The holiday season is a tough time of year to focus on healthier eating — but truly, when is a good time? Next up will be New Year’s, then Valentine’s Day, maybe Easter, a spring vacation … you get the idea. Here’s the good news: this means that any time is a good time to make positive changes.
Your efforts may seem small on their own but they have an important cumulative effect that has nothing to do with dieting or weight loss. Our personal risk profiles for many diseases — including cancer and heart disease —are affected negatively by lifestyle factors like low fibre intake, low produce intake, and high processed food intake. Improving the health of your diet is a big-impact way to improve your health now and reduce your risk for disease down the road.
With these tips you can start improving the health of your diet today, in ways small and large. None of this requires counting calories or points or following a strict diet. All it requires is some education, some sustainable changes, and the positive motivation that will come from making these shifts and taking your health into your own hands (and mouth!).
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Get familiar with the food guide
It’s hard to improve the health of your diet if you don’t know what a nutritious diet looks like. Get familiar with Canada’s Food Guide, which offers expert-informed advice on eating a healthy and varied diet.
The food guide went through a major update this year (the last time it was revised was in 2007) with notable changes including an emphasis on plant-based eating, a bigger variety of protein-based foods such as legumes, nuts, and seeds, as well as encouragement for Canadians to cook at home more and being mindful about eating habits.
WATCH: Here’s what’s new about Canada’s 2019 food guide. Story continues below video.
Find new resources
If you aren’t sure what a healthy diet involves, find out! Your doctor can provide you with resources to start, and if you have more questions, check out this video, which walks you through how the food you eat affects your brain; take some books out of the library, and read magazines and websites (Canada’s food guide website has recipes, tips, and other resources to get you started) that resonate with you and your approach to what you eat.
In choosing resources, consider their accuracy and reliability. Look for information from official websites for government agencies and health care organizations, established media outlets, and trustworthy medical experts.
Learn about intuitive eating
Intuitive eating focuses on identifying which foods your body needs at a particular time. Some people have found it to be a valuable way to reconnect with their hunger cues, especially if they have struggled with dieting and diet culture.
Start meal planning
Meal planning is a great way to get organized and save money, but it can also help you incorporate healthy choices into your diet more easily.
There are ample resources on meal planning to be found on Pinterest. The website Tastes Better From Scratch has a collection of free weekly meal plans, including vegetarian meals, shopping lists, and meals centred around the holidays. Budget Bytes is another great resource for recipes that don’t cost a lot per serving.
Build healthy habits
Part of improving the health of your diet comes from building healthy habits. Take advantage of what we know about successful habit building to make your changes more likely to stick over the long term.
Author James Clear’s advice on habit building is valuable; he sends a free weekly newsletter that touches on a variety of topics, including healthy habits.
Eat more fruits and vegetables
Upping your produce intake is a great way to improve the health of your diet. Work produce into your diet in new ways: try cauliflower rice, put a new green in a salad, bring fruit as a snack instead of a granola bar.
Make a resolution to try one new kind of produce each week to expand your options. Don’t forget vegetables that are flash-frozen or canned in water — these are also healthy options.
Not sure how to cook fruits and vegetables well? Check out vegetarian and vegan cookbooks and websites for new ideas, or just eat them raw as a side. Pinterest has a plethora of easy vegetarian recipes, which you can personalize to your lifestyle, including recipes on a budget, beginner recipes, recipes for families, and recipes for kids.
Choose whole grains more often
By switching to whole grains, you’ll increase your fibre and nutrient intake without having to give up any particular foods.
Try switching out white bread for a whole-grain bread like those from Silver Hills; choose brown rice instead of white, or brown pasta instead of regular; or try replacing rice with other grains like quinoa, farro, or buckwheat groats.
Look for healthy fats
It’s not necessary (or healthy) to cut fat out of your diet entirely, but the fats you choose can make a big difference.
Try to choose more fats that are high in omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, like those found in fish like salmon or in flaxseeds. Use olive oil for no-heat or low-heat cooking, and try olive oil or ghee for high-heat cooking.
Reduce added sugar
Many foods, from fruit to milk, naturally contain sugar. Unless you have a health condition that requires otherwise, the sugar you should focus on reducing in your diet is added sugar — those added to foods on top of what may be there naturally.
Start reading food labels to check for sugar intake, and choose lower-sugar choices as often as possible. Examples of added sugars you can find on labels include: brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, and sucrose.
Even small changes can make a difference here, like asking for your favourite fancy coffee drink to have only half the usual sweetener. Over time, as you cut your sugar intake, you’ll find that you need less to get that same sweet taste.
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