8 Ways to Eat Better
We’ve been misinformed about what a nutritious diet should be. Most importantly, it should be simple.
With so many tasty treats and so little time, it’s easy to put proper nutrition low on the list of priorities. I’m all for balancing enjoyment of indulgent foods and practicing proper nutrition but they don’t need to be exclusive of each other.
The Canada Food Guide has recently released their new guidelines of what a healthy Canadian diet looks like. This update took some cues from the Brazilian Food Guide to put an emphasis on consuming natural foods and improving eating habits. I’m very glad that the new guide finally caught up with modern research and done away with those silly food category servings.
Here’s a break down of the Canada Food Guide into 8 simple sections. Even if you only use one of these tips it will go a long way towards improving your nutrition and developing a healthy relationship with your food.
1. Make natural or minimally processed foods the core of your diet
Natural foods are those that have been plucked from nature and brought to the store with no alteration. Think of foods that look about the same in nature as they do in store (many fruits, veggies, eggs, and so on).
Minimally processed foods are natural foods that have undergone some processes to make them suitable for purchase. These processes can include washing, packaging, removing inedible parts, drying, or fermenting. Some examples include frozen vegetables, dried fruits, ground or cut meat, dried meats, yogurt, pasta, and nuts without salt or sugar.
However, none of these processes include additions of salt, sugar, oils, fats, or other substances that alter the food to be more palatable.
Choosing these foods is beneficial because they are more nutrient dense compared to their processed counterparts.
An emphasis should be put on plant-based meals. They are typically high in fibre, high in nutrient density, low in calorie density, and environmentally friendly.
Combining a variety of plant-based foods with small quantities of animal-based foods provides a foundation for a nutritious, delicious, and satisfying diet which is environmentally friendly.
2. Use oils, fats, salt, and sugar in small amounts when cooking
Oils, salt, and sugar are commonly used when preparing foods as a way to enhance flavours. These ingredients should be used sparingly for different reasons.
Oils, fats, and sugar are energy dense and adding them to natural foods can reduce the nutrient value of those foods.
Processed sugar consumption is linked to obesity, chronic diseases due to inflammation, and diabetes.
Salt is necessary for many bodily functions but only in small amounts. High sodium intake is linked to heart diseases such as hypertension.
Use these ingredients in moderation to enhance meals without offsetting their nutritional benefits.
3. Limit consumption of processed foods
Processed foods are those which have been modified by adding salt, sugar, oil, or other substances to natural or minimally processed foods. The purpose is to preserve them or make them more palatable. Some processed foods include: pickled vegetables, candied fruits, salted nuts, salted meat, cheese, and breads made with sugar and/or salt.
Processed foods are recognized from their natural source, but the addition of salt, oil, or sugar has altered their nutritional composition. Water removal from foods such as milk, fruit, and wheat turn low calorie foods into high calorie foods such as cheese, candied fruits, and bread. High calorie foods contribute to weight gain and obesity.
Processed food consumption should be limited to small portions; either as ingredients in recipes or as a side dish in meals based on natural or minimally processed foods.
4. Avoid eating ultra-processed foods
Ultra-processed foods are foods made from oils, fats, sugar, starch, and proteins. They are designed to be consumed excessively (chips, cookies) and often displace natural foods at meal time. Examples include, sweetened drinks (including pop, flavor powders and juices), sausage and other meats derived from fat, pre-packaged meals, cake mix, cookies, instant noodles, and many other products.
Ultra-processed foods are easily distinguished by looking at ingredient lists on packaging. Typically, if the ingredient list is more than 5 items, the food is considered ultra-processed.
Although the ‘Ultra’ moniker sounds cool, these foods should be avoided whenever possible. They are nutritionally unbalanced and are high in calories. They are full of sugar, salt, fat, and other substances that make them crave-worthy. Some ultra-processed foods are labelled as ‘diet’ or ‘light’ versions. This may improve them slightly but does not make them any less processed.
Ultra-processed food consumption is linked to weight gain and obesity due to a few factors: They are addictive, due to the high amounts of sugar, salt, and fats in these products. They can be habit forming as they require little to no preparation and can be eaten mindlessly. They often come in oversized packages for excessive consumption.
The bottom line is that these foods should be avoided whenever possible. They do nothing for your health and wellbeing.
5. Eating consciously in appropriate environments
Do your best to eat at regular times during the day and avoid snacking if possible. Sit in a comfortable space where you won’t be tempted to eat extra servings.
It is important to be conscious when you’re eating rather than shoveling food in your mouth as quickly as possible. Slowing down your eating can help with satiety and chewing purposefully helps with the digestive process.
Eat with company whenever you can. Eating with others improves the enjoyment of food and encourages attentive eating.
Eat at a table. With plates. With people you like. Away from the TV and phones. Share the responsibilities of preparing food and cleaning up afterward.
6. Shop in places that offer a variety of natural or minimally processed foods
We’re lucky that we have such a variety of options when it comes to shopping for groceries. The typical supermarkets are great when it comes to essential household items, but when it comes to food I want to encourage you to look for locally sourced options when possible.
I suggest checking out your local farmer’s market and independent grocers. Markets usually operate on weekends and they are full of fresh and delicious groceries. As a bonus, you get an opportunity to chat with the vendors, learn about different foods and they may even offer suggestions on how to prepare a new meal. Markets are a great for communities and supporting local businesses help them thrive.
When you’re dining out, look for locally operated businesses or places you know source their foods locally. Not only are these foods fresh and more delicious, but you get the chance to support your neighbours.
7. Develop, exercise and share cooking skills
If you’re already skilled in the kitchen, great. Share your skills with family and friends. Teach others what you know and learn from them as well. If you have trouble making toast, then I suggest asking for help while you develop your skills.
It takes practice to get confident in the kitchen. Thankfully, there are tons of resources in books and online that can provide step by step guides for recipes, preparation skills, and shopping guides. Get friends and family involved as well. Cooking is an essential skill and learning with others can make the process more enjoyable. There’s bound to be some trial and error but it’s all part of the process.
8. Plan to make food and eating an important part of your life
Food isn’t meant to be a chore. It is an essential and highly enjoyable part of life. You can have fun and try new delicious recipes.
Schedule your grocery shopping, make ingredient lists, and organize what you have at home. Share the experience with loved ones to build relationships. Sitting around a dinner table, enjoying a nice meal with people you care about is how you make memories.
Meals are a perfect time to connect with yourself and others. You should dedicate time to the processes each day and enjoy your time as much as you can.
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