually coconut) in their mouth and swishing with it for 20 minutes every day to promote whiter teeth and reduce plaque build up. She and I were both skeptical, but I was definitely intrigued, so when I got home I did some research.

I was not able to a lot of evidence in the literature to support this practice.  But here is what I found:

Asokan et al. conducted a small randomized control trial with 20 adolescents in 2009. The objective was to determine whether oil pulling with sesame oil was more effective at lowering plaque-induced gingivitis than chlorhexidine-containing mouthwash. Chlorhexidine is an ingredient in a bunch of mouthwashes, so it makes sense that they used it. Results showed reduced plaque and gingivitis in both groups.

The same author published two more articles using the same population of 20 adolescents. The first study sought to determine oil pulling's affect on halitosis in relation to the chlorhexidine mouth wash. They found oil pulling to be equally effective when compared to chlorhexidine in reducing halitosis and organisms associated with it. The article also states that using sesame oil may be more advantageous for the user as it is more cost-effective, will not stain the teeth and does not have an after taste. I am not sure I agree with the after taste part of this.

The second article researched the effect of oil pulling on the number of Streptococcus mutans (S. mutans) - aka bacteria - in plaque and saliva in comparison to chlorhexidine mouthwash. Participants were instructed to swish with the mouthwash or the sesame oil for 10 minutes prior to brushing. Plaque and saliva samples were collected four times over the course of 2 weeks. This study reported a reduction in the number of S. mutans in plaque and saliva in both test groups.

So it seems like oil pulling may be effective with sesame oil, but more studies are definitely needed with larger, more diverse populations. I'd also be curious to see some data on coconut oil since it seems that is what most people are using.

Asokan S, Emmadi P, Chamundeswari R. Effect of oil pulling on plaque induced gingivitis: A randomized, controlled, triple-blind study. Indian J Dent Res 2009;20:47-51

Asokan S, Kumar R S, Emmadi P, Raghuraman R, Sivakumar N. Effect of oil pulling on halitosis and microorganisms causing halitosis: A randomized controlled pilot trial. J Indian Soc Pedod Prev Dent 2011;29:90-4

Asokan S, Rathan J, Muthu M S, Rathna PV, Emmadi P, Raghuraman, Chamundeswari. Effect of oil pulling on Streptococcus mutans count in plaque and saliva using Dentocult SM Strip mutans test: A randomized, controlled, triple-blind study. J Indian Soc Pedod Prev Dent 2008;26:12-7

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Comparing Apples to Oranges

I recently completed an internship with a Dietitian in charge of school nutrition in a large county in Georgia. My competencies included conducting a plate waste study. I decided to explore fruit consumption since it must be on kids' trays at both breakfast and lunch per the new government regulations. Specifically I studied pre-bagged, sliced oranges and whole apples. I observed and recorded the amount of fruit each elementary school child consumed: None, 1/6, 2/6, 3/6, 4/6, 5/6, or all on a data collection sheet.

I conducted the study over a two day period. Both days, the children were
required to take a fruit (oranges - day one or apples - day two), a vegetable or both in order to fulfill the government's reimbursable meal requirement. On day one, 65 lunches were served and 39 children selected oranges (60%). Of these 39 children that selected oranges, 23 consumed 1/3 or more (59%).

On the second day, whole apples were served to the children. 75 lunches
were served and 55 children chose apples (73%). Out of the 55 children that
selected apples, 21 consumed 1/3 or more (36%).

These results show that even though more apples were selected as the fruit choice, more apples
were wasted than oranges. Shockingly, 49% of apples were discarded whole and 39% of oranges were thrown away uneaten! That is a lot of wasted fruit.

The government's fruit and vegetable mandates for kids are great, but not if this produce is thrown away uneaten. To combat waste, I encourage schools to offer children a wide selection of fruit and vegetable options. Allowing them to select something they will enjoy instead of discard is important to curbing waste. Adults may also want to consider designating a sharing table within the cafeteria. This enables children that do not want a required lunch tray component to share it with another child rather than throwing it in the trash. Additionally, schools could administer surveys to see what produce kids prefer.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

What Does it Mean to be Gluten-free + Lunch/Snack Ideas for Kids

In recent years, gluten-free foods have gained popularity due to the increased number of people with wheat allergies, gluten sensitivity and Celiac Disease. Moreover, recent reports have indicated the incidence of Celiac’s in children may be as high as 1 in 80. Individuals that suffer from these conditions must avoid gluten, the protein found in wheat and other grains. This is because consuming gluten triggers an inflammatory response that breaks down the absorptive villi in the small intestine. As the villi begin to breakdown, they flatten and food digestion and absorption is significantly decreased. Many health issues result such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, migraines, joint paint and fatigue. However, it is possible for an individual to exhibit no symptoms, or simply become accustomed to the symptoms if they have suffered throughout their life.

Adapting a gluten-free diet helps the intestine reduce inflammation and heal. Symptoms lessen and eventually may disappear. This change happens in only a few weeks for children, but may take years in adults due to more extensive intestinal damage. Avoiding treatment may be dangerous because more serious health conditions can develop over time .

