1. Fill up on vegetables and fruit
From apples to zucchini, fresh produce should be a staple in your daily diet. Vegetables and fruit are low in calories, fat and salt but are high in important vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants. Research has linked a high consumption of vegetables and fruit to a reduced risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity – so fill up your plate. Be sure to choose vegetables and fruit from each colour in the rainbow to ensure a good mix of healthy nutrients.
Aim for seven to 10 servings each day.
An example of one serving is:
• 1 medium-size fruit (such as apple, pear, banana)
• 1/2 cup (125 mL) any fruit (such as berries or melon)
• 1 cup (250 mL) raw leafy greens (such as lettuce or spinach)
• 1/2cup (125 mL) any other vegetable (such as broccoli, carrots, peppers, tomatoes, celery, cucumber, mushrooms)
• 1/2 cup (125 mL) fruit juice
2. You need protein for a healthy body
Protein-rich foods, such as lean meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts, are required daily to help build and repair body tissues and keep your immune system strong. Since some meat and poultry can be high in fat, opt for leaner choices more often. Or, replace meat and poultry with fish, seafood or beans a few times each week.
Get two to three servings of protein-rich foods each day. An example of one serving is:
• 2 1/2 oz (75 g) cooked lean meat, poultry, fish or seafood
• 3/4 cup (175 mL) chickpeas, lentils, beans or tofu
• 2 eggs
• 1/4 cup (50 mL) unsalted nuts
• 2 tbsp (25 mL) nut butter
3. Choose whole grains more often
Grain products, such as bread, pasta and cereal, supply the body with important carbohydrates that provide vital energy to the brain. They are also a source of essential nutrients, including fibre, B vitamins and magnesium. For maximum nutrients, whole grains are the best choice. A grain is considered whole if it has not been stripped of its seed coat, which is the part that holds the most nutritional value. Examples of whole grains include brown rice, oats, barley and whole wheat.
Opt for six to eight servings of grains each day, and choose whole grains over refined grains (such as white bread or rice) most often.
An example of one serving of grains is:
• 1 slice of bread
• Half a pita, bagel or roll
• 1/2 cup (125 mL) cooked rice, pasta, barley or quinoa
• 3/4 cup (175 mL) cooked hot cereal
• 1 oz (30 g) cold cereal
• 1 oz (30 g) crackers
4. Include calcium-rich foods
Calcium aids in the formation and maintenance of bones and teeth, and is most effective when partnered with sufficient levels of vitamin D, phosphorus and magnesium. Your body requires 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams (mg) of calcium each day. The best food sources include milk, cheese, yogurt and fortified soy beverages, which each provide 250 to 330 mg calcium per serving. Choose lower fat options most often. Other foods, such as leafy green vegetables, almonds and canned salmon (with bones), also contribute to calcium intake.
5. Include some healthy fat
The idea of "fat-free" dieting is outdated. We now know that fat is an essential nutrient in the diet, needed because it helps cushion internal organs, insulate us against the cold and absorb vitamins. But all fats are not created equal. Aim to eliminate intake of trans fats, which are found in hydrogenated oils and shortening, and any foods made from these types of fat, such as doughnuts, pies and French fries. Intake of saturated fats, found in butter and lard, also needs to be reduced. Instead, choose the unsaturated fats found in oils such as canola, flax and olive oil.
Aim for to 2 to 3 tbsp (25 to 45 mL) of healthy unsaturated fats each day. Healthy fats include oil (or salad dressing made from oil), mayonnaise, nonhydrogenated margarine, olives, avocado, nuts and nut butters.
6. Watch your salt intake
The salt shaker is a common fixture on most kitchen tables, but it's not the main culprit for a high sodium intake. The real enemy is reliance on processed and packaged foods, which contain sodium as both a flavour enhancer and a preservative.
The daily sodium intake for adults should be in the range of 1,500 to 2,300 mg, but the average Canadian consumes more than 3,000 mg of sodium each day. This high intake can increase the risk of developing hypertension, a condition that can lead to heart disease and stroke.
Almost 80 per cent of the sodium in the diet comes courtesy of processed foods, while just seven per cent comes from homecooked foods. To reduce sodium intake, cut back on canned soup, deli meats, condiments, pickles and frozen entrees and cook at home more often.
7. Drink up
Are you familiar with the tenet that you must drink eight glasses of water each day? Well, forget about it! It's a nutrition myth based on a general rule taken out of context. While water is crucial for normal body functioning, all beverages (coffee, tea, juice, soda or milk) are water-based and they all count toward your daily fluid needs (13 glasses a day for men and nine glasses for women). Thirst-quenching water is certainly an excellent choice, because it is calorie-free and contains no salt, sugar or caffeine.
Choose water most often, but remember that other fluids count toward your daily goal, too.
8. Leave room for happy indulgences
For some people, a balanced diet may not be complete without the occasional treat, and moderation is the key. Whether you crave the piquant crunch of barbecue chips, the sweetness of chewy liquorice or the luxurious richness of good-quality chocolate, studies show that leaving room for the occasional treat can cut down on cravings and eliminate junk food binges. Keep portions small – not more than 100 calories of any snack – and these tiny indulgences can be a satisfying part of a nutritious diet once in a while.
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