Dear Doctor: I know I need to eat more vegetables, but because I have dentures, I can’t chew them well enough to swallow easily. I have particular problems with celery, lettuce, oranges and tomato skins. If I were to “masticate” them in a food processor, would I still get the benefits, or would the processor blade destroy too many cells?
Dear Reader: We see you’re familiar with two indisputable facts when it comes to living with dentures: First, the way they function is different from our original teeth. Dentures rely on a seal to stay in place, so you have to be careful about the types of foods you eat. Texture (think nuts or steak or seeded breads) and the angle of attack (like an apple or corn on the cob) can wreak havoc on both the seal that keeps the dentures in place, and sometimes the dentures themselves. Second, these challenges don’t have to be a barrier to the foods you want to eat. As your question illustrates, a bit of creative problem solving can add to the diversity of the foods in your diet.
While there’s a certain logic to the idea that using a food processor to chop or mince or emulsify a food can adversely affect its nutritional content, the good news is that’s not the case. What appliances like food processors and blenders do first and foremost is to alter a food’s texture and, of course, its appearance. And let’s agree that we’re not talking about juicing here. That’s the process in which the liquid content of a food is extracted and the resulting pulp, the food’s fiber content, is left behind. That’s an entirely different process with outcomes that merit a separate discussion. (Drop us a line if you’re interested.)
Digestion begins the minute food enters the mouth. Teeth pulverize the bite into smaller pieces and particles and mix it with saliva, all of which jump-starts the process of dismantling the food on a chemical level. The lion’s share of the work of breaking down the bonds between food molecules takes place after you swallow, carried out by powerful enzymes in the stomach, and trillions of friendly bacteria in the intestines. What you’re proposing is to get a head start on the chewing process with the help of a food processor. Depending on the blade you use, you can slice, chop, pulverize or puree.
The act of slicing, chopping or pureeing food doesn’t change its nutritional value. However, once a food is broken down, the nutritional clock does start ticking. That’s because a wide range of nutrients found in vegetables and fruit are sensitive to air and light, as well as to heat. When you put an item through the food processor, it’s a good idea to eat it the same day. Wrap any leftovers tightly and refrigerate.
In general, remember to chew on both sides of your mouth when you’re living with dentures. Dental adhesives can help when a saliva seal proves inadequate. As you’ve shown, with preparation and imagination, dentures needn’t be an impediment to a balanced and interesting diet.
Eve Glazier, M.D., MBA, is an internist and assistant professor of medicine at UCLA Health. Elizabeth Ko, M.D., is an internist and primary care physician at UCLA Health.