It can be challenging for parents with children that have a gluten sensitivity, allergy or Celiac Disease to think of healthy gluten-free lunch and snack options. Just because something in the supermarket is labeled “Gluten-free” does not mean it is healthy for your child. To help ease the burden, here are some ideas:

  • Wrap sandwiches made with corn tortillas
  • Brown rice pasta with meat sauce
  • Deli sandwich or peanut butter and jelly on gluten-free bread like Rudi's
  • Homemade soups packed in a heated container
  • Carrot, celery sticks or cherry tomatoes with gluten-free salad dressing or hummus
  • Whole grain corn chips with salsa
  • Fresh fruit or fruit salad
  • Fruit and nut bars like Larabar or Kind bars

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Avoiding Death

I came across this really interesting video created by Dr.  Michael Greger the other day. In it he discusses the The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) leading causes of death list and his recommendations for avoiding them.  At 55 minutes, the video is a little long, but I found it to be entertaining and informative. Also eye-opening. I've been a vegetarian for awhile now, but the information Dr. Michael Greger shares and the multiple studies he cites about the connection between animal products and disease is really disconcerting. Although, the risk of many of the diseases and conditions on the list is positively affected by eliminating meat from your diet, he stresses that just doing that may not be enough.

I regularly consume eggs and dairy products. I know I'd be able to cut back or remove eggs, and most dairy from my diet, but I'm struggling with the thought of cutting back on cheese. Cheese is my absolute favorite food. I've tried the substitutes and I've come to the conclusion that there is no suitable substitute. I digress. Watch the video, would love to hear your thoughts!

P.S. If you liked the video, Dr. Michael Greger has a bunch more videos on various nutrition and food safety topics on his site

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Vegan Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Ginger & Miso

I just made the most amazing soup. It's dairy-free, easy to make and delicious. The ginger gives the soup a little spice and the miso makes the flavor more interesting that your average butternut squash soup. This soup is also really good for you!  Butternut squash is full of antioxidants and vitamins (and especially high in vitamin A). Ginger is known to aid in digestion and miso is quite high in vitamin K.

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1-2 inches of ginger chopped (depending on your preference)
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1 butternut squash chopped and roasted (I bought 2 lbs of pre-chopped squash because I find it very tough to cut!)
  • 3 cloves of garlic minced
  • 4 tbsp organic miso (note: miso can be high in sodium. They do sell lower sodium versions - so if you are someone that needs to watch your intake, please keep this in mind. Also, miso contains soy, so I recommend you buy organic to ensure you avoid GMO soy)
  • 1 carton of veggie broth (note: broths and soups can also be high in sodium - buy a lower sodium version if necessary)
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • Salt & pepper
  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Chop butternut squash place on a cookie sheet over parchment paper and lightly salt and pepper. Roast for 30 - 40 minutes (you'll know it's done when the squash gets relatively soft)
  2. On medium heat, add oil to large soup pot. Add chopped onion and minced garlic. Cook for a few minutes.
  3. Add chopped ginger.
  4. Add roasted squash and miso. Cook a few more minutes and then add the vegetable broth.
  5. Bring soup to a boil then cover, turn the burner down to a low temperature and let the soup simmer for about 30 minutes.
  6. Turn off the burner, add the almond milk, salt & pepper and use an immersion blender to blend until smooth.
  7. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Healthy Whole Wheat Pumpkin Bread

Having just moved to Atlanta in August, I wasn't sure what to expect for autumn. My idea of the south was that it was warm all the time and the seasons never changed. Luckily that assumption was incorrect and sometime in October the leaves began to change and fall. Surprisingly, the colors on the trees are just as vibrant as they were in New England. All of this put me in the mood to make some pumpkin bread (whole wheat and relatively healthy of course, but still delicious).


1 can of organic pureed pumpkin (minus the 2 tablespoons or so that I gave to my dog)
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup unrefined organic coconut oil
1/2 cup sugar (you could use a sugar substitute such as brown rice syrup or honey as well)
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup ground flax
2 tsp cinnamon (I love cinnamon, but if you don't add less)
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
2 handfuls of chocolate chips (optional)


1. Preheat your oven to 325 F
2. Mix the coconut oil and sugar together, add eggs and continue to mix.
3. Add vanilla and pumpkin puree
4. Add spices, flax and flour
5. Add baking soda - if your batter is too dry you can add about 1/8 cup water
6. Add nuts and chocolate chips if desired
7. Bake for about an hour. Cool and enjoy!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Bags, Not the Reusable Kind

I was looking at a recent photo of myself and for the first time I noticed that I have some serious bags under my eyes. When I shared this with a friend of mine, she suggested concealer. That got me wondering what natural, chemical-free concealer options are available.

There is a great online database run by the Environmental Working Group called Skin Deep. It's a free resource for people who want to find environmentally friendly and chemical-free cosmetics and products. They rank each product from 1 (least toxic) - 10 (most toxic). There is also an explanation that goes along with each ingredient in the product. You may be surprised to see what is in some of your favorite cosmetics, hair products and perfumes that you use everyday. If your product isn't in the database, you can setup a free account and get a free report.

When I searched for concealer over 400 results came up. I filtered through the first few pages before I decided on Jane Iredale Circle/Delete Under-Eye Concealer which rated 2 out of 10. There were several other options that had lower ratings and obviously many that were higher, but I went with Jane because I own many of her other products and like them a lot.

What about you? Do you have any natural/chemical-free products that you love and recommend?