Upgrade your grocery shopping list

SPONSORED: Alaska-proof your body with whole foods and healthy meal planning.

Alaskans know how to play hard and work even harder. We spend long hours on fishing boats and North Slope oilfields and backcountry adventures, but when you're scaling that summit or working that hitch or even just shoveling out the foot of fresh snow in the driveway, you might not be thinking about the physical toll.

The best way to prepare your body for everything Alaska has to offer? Start with healthy bones and teeth and the right kind of nutrition.

"Nourishing the body is the foundation of everything, period," said Dr. Greg Sternquist, a chiropractor and nutritionist with the Alaska Health Improvement Center.

Certified in Advanced Clinical Nutrition, Sternquist recommends a diet filled with natural foods; meat, fruits and vegetables. When it comes to oral health, studies point to the benefits of low-carb diets filled with healthy fats. Dentists recommend avoiding foods and drinks with high amounts of sugar. Chiropractors talk about the value of high-protein, vitamin rich foods.

To Alaska-proof your body, focus on breakfast, lunch and dinner: We caught up with a  local nutritionist, chiropractor and doctor to identify a few easy ways to give your grocery list a makeover.

Shop on the edge

Next time you visit the grocery story, try and aim for the outer aisles, Sternquist said—that's usually where you'll find the produce, meat, fish and organic foods. Keep it simple.

"If it doesn't go bad, it's not food," Sternquist said.

Instead of prepackaged, frozen options, focus on fresh ingredients and dishes you can cook yourself. Even better? Forage your own meals. Studies point to the many benefits of all-natural diets: Around the world, indigenous people that follow their ancestral diets demonstrate low rates of dental and bone disease.

Incorporate natural foods into a modern meal plan. The Last Frontier is packed with healthy, delicious natural options, from fresh fish to tundra greens, berries and big game. Salmon are chock full of omega 3 fatty acids; good for long-term skeletal strength. Rich in antioxidants, berries can help support healthy gums. As for an all-natural source of calcium? Moose bones make a delicious bone broth, Sternquist said: Just boil with vegetables, salt, pepper, vinegar and water.

Say no to sugar

As it turns out, preventing dental disease requires more than daily brushing.

"Healthy lifestyle, healthy mouth," says Dr. Jonathan McNeil of Mint Dental.

Long-term periodontal health requires a strong nutritional base. Start by avoiding the sweet stuff. Too much sugar isn't just detrimental to your dental health — it has implications for your entire body, McNeil said. Gum disease can pave the way for other kinds of health problems, and studies show periodontal problems can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Sometimes, sugar sneaks in where you least expect it. Soda causes big dental problems for Alaskans, McNeil said, and drinks like juice and milk contain more sugar than many people realize.

"A lot of people think they're doing something healthy by giving their kids juice over soda, but the juice is a real problem—it's horrible in terms of the amount of sugar," he said.

For a mouth-friendly alternative, opt for water. It's especially important for kids, McNeil said, because forming healthy habits at a young age can have ramifications for dental health well into adulthood. Bonus: You'll save money and stay hydrated, too.

Go green

When it comes to vitamins and minerals, dark leafy greens have some of the most bang for the buck, Sternquist said. And when it comes to musculoskeletal wellness, vitamins and minerals play a vital role.

"Everyone's diet impacts their life significantly," said Dr. Adam Tudor of Align Chiropractic. "Diet plays the biggest role; exercise is secondary."

In Alaska, it's common to see lower back problems, often exacerbated by slippery winter weather, Tudor said. A diet abundant with vegetables, high-protein and low-carb foods can help strengthen bones and joints and help prevent future problems, Tudor said.

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, foods like collard greens, kale, broccoli, spinach, red and green peppers, yogurt and cheese can work to ward off degenerative disease. The way you eat is important, too, Tudor said. Want to make sure you're getting enough calcium? Make sure you're getting enough vitamin D—it helps promote absorption, making sure the calcium you consume is doing what it's supposed to do.

The bottom line? For optimal bone and dental health, focus on the food you eat.

"People need to eat real food—quit eating food products," Sternquist said. "Food has no ingredients list."


This article was produced by the creative services department of Alaska Dispatch News in collaboration with Mint Dental and Align Chiropractic and Massage. Contact the creative services editor, Jamie Gonzales, at jgonzales@alaskadispatch.com. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.