Developing mindful eating patterns that include nutritious and flavourful foods is an important part of an overall healthy lifestyle and should include a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy and lean proteins. Yet, how, when, why, and where you eat are just as important as what you eat. Take time to enjoy the traditions and appreciate the great flavors and social experiences food can add to your life.
Also it is important to keep in mind that each bite counts. Making just small shifts in our food choices, can add up over time. Start with small changes in order to make healthier lasting changes you can enjoy, whether you are planning meals to prepare at home or making selections when eating out.
- Create an eating style that includes a variety of your favourite, healthful foods.
- Practice cooking more at home and experiment with healthier ingredients.
- How much we eat is as important as what we eat. Eat and drink the right amount for you.
- Find activities that you enjoy and be physically active most days of the week.
- Manage your weight and in case you need to lower it consulting a dietitian nutritionist could help. A nutritionist can provide sound, easy-to-follow personalized nutrition advice to meet your lifestyle, preferences and health-related needs.
Where to start?
A variety of foods is important, because no one food or food group provides all of the nutrients our bodies need to grow and stay healthy. There are 6 nutrients: water, protein, carbohydrate, fat, vitamins and minerals. Most foods and drinks provide some or all of those, only in different amounts.
For example, bell peppers are a good source of vitamin C, whereas yogurt and cheese provide higher amounts of calcium. Nuts and seeds are good sources of minerals, like magnesium and zinc, but they also contribute protein and healthy fats.
There is some overlap, too. For instance, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are all great sources of dietary fiber. And foods, like fish and chicken, provide protein, but fish are also good sources of heart healthy fats called omega-3s. Fatty types of fish are one of the few food sources of vitamin D – a nutrient many people are lacking. (Eggs are also a good source of protein and vitamin D.)
There are 5 food groups: Fruits, Vegetables, Grains, Protein and Dairy. Plan meals with servings from all of the 5 food groups whenever possible. It helps us eat more of the nutrients we need, and meals and snacks that include several food groups also tend to be more satisfying.
Ways to increase variety of fruits and vegetables:
These are just a few examples of ways to vary your veggies:
- Plan meals to include different colored vegetables throughout the week. Remember to choose vegetables from each of the subgroups (i.e., dark green, red and orange, beans and peas, starchy, and other)
- Experiment with different vegetables when preparing healthy soups and salads.
- Make a point to buy different vegetables, depending on what is in season. Chances are they will be more affordable, too.
These are a few ways to increase variety of fruits:
- Pack a variety of different coloured fruits as snacks.
- Whole fruits, such as apples, bananas, and oranges are really convenient, but individually packaged and already cut up fruit works, too. Just be sure to look for ones with 100% fruit juice and no added sugars.
- Try new recipes that call for fruits, such as a mixed salad with sliced apples or pears. You can also add fruit, like berries and bananas, to oatmeal, muffins and even pancake batter.
- Enjoy fruit in place of sweets for dessert more often.
Vary your protein routine
Ways to vary your protein routine is to:
- Substitute plant-based proteins in recipes, such as a mixture of beans in chili.
- You can make the recipes without any meat or substitute some of the beans in place of some of the meat, if you’d like.
- Another option is to try meatless dishes when you eat out.
- Many different cuisines offer foods made with beans and lentils.
- Experiment with seafood by grilling or baking fish in place of some other protein food for dinner two times per week.
Make half your grains WHOLE grains
These are a few examples of how to vary your grains, while increasing your intake of whole grain sources:
- Try preparing a whole grain that is new to you, such as brown rice instead of white.
- You can also experiment with other grains, like wild rice or quinoa.
- A number of rice blends are available today, too. Or you can make your own, only the cooking times will likely be different.
- Switch to a whole grain bread or wrap for sandwiches – there are so many different varieties available today to choose from. Just be sure to look for a whole grain flour of some type listed as the first ingredient (as opposed to an enriched one).
- Another option is to look for ready-to-eat cereals, and even snacks, that are made with whole grain flours.
- You can also add whole grain flour to muffins, quick breads, and batters to make pancakes or waffles. (Up to half of the amount of flour that is called for in a recipe can be substituted with a whole grain flour. The amount of leavening may need to be adjusted, though.)
Move to low-fat and fat-free diary
Variety also applies to the dairy group, but choosing low-fat and fat-free versions of dairy foods and drinks is important, too.
Examples of how to vary your dairy are:
- By sweetening plain low-fat yogurt with different types of fruits or whole grain cereals.
- This combination makes for a tasty treat, and if you portion it out in advance, then it becomes a convenient breakfast on-the-go or a healthy snack.
- You can also make smoothies with fruit and fat-free milk or yogurt on other days.
- Use cheese as a garnish by sprinkling a small amount on top of dishes, like soups, stews, and casseroles.
- Look for lower fat and reduced fat options when possible, such as part-skim mozzarella.
- For recipes that call for higher fat cheeses, try using a smaller amount. For example, extra sharp Cheddar has a stronger flavor, so you don’t need to use as much.
- Try making or buying dips that use low-fat yogurt or ricotta or cottage cheeses. It’s a great way to eat more veggies and makes for a tasty, healthy snack.
- Limit added sugars
- Limit sodium, also known as table salt (Use salt-free seasoning blends or add dried or fresh herbs and spices)
- Limit Saturated and Trans Fats
Ways to Limit Saturated and Trans Fats
Fat is an important nutrient and is required for various body processes and helps us absorb certain vitamins. However, some fats are considered to be healthier than others. Plant-based fats that are liquid at room temperature, like vegetable oils, are the sources of fat that we want to include more often. These types of fats are called unsaturated fats.
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and are found in fatty meats and higher fat dairy products. Trans fats may be found in snacks, already prepared foods, baked goods, and some margarines. You can check the label for grams of trans fat or check the ingredients list for “partially hydrogenated oils”.
Ways to limit saturated fats and trans fat include:
- Choosing low-fat and fat-free milk and dairy products.
- Eating lean sources of protein foods.
- Including more plant-based oils in place of solid fats.
- Limiting sweet desserts and snacks.
How to go about making changes so they will last
One of the best things you can do initially, is to “Focus on one small change at a time”. The changes you decide to make can focus on one food group or even one meal at a time.
It’s important to remember that “everything you eat and drink matters”. Starting with small changes can help you develop healthier habits that last.
To help you get started, try making 1 or 2 small goals at first. The more specific they are, the better. For example, rather than saying, “I’m going to start eating more fruit”. It’s better to set a goal such as “I will eat fruit 3 days this week as a snack in the afternoon”. Other examples include: “I will try one new recipe this week that uses a whole grain” or “I will drink low-fat milk or water with dinner every day this week”.
Plan meals with servings from all of the 5 food groups whenever possible. It helps us eat more of the nutrients we need, and meals and snacks that include several food groups also tend to be more satisfying.
Try out a new healthy food each week to give variety, eating at some of the many ethnic restaurants as they often offer lots of healthy options, and varying cooking methods as this gives foods a different taste.
Putting it all together!
Create an eating style that includes a variety of your favourite, healthful foods. Enjoy your food, eat well and live healthy. And remember, by making small changes over time, you can improve your health now and in the future!
Eat Right. the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (http://www.eatright.org/)
MyPlate, Start with Small Changes (https://www.choosemyplate.gov/start-small-changes).