It’s not press-stopping news that foods contain antioxidants or that food-derived antioxidant compounds are beneficial to health and detrimental to disease. Gallons of ink (or more correctly in this ditgital age, lots of electrons) have been dispatched in recent years informing us of the salutory benefits of fresh fruits and veggies and extolling the particular virtues of eating broccoli, cabbage, red wine, coffee, tea, tomatoes, pomegranates, and even chocolate. Just let a health benefit be uncovered for a substance and an army of ad men comes out of the woodwork to spin the news to sell whatever it is. Comes now the cranberry.
The Sunday mag in this past weekend’s daily bugle carried an EatSmart toss off column from Jean Carper extolling the virtues of eating cranberries in the prevention of gum disease, which I quote here in its entirity, with attribution:
Eating cranberries may bring an unexpected bonus: healthier gums. Canadian research finds that cranberries have strong anti-inflammatory and antibiotic activity that forms a Teflon-like barrier between P. gingivalis bacteria and gum tissue. Because the bacteria can’t adhere, they can’t cause an infection that leads to severe gum disease, or periodontitis. It’s the primary cause of tooth loss in adults and affects about 1 in 3 adult Americans.
And she’s right. Appalling though it is in 21st Century America, teeth rot and gums fester and far too many of us still lose our teeth to periodontal disease.
But early humans who subsisted on a meat-based diet devoid of refined carbs and cereal grains didn’t have periodontal disease. They didn’t have caries. (And, remember, they didn’t have tooth paste, flouride, or dental floss, either.) It wasn’t until we adopted agriculture on a large scale–and by that, I mean until we grew and processed wheat, rice, and corn–that human dentition suffered.
We’ve got a great book in our library that’s called X-Ray Atlas of the Royal Mummies. In it’s pages are sharp black and white radiograph reproductions of the heads of such Egyptian luminaries as Ramses the Great, whose remains sport a large (and I feel sure, quite painful) tooth abscess that’s eroded the bone of his mandible. Not a pretty sight, and one that didn’t occur before our reliance on cereal grains. In fact, the entire science of dentistry arose in pharonic Egypt, not because they were necessarily smarter than those who came before, but because there was suddenly a need for it. The underlying cause of periodontal disease in the Egyptian dynasties, as it is for us today, is too much sugar, in all its forms. And that includes the long chains of it that constitute cereal flours.
If on a national scale, we returned to a meat-based, fresh fruit, fresh veggie, cereal poor, sugar free existence–say, for example, by adopting the Protein Power lifestyle, to just pick one of several options entirely at random–dental and periodontal disease would soon disappear from the good ole US of A . Then, we’d have little need to augment our grain-based existence with cranberries.
Let me hasten to add, here, that I don’t doubt for an instant that cranberries are filled with wonderful antioxidants and that they do indeed confer a benefit to the gums of the people who eat them. And not just to their gums, but to the whole of them from their eyes to their bladders. I love cranberries and think we should eat them frequently, far more often than many Americans do, which is often no more than the little dab of jellied cranberry on the side of the plate at the holidays.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m a big fan of cranberries. They’ve got a wonderful nutritional profile; with only about 9 grams of ECC per cup, they’re a great low carb food. I love them.
My point is rather that if the Jean Carpers of the world are looking for a way to solve the problem of periodontal disease, they’d be better off encouraging people to subtract what’s causing it from the diet (sugar and starch) rather than recommending they add a bandaid.