Eating in a healthier way does not need to be complicated. There are many nutrition goals that can improve your sense of well-being and help you build healthy habits for life. When creating nutrition goals for yourself, try to make changes that will realistically work for you now and in the future.
Eating healthy does not mean dieting or giving up the foods you love to eat. Instead of completely overhauling your diet, make simple changes when choosing and preparing your meals to increase nutrition, and still eat the foods you love! Take some time to define what your healthy eating goals will be and see if any of these simple changes will work for you.
Lower the fat
Too much unhealthy, saturated or trans fats in your diet can cause higher levels of bad LDL cholesterol, and lower levels of good HDL cholesterol in the blood. This puts you at risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
- Change up your cooking methods. Instead of pan-frying or deep-frying foods like chicken, fish or vegetables, try baking, roasting or grilling.
- Choose lean cuts of meat whenever possible. Drain all fat from ground meats when cooking.
- Substitute regular fat milk, yogurts, cheese and dressings for low-fat options. Find brands that you actually like so you don’t feel deprived.
- Choose heart-healthy fats more often. Instead of using butter, shortening or lard in recipes, oils like canola, sunflower, vegetable or olive should be used to reduce saturated fat.
Rule of thumb: In baking recipes, replace 1 cup of solid fat with ¾ cup of oil. In cooking, replace equal amounts of solid fat with oil.
- Bake your own muffins instead of buying premade muffins which are often high in fat and sugar. By baking your own, you can control the ingredients added. Try cutting the oil in half and replacing it with applesauce.
- Avoid highly processed foods like fast foods (French fries, burgers), potato chips, deli meats and store-bought desserts (donuts, cakes, cookies).
Decrease the salt (sodium)
High amounts of sodium in the diet can lead to health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. The body needs some sodium to function properly, but most Canadians eat two times more than the recommended daily amount.
- In any dish, cut back on the salt and enhance the flavour by using herbs, spices, garlic, onions or a squeeze of lemon.
- Whenever possible, choose low-sodium broths, or dilute the regular broth with extra water to lower the sodium per serving.
- Drain and rinse canned vegetables and beans to decrease salt, or choose low sodium options.
- Read the Nutrition Facts table on packaged foods when shopping to choose foods that are lower in sodium. Look for no salt added or low sodium on the label.
- Limit the salty snacks in your diet (like chips, pretzels and crackers).
- Limit the amount of packaged, processed foods you eat. Fast foods (like French fries, chicken nuggets and burgers), and premade frozen dinners (like pizza and lasagnas) are high sources of sodium. Deli meats and other processed meat (like hotdogs and sausages) should also be limited.
Cut back the added sugar
Too much sugar in the diet can lead to health problems like cavities, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, some forms of cancer and stroke. Sugar can be naturally occurring in fruit, vegetables and milk or added to foods like breakfast cereals, jams, and baked goods. It can be difficult to identify sugar in foods, but Health Canada has recently made changes to food labelling that will make it easier for consumers to understand the sugar content in foods.
- Make water your beverage of choice. Sugary drinks should be limited to special occasions.
- If you tend to add sugar regularly to coffee, tea, cereals, pancakes (syrup) or milk (chocolate syrup mix), try to cut the amount in half and gradually decrease the added sugar to little or none.
- If you consume sugary breakfast cereals, try mixing small amounts of them into low sugar cereal options.
- Buy plain yogurt and add fresh or thawed frozen fruit for sweetness instead of buying pre-flavoured yogurt that often has added sugar.
- When buying canned fruit, avoid those packed in syrup. Choose options packed in water or natural juices instead.
- Read the Nutrition Facts Table and choose foods with less sugar.
- When reading ingredient labels be aware of the many names that sugar has: White sugar, fancy molasses, beet sugar, corn syrup, honey, fructose, glucose, sucrose…these are all added sugars and the list goes on!
- Cut back sugar in almost any baking recipe by one-third and enhance the flavour with added spices.
- Reduce the number of desserts, baked goods, pre-packaged snack bars and chocolate you eat. Try having fruit instead.
Eat more fibre
Increasing dietary fibre in the diet may have health benefits like lowering the risk of heart disease, colon cancer, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Unlike other nutrients, fibre passes through the digestive system without being digested, which helps to keep bowel movements regular and improve overall bowel health.
- Choose whole grain foods whenever possible. Whole grain pasta, brown or wild rice, and whole grain breads are good options.
- Look for breads that list whole wheat, whole wheat flour, or another whole grain as the first ingredient.
- Include more pulses, like beans, lentils and peas into stews, curries, soups or salads.
- Eat raw vegetables and fruit every day. Choose fruits like apples, berries and pears and vegetables like carrots, beets and broccoli.
- Add seeds (like chia and flax) and nuts (like almonds or walnuts) to your salads, baking, cooking recipes and snacks. These can be high in calories, so limit the amount added.
- Read the Nutrition Facts Table and choose foods with more fibre.
Your path to healthier living starts with making simple changes and setting achievable goals. Learning the basics of healthy eating and what you can do today to impact your health is the best way to get motivated to make healthy changes.
Read more from the Dietitians of Canada on setting healthy living goals.