The Four Worst Things You Can Put in Your Mouth

By Susan Lutz

PunchingJudy-Artificial Sweetener
Artificial Sweetener by PunchingJudy via Flickr

Here’s a surprising list of the things I think should stay out of our mouths. It began with just three, but I had to add a fourth most people wouldn’t even imagine on the list. The mouth is a magical, marvelous contraption. We sing. We speak. We eat and ingest delicious, sweet, bitter, salty, and surprising treats. It’s time to look a little closer at how we use this wonderful instrument and what we put in it that impacts our health.

  1. There’s just no way to make a case for all that sugar we put in our mouths. The sweet taste is undeniably addictive. Once our taste buds get a hold of these little crystals, we get hooked like, well, a drug. A quick internet search opens a wealth of papers, videos, articles, and studies on the negative impact of sugar. One lecture on sugar by Robert Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics Endocrinology, struck a chord with audiences. Now viewed almost six million times, he speaks to the “evils” of too much of a good thing, sugar, and not enough of what we need, fiber. Sugar messes with insulin and has been found to cause cancer. The alkaline chart shows us that sugar is highly acidic, and this creates a much bigger issue as it is found in so much of our food. It’s worth exploring. I’ve watched loved ones kick cigarettes, but not sugar. Even Gandhi struggled with this one. When I eliminate sugar, I feel better, and I don’t crave sweet things. Then I fail. And then I try again. It’s never too late to quit.
  1. Artificial Sweeteners. I really want these to be good for us. Considering all the problems sugar presents, it would be nice to be able to have sweets that don’t crush our health. However, artificial sweeteners don’t seem to be the answer. No longer a side view of the all-natural-organic world, conventional medicine recognizes the dangers of artificial sweeteners. Diet soda is making headlines as a contributor to weight gain, not a means to slim down. These sweeteners taste bad when I put them in my mouth. I taste chemicals. There are alternatives, though most things sweet tend to stress the body’s inner eco-balance. I’ve used stevia for a long time. Maple syrup adds taste for kids. I know some people that love using agave. Nothing’s perfect, but this one’s easier than sugar to eliminate.
  1. High Fructose Corn Syrup. Wow. It’s amazing this stuff’s still on the market, but the reach of corporations into our food shelves is long and wide. Many packages now print large messages exclaiming the joy of not having high fructose corn syrup in their products. Consider it the evil cousin of sugar. Read about some of the information concerning health issues of ingesting this, and you’ll be better off for it.
  1. I thought I’d stop at #3, but as I watched a child (mine) put his fingers in his mouth, I was reminded of how awful the habit is. Our nails harbor a shipload of bacteria, nestled and ready to launch once we offer them the warm, wet opening of our mouth. If the nail rips, we can pick up bacteria in the skin. We contract warts due to HPV infections. And, it’s not just the mouth. Touching the face with our hands allows bacteria to find entryways into our system. Most of us do it without thinking. It’s easy to see how we could get wildly obsessive about germs. Doorknobs, cell phones, railings, and just about everything we touch probably, under the right conditions, transfers bacteria. Instead of worrying and hiding in the house, it’s easier to work on breaking the habit of touching our face and mouth (and don’t forget the ears). And wash those hands! Plain soap will do. No need to wash them every five minutes. Wash after bathroom use, before eating, and maybe after riding the mass transit or shopping. By keeping those active hands and fingers away from our mouth, we keep the spread of disease down for others and ourselves.

The choice we make with our food directly impacts our health and quality of life. Eating smart and being conscious of our health habits enables us to think clearer, act with compassion and intelligence, and reduce illness. Connecting sugar and sweeteners to a big picture seems perhaps weird, but every choice connects us to a better version of ourselves, thus allowing us to help the planet and others, not hurt it.