Eating well is like having a savings plan for health. Depositing a good variety of vitamins, minerals and other disease fighters into your body bank now can pay off in many ways. What we eat can lower our risks of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and many diseases associated with aging. There are dozens of foods and nutrients that play a role, but too often the nutritional messages get confusing. So to simplify things, here are our top 10 strategies for a healthier you.
1. Enjoy a Variety of Foods.
A wide variety adds more than just pleasure to mealtimes. Scientists continue to uncover information about the health benefits of many different nutrients found in foods, such as vitamins, minerals and a wide array of other disease-fighting plant chemicals. The more variety you eat, the more chances you have of consuming a wide variety of all these healthful nutrients.
2. Fill Up on Fruits and Vegetables.
Mom was right! Studies continue to confirm the health benefits of these foods. Your best bets are the most colourful: orange (squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots), red (tomatoes, strawberries, red peppers), blue (berries, grapes), green (broccoli, spinach, leafy greens) and yellow (corn, bananas). Include vitamin Câ€“rich foods (oranges, grapefruits, melons, mangoes, berries, kiwifruit, papayas) and foods from the cruciferous family (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage). Whether these fruits and vegetables are eaten raw or cooked, or enjoyed in sauces, soups or stir-fries, you can't go wrong.
3. Go Fishing.
Fatty fish â€“ salmon, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines and more â€“ are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are associated with lower risk of heart disease. Lean fish, such as sole and flounder, are also good meal choices: they're low in fat and high in protein. Include both fatty and lean types of fish regularly in your diet.
4. Consider Calcium.
We usually associate calcium with strong bones, but did you know that it may also help you lose weight? Adding dietary calcium to a low-calorie diet helps your body mobilize and break down stored fat. It also helps with weight maintenance and preventing obesity. Calcium is critically important for teens because their calcium intake during these peak bone-building years will help prevent problems later in life. The best food sources are milk, cheese, yogurt and other dairy products; fortified soy beverages; tofu made with calcium; salmon with the bones; sardines; and leafy green vegetables.
5. Include Iron-Rich Foods.
Iron-rich foods are essential to help prevent iron-deficiency anemia, one of the most common nutrient deficiencies among Canadian women. The best food sources are red meat, liver, eggs, lentils and other legumes, dried fruits and iron-enriched cereals and pasta. To make nonmeat iron easier to absorb, combine these foods with a good source of vitamin C, such as citrus fruit or juice, berries and melons.
6. Fill Up on Fibre.
Whole grain breads and cereals, oat cereals, fruits and vegetables, beans and lentils are packed with fibre, the indigestible part of the plant that helps keep your digestive system regular and can help regulate blood sugar, lower cholesterol and protect against some cancers. Research shows that there are also many other components in whole grains that are beneficial to your health.
7. Eat Foods Rich in Folate.
Folate, the B vitamin linked to lowering the risk of neural tube defects, is a must for women considering pregnancy. But there's more to this important B vitamin: folate helps regulate levels of homocysteine, a protein substance in blood. High homocysteine levels are associated with increased risk of heart disease. You'll find folate in dark green vegetables (such as broccoli, spinach, romaine lettuce, peas and brussels sprouts), orange juice, liver, and dried peas and beans.
8. Eat Breakfast.
A recent study of Grade 8 students found that overweight students were more likely to skip breakfast and eat two rather than three or more meals a day than those who were a healthy weight. "Breaking the fast," the meaning of the word breakfast, is what you do after 12 to 14 hours. Your blood sugar is low, you're hungry and your brain, as well as the rest of your body, needs refuelling to get moving and get thinking.
9. Be Fat Savvy.
You already know that eating less fat, especially saturated fat, is healthy for your heart. But new studies show that eating some fat may actually help you manage your weight. Researchers at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston found that eating some monounsaturated fats (olive oil, canola oil, peanuts or other nuts) on a calorie-controlled diet can support weight loss over a longer period of time.
10. Relax and Enjoy.
Eating brings tremendous pleasure to your life. Food should be something to savour â€“ not something to worry about. Take time to enjoy nutritious and delicious meals with family and friends.
It's called the most important meal of the day for good reason. Breakfast is the meal that starts off your day and fuels your brain and muscles. Skipping it puts you at a disadvantage that you generally can't make up for later.
So what's an ideal breakfast? It should include three of the four food groups: grain products (cereal, bread, bagels, muffins or pitas), vegetables and fruit (juice or whole), meat and alternatives (cottage cheese or other cheeses, peanut butter or eggs), and milk products (yogurt or milk).
If "no time" is your excuse for skipping breakfast, plan the night before. Set the table and have food ready so it will take only minutes. Cereal, fruit, sandwiches (made and refrigerated the night before), yogurt, muffins, and crackers and cheese are all fast, easy and nutritious. If you run out of time, portable foods can be eaten on the way.
Make a breakfast shake of milk or yogurt mixed with fruit that's easy for everyone to sip before leaving home.
Breakfast cereal with milk provides a good percentage of daily fibre, calcium, iron and B vitamins. Eat it with fresh fruit and you've covered three of the four food groups at your first meal. Try the whole grain varieties, or hot cereal, which takes only one minute to make in the microwave.
Eating higher-fibre cereals, whole wheat bread or bagels, bran muffins or oatmeal with raisins will go a long way toward meeting your daily fibre needs.
Go with the nontraditional: a tuna melt, pizza, leftover macaroni and cheese, a grilled cheese sandwich, banana bread, soup, soft pretzels, crackers and cheese, or a granola bar.
Granolas may seem like the perfect nutritious breakfast, but many with nuts and seeds are high in fat. Make your own granola by combining different whole grains and going easy on the nuts.
If you can't start your day without a cup of coffee, do so without guilt. Make it a latte, cappuccino or cafÃ© au lait and you'll get part of your milk allowance for the day.
If weekday breakfasts are on the run, have a family meal on the weekend so everyone will enjoy it and get used to eating in the morning.
If you want your kids to eat breakfast, eat with them.
Whether eating at your desk, in the company cafeteria or in a school lunchroom, lunch is a must. By midday, your body needs refuelling to get you through the afternoon with renewed energy and vigour.
Homemade lunches are half the price of restaurant meals and offer infinite variety and control. What you pack for lunch is as important as eating it. That brown bag should contain a minimum of one serving from at least three of the four food groups: lean protein (meat, fish, chicken, low-fat cheese or alternatives, such as lentils or chickpeas); complex carbohydrates (bread, grains, pasta or other starches); greens, cooked vegetables and/or fresh fruit; and yogurt, milk or other dairy products.
Be creative with leftovers. For a great salad, toss together leftover cooked vegetables and/or pasta, raw vegetables, leftover cooked meat or chicken and a vinaigrette.
Don't forget leftover casseroles or hearty soups. If your office doesn't have a microwave, these can be brought to work in a wide-mouthed vacuum bottle.
For Kids Only
If you want your children to eat lunch, send foods they'll enjoy. Brainstorm together to create a list of lunches that you both agree on. Once at school, they'll be influenced by peer pressure, so respect this and help find foods that are "acceptable."
Don't worry if they want the same lunch over and over again. As long as it's healthy, it doesn't matter. Offer alternatives from time to time in case they have a change of heart.
Think about what else your child will be eating during the day. If he didn't drink milk for breakfast, you may want to put cheese or yogurt in his lunch.
Juice boxes are terrific, but make sure that they're fruit or vegetable juices and not fruit drinks. You can freeze them and they'll thaw in your child's lunch box.