Do you believe you are practicing healthy eating habits? Are you content with your current “diet”? Are you fueling your body with the optimal foods for your personal health needs? What if we could help you redefine your ideas about healthy eating, find a diet you can stick with for life, and base your food choices on the knowledge and advice of a team of registered dietitians?
This guide will allow you to do just that. The team of medical and dietary professionals at Copeman Healthcare continually review a multitude of dietary and nutritional studies to discover exactly how healthy eating habits can help anyone manage their weight and improve overall well-being. With our collection of healthy eating resources based on science – not conjecture or hearsay – we are confident this advice will help anyone.
We’ve debunked food myths in the past, but here we want to explain the many ways that “diet” isn’t a bad four-letter word. We’re not going to tell you to stock up on pills, deny you your favourite foods, or let you become a slave to your bathroom scale. On the contrary – we want to show you how making some simple meal adjustments, following basic nutrition tips and eating a more balanced diet can help you feel better, lose weight, and optimize your metabolism so you can live a longer, healthier (and happier) life.
Keep reading to discover how healthy eating habits can help. You can also jump to the section that interests you most from the table of contents below, or hover over the small arrow in a blue square in the bottom right corner of the page to come right back to the top!
Table of contents
- How to create healthy meals
- Tips for planning and preparing healthy meals
- Balanced meals = better meals
- Which diet is right for me?
- The not-so surprising benefits of healthy eating
- Top tips for hitting your best weight and maximizing your overall health
How to create healthy meals
What are the most important food groups?
With so many conflicting diet plans, programs and eating styles promoting the abolishment of entire food groups, what should a healthy diet actually include? Few people agree, and it’s a topic further complicated by the fact that our dietary needs change as we age. There are, however, some fundamental guidelines that provide the basis for a healthy eating plan.
Registered dietitians and many medical professionals now prefer to promote the healthy plate concept. It is designed to make healthy eating simpler and more intuitive. Its prescription involves:
- 8-10 daily servings of fresh vegetables and fruit, with a greater emphasis on veggies!
- Several daily servings of fibre rich carbohydrates in the form of whole grains (such as cereals, breads, pastas, quinoa or brown rice)
- 2-3 servings of dairy per day – including milk, yogurt or cheese
- 2-3 servings of protein per day– nuts, beans, eggs, fish, meats or Greek yogurt
- A few small servings of healthy fats and oils each day.
Mindful eating is a step in the right direction, creating a heightened awareness about what you eat as well as how much. So is opting for whole, natural foods rather than items that are highly processed.
As you would expect, Canada’s Food Guide advocates limiting or eliminating the consumption of foods that are disproportionately high in sugar, salt or fat (such as candy, soft drinks and alcohol). If weight management is your primary goal, sugar is likely one of your biggest enemies.
But what about a vegan or plant-based diet? Or what if you want to go gluten-free, or try a low-carb and high-fat diet like the ketogenic diet? Is it then OK to cut out some of these food groups?
In short – most likely, yes. That is, as long as you are making adequate substitutions, eating well-balanced meals, consuming a combination of macro- and micronutrients, and taking supplements as required. In order to ensure that your nutritional needs are met, we recommend consulting with your physician or a registered dietitian to develop a healthy eating plan that meets your preferences while supporting your health and wellness.
How important is hydration?
Water is a crucial nutrient, essential to optimal health and wellness. Hydration impacts our health in many ways including digestion, metabolism, kidney and heart function, skin, immunity, physical performance, cognitive function and weight management. Studies continuously support the importance water has to health and to weight management. It prevents overeating, increases lipolysis (breakdown of fats), and reduces meal energy intake among other findings.
A healthy diet can provide about 20% of your fluid needs, but the majority is provided through beverages, with water being the best choice. Thirst may not be a reliable guide to tell you when you are dehydrated. Create a plan to optimize hydration and stick with it. Start your water intake early and continue mindfully throughout the day.
Fluid requirements are based on individual needs. General daily guidelines for adults are about 2 litres for women and 3 litres for men. Decaffeinated liquids such as herbal teas, decaf coffee, milk or unsweetened milk alternatives as well as low sodium soup broths can also contribute towards healthy fluid intake.
