Christina Carreau, BA, ND
We live in a world where there is so much selection and also so much controversy surrounding what constitutes a healthy diet. What is the healthiest diet; is it vegetarian, vegan, paleo, pescetarian, low glycemic index, macrobiotic, raw food, the hormone diet? The options are endless and it becomes quite confusing trying to figure out what is best. It seems like everything that is good for you, is also somehow bad for you and the more you immerse yourself in this debate or discussion the more complicated the simple act of eating becomes. We all have to eat to survive. So let’s not get too hung up on the intricacies of each of these different diets but instead lets focus on some of the basics of a healthy foundation in terms of food intake.
- Water – drink at least 2 litres of water daily. This is so important for overall health and to help flush unwanted toxins from your system.
- Vegetables – try and eat at least 4 cups of lightly steamed or raw vegetables daily. 1/2 of these should be green vegetables (kale, broccoli, spinach, Swiss chard, Brussel sprouts, asparagus, cabbage, etc.). Vegetables are full of vitamins and minerals, they are powerful antioxidants and many of them have detoxifying properties. They are also high in fibre and low in calories.
- Protein – try and consume high quality protein at · all of your meals. Your protein sources will vary depending on whether or not you consume meat and/or dairy but generally legumes, beans, nuts and seeds, eggs, fish, poultry and cheese are all good sources of lean protein. Protein requirements vary depending on gender, age, lean muscle mass and activity levels but generally women should try and consume between 50 and 80 g of protein daily and men should try and consume between 60 and 100 g of protein daily. There is a lot of debate about the appropriate amount of protein to consume and I generally encourage people to eat more protein than the recommended daily allowance because it provides sustained energy compared to carbohydrates and I personally feel that we eat way too many carbohydrates and high glycemic index foods here in North America.
- Fibre – try and consume 40 g of fiber daily. Great fibre sources are fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, ground flaxseed, psyllium, oat bran and whole grains. It is really easy to add fibre to your cereal, or smoothie or salad or soup. Fibre is amazing at regulating blood sugar levels, decreasing food cravings, and promoting healthy hormone levels and bowel regularity. Most of us do not get enough fibre.
- Fat – try and consume healthy sources of fat including olive oil, fish oils, oils from raw nuts and seeds, especially walnuts, avocado and flaxseed oil. For high temperature cooking you are better off using grape seed oil or coconut oil in place of olive oil. Avoid deep fried foods, trans fats, hydrogenated oils, vegetable oil, corn oil, shortening and margarine.
- Carbohydrates – Carbohydrates are a bit more complicated because there are three different kinds: complex, simple and refined; also known as ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’. Complex carbs are vegetables, legumes and whole grains. Simple carbs are natural unsweetened fruit and fruit juices. Refined carbs refer to any foods containing white flour or concentrated sugar (ie. white and brown sugar, corn syrup, molasses, honey, glucose, fructose, sucrose, dextrose). My recommendation is to focus on complex carbs and to further focus on vegetables and legumes rather than starchy whole grains. Eat simple carbs moderately as they are high in sugar. Avoid refined carbs 90-100% of the time. We are a carb-crazed society and eat way too much bread, pasta, cereal, muffins, cookies, etc, for our own good. Refined carbohydrates are in large part responsible for the the diabetes and obesity epidemic.
- Fruit – try and have 1 or 2 servings per day. Fruit is high in sugar but it is natural sugar and offers a number of health benefits. Blueberries, cherries, · blackberries, raspberries, plums, peaches, nectarines, apples and pears are a few excellent options.
- Fermented Foods – are loaded with lactobacillus acidophilus, the most common strain of probiotic and are very healing to the gastrointestinal system and help support optimal digestion. Try and consume fermented foods on a regular basis. These include kimchi, tempeh, miso, sauerkraut, kefir, etc.) Taking probiotics is a great way to re-establish healthy bacteria in your gastrointestinal system, whereas consuming fermented foods helps to maintain them.
- Avoid and/or Limit – White flour, white rice, white sugar, white potatoes, refined flour, enriched flour, high fructose corn syrup, aspartame and artificial sweeteners, alcohol, coffee, black tea, tobacco, processed meats, large fish (tuna, swordfish, shark, eel, king mackerel), preservatives and artificial coloring, peanuts, saturated fats and trans fatty acids. This usually makes people uncomfortable when I talk about foods that should be avoided but let me say this, ‘I believe in moderation when it comes to diet, exercise and health. I understand that food is not always about feeding your body, but that it is also about feeding your soul, feeding your mind and feeding your relationships with both yourself and with others, so don’t worry about trying to avoid something if that makes you feel overwhelmed. But please do try and practice moderation when it comes to your diet. Focus on what you should be consuming and try and adhere to that 80% of the time so that if you want to have a coffee a few times a week so be it or if you want to have a baked potato now and again, don’t sweat it. But make these exceptions rather than the norm.
I do feel like part of our problem with food is that too often we are eating for the wrong reasons (cravings versus hunger, deliciousness versus nutritiousness, boredom, addiction, etc.). Food is directly related to our energy levels, our mood, our overall sense of well-being, our susceptibility to illness, our ability to focus mentally, so please don’t short change yourself when it comes to your diet. This is the foundation of health. If your health is suffering (in terms of weight, mood, energy, digestion, hormone imbalances, etc.) reflect on your diet and whether there is anything that you can change to better support your nutritional requirements. And the last thing I want to say about food is to eat mindfully. We are privileged to have food on our plates everyday. Try and be present and aware of that on a regular basis, as I know that it encourages a more positive relationship with food.
You are what you eat so try and challenge yourself to be a healthier person, not simply to lose weight but to promote optimal wellness and to prevent disease.