Nutrition studies suggests that we can reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease by eating plenty of vegetables and fruit daily, limiting our consumption of foods that are high in calories but offer little nutritional value, and maintaining a healthy weight.
Health Canada advises that, “nutritious foods are the foundation of healthy eating” and that the overall pattern of our diet matters when it comes to health. A more plant based eating pattern has shown to have a positive effect on long term health especially in terms of preventing chronic diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers and risk factors like high blood pressure, blood lipid levels.
What foods should we eat more of?
- What you eat on a regular basis matters for your health. Vegetables, fruit, whole grains, protein, especially plant based protein foods like legumes, nuts and seeds should be consumed regularly.
- A pattern of eating that emphasizes plant-based foods is encouraged. This pattern will typically result in an increase in your fiber intake and an increase in foods containing healthy unsaturated fats. Many Canadians don’t get enough fiber in their diet. Fiber has many health benefits like helping you feel full for longer which helps with appetite and weight control, helps with regularity and a healthy digestive system, helps lower blood cholesterol levels and control blood sugar levels.
- Plant-based foods like legumes (e.g. soybeans and products made from soy like tofu and fortified soy beverages, lentils, chickpeas, red kidney beans etc.), nuts and seeds are also rich in protein. Eating these foods more often, together with other sources of protein such as lean red meat including wild game, fish, shellfish, eggs, poultry and lower fat milk and milk products means you will naturally include more heart healthy unsaturated fats in your diet.
- Water is recommended as the beverage of choice as it supports health and promotes hydration without adding calories. Unsweetened milk, unsweetened fortified soy beverages are also recommended. Beverages containing sugar, be it natural sugars (as in 100% fruit juice) or added sugars (as in sweetened milks like chocolate milk, soft drinks, sweetened fortified soy beverages etc.), are not recommended as the sugar in these products increases the risk of dental decay.
What foods should we eat less of?
- Eating highly processed food and beverages regularly is not encouraged as these foods typically contribute to too much sodium, sugars, and/or saturated fat in our diet and undermine healthy eating. These nutrients are linked to an increased risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, certain types of cancer and can unfavorably affect your mental health. A few examples of processed foods are packaged snacks like cookies and chips, breakfast cereals, convenience foods like instant noodles and packaged macaroni and cheese. Processed foods typically are products that have a long shelf life and contain preservatives, additives and other chemicals that make them highly appealing.
- Alcohol consumption over a long period of time has been linked to many types of cancer, hypertension, liver disease and is also discouraged as it provides no nutrition.
How you can support healthy eating in today’s environment
- Learn, teach and share food skills from planning a grocery list, to developing the necessary food preparation skills, to knowing how to best use leftovers. Make cooking meals a family priority and enlist the help of everyone, including children, in shopping, planning menus and preparing meals.
- Practise taking time to eat, paying attention to your body cues like feelings of hunger and fullness and avoiding distractions when eating. These are all good skills and habits to cultivate in the long run as they will contribute to improving food choices and eating behaviours at any age.
- Become food literate. Learn how to read, evaluate and interpret nutrition information that’s on food and menu labels to choose healthier options. Be aware of savvy marketing and advertising. Understand the broader food system.
Where can you get more information on healthy eating and supportive environments?
Visit https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/ for more information on:
- Food choices
- Eating habits
- Recipes – has a variety of healthy and delicious recipes for breakfast, lunch/ dinner and snacks
- Tips – 3 topic areas are listed: Meal planning, cooking and healthy choices (Eat Well Plate, Healthy eating on a budget, food safety, physical activity, healthy eating for holidays and events etc.); Healthy Eating Anywhere (at home, at school, at work, in the community, when eating out); Life Stages (Nutritional needs and healthy eating habits in infants, teens, parents, adults, seniors)
- Resources – for consumers; professionals; information about the food guide
Prepared by Sharmaline Fernando M.Sc. RD. Community Nutritionist ISC_FNIHB_OR, Feb. 2019
For more information, call the Community Health Program at the Social & Health Department 905 768 0141.