After a bit (or a lot) of overindulging in December, you don’t need a cleanse or a special diet. Don’t let controversies, fads, and trends send you in the wrong direction or make you give up completely. How about just getting back to the basics of eating for good health?
In November 2015, the nonprofit food and nutrition education organization Oldways convened some of the world’s leading nutrition and food systems experts to develop a consensus on the common ground about healthy eating. You can find their entire consensus statement here, but the good news is that these scientists supported these 7 keys to healthy eating.
1. Make half your plate fruit and vegetables: No great surprise here, but the trick is actually doing it consistently, which most Canadians aren’t. Learning to prepare them in creative and appealing ways can help (think grilled portobellos, spiralized zucchini, or mashed cauliflower). The other trick is to plan, shop and prepare them ahead of time, so you’re ready to go when the munchies hit.
2. Swap your refined bread, pasta, rice, for real whole grains: Are you eating whole grains? Are you sure? Impostors abound. (Take my Whole-Grain Pop Quiz and test your knowledge.) Whole-grain bread and bread products are a good start, but try to also include intact whole grains like oats, barley, quinoa, and bulgur on a regular basis.
3. Eat fish at least twice a week: Ideally, one or both of these fish meals will be fatty or oily fish like salmon, trout, sardines, or sablefish, all of which are low in mercury. Try one of my favourite super-quick and easy salmon recipes: Chili-Rubbed Salmon, and for goodness sakes, don’t overcook it.
4. Choose mostly lean meat and low-fat dairy: While it isn’t necessary or even ideal to have a very low-fat diet, the evidence supports getting most of your fat in the unsaturated form (think olive oil, avocado nuts, seeds, and fatty fish). Bacon, prime rib, butter and cheese may not be as bad as once thought, but if you’re eating them every day, you’re not doing yourself any favours.
5. Power your diet with plant proteins: Beans, nuts, seeds, and soy offer protein and so much more. Not sure what to do with them? Check out Julie Van Rosendaal’s great cookbook, Spilling the Beans, or the Alberta Pulse Growers website. Once you get a little practice, you’ll discover some quick, delicious, inexpensive ways to incorporate into your diet.
6. Limit your free/added sugar to 6 teaspoons a day: Canada’s Heart and Stroke Foundation, along with a host of others, recommends we get for no more than 10% of our calories, ideally 5%, from free sugar. Free sugar includes “added sugar” — all sugars added to your food, as opposed to naturally occurring — plus fruit juice, honey, and syrups. Five percent amounts to about 6 teaspoons or 24g a day for a 2000 calorie diet. Read your labels…
7. Cut your sodium intake to 2000mg a day: Hypertension Canada estimates that 2 million Canadians have high blood pressure caused by eating too much sodium. Whether you have high blood pressure or just want to prevent it, steering clear of excessive sodium is a good idea. That doesn’t mean completely eliminating the salt shaker from your home cooking, but rather choosing mostly homemade food from minimally processed ingredients, and reading labels for processed and restaurant food, the source of over 75% of the sodium in our diets.
8. Bonus: What you eat is only a small part of the solution. Focus on why and how you eat to help you stay on track.
None of these 7 strategies are new, and headlines and pop diet books question them constantly, but the bulk of the science continues to support them. So this year, rather than jumping on the diet trend de jour, how about doubling down on the basics? Wishing you a happy and healthy new year. 🙂