Are carbs really that bad?
How to eat the right carbohydrates
After fat had its moment in the 1980s, lately it’s been carbohydrates’ turn as the latest macronutrient to be vilified in the media. It’s fuelled a rapid rise in popularity of eating plans like Atkins and the ketogenic diet. But are carbs truly the enemy? Will eliminating them from your diet be beneficial? And is there any validity to these trends?
The answer to this question is yes and no – what it ultimately boils down to is knowing the difference between healthy and less healthy carbohydrates. The Glycemic Index (GI) is a system that rates foods according to how fast and how high they raise blood glucose. This scale is used to understand how quickly your body can digest carbohydrates and process the sugars derived from them. Not all high GI carbs are the enemy per se, when consumed in moderation, but typically, lower GI foods will help promote weight management and optimal health more than the other end of the spectrum.
Low glycemic carbohydrates
Research shows that eating a low glycemic index (GI) diet minimizes ups and downs in blood glucose levels, which in turn provides an array of health and weight-management benefits. However, you don’t necessarily have to go low-carb or no-carb to unlock the benefits of a low GI diet, so long as you resolve to primarily eat the right carbohydrates and consume them in moderation.
These “right carbohydrates” are also known as complex carbs, which break down more slowly in your system and therefore result in more stabilized blood glucose levels. Complex carbohydrates include sweet potato, beans, peas, lentils, whole grain bread and pasta, and large flake oats.
Yes, this means you can absolutely still enjoy pasta or bread – just do it in moderation. Healthy carbohydrates, in fact, are an important fuel source for your body that supports your overall cognitive function and energy levels. High-performance athletes, in particular, know what, when and how to eat for maximum results, and that refueling with healthy carbohydrates is particularly important when they’re depleted during prolonged vigorous activity.
High glycemic carbohydrates
High GI carbs are those that are broken down and converted into energy more rapidly. As referenced above, they aren’t all bad. When found naturally in milk, dairy products, and fruit for example, they are a healthy part of a balanced diet.
The worst offenders are processed and refined sugars. Table sugar, syrups, soft drinks, candy, cake, fruit juice concentrate – none of these provide any substantial nutritional value to your diet and each is a known contributor to difficulties managing weight, diabetes and obesity. Learning how to reduce sugar and other simple carbs in your diet will serve you well over the long term.
A diet rich in fibre brings many health benefits. Fibre can help to manage cholesterol and blood sugar levels, prevent constipation, promote a healthy gut, manage a healthy weight and typically carry many healthy micronutrients.
There are two types of fibre in the diet. Insoluble fibre is the roughage type – top sources include whole grains, fruits and veggies – it slows the digestive process and helps keep you regular. Soluble fibre soaks up water to form a gel like substance in the body. It’s found in beans, broccoli, peas, oats and fruit among other sources, and helps slow the absorption of sugar and cholesterol, increases good bacteria in the gut and improve satiety. Both types of fibre are important to good health.
Fibre may not be exciting, but it’s critical for managing your weight and maintaining a healthy diet. Not only does it keep your digestive system functioning properly, but it’s also essential to help manage your blood sugar and keep you feeling full for longer. By eating a meal that’s balanced in colours and nutrients, you’ll take a large step toward achieving your weight loss and nutritional goals. Aim for whole unprocessed foods to get the majority of your requirements.
Whole grains are often thought of as a good source of healthy fibre, but if you are thinking of going gluten free, it is still possible to achieve your daily requirements. For adults, a healthy daily goal is 25 to 35 grams. Increase the fibre in your diet gradually to help your digestive system adapt, and hydrate with sufficient water to process all that healthy fibre!
Organic vs non-organic; what is better for me?
We’ve all perused the grocery aisles and noticed that organic fruit, vegetables, milk, eggs, meat, bread and packaged foods are much more costly. But when does it make sense to buy organic? A lot of it depends on your personal values.
Many studies show that organic food is better for the environment because it is produced without pesticides or fertilizers. While organic food generally comes out ahead in terms of environmental sustainability, not all research currently indicates that it necessarily boasts substantial benefits to our health.
The current body of research is unable to definitively classify organic food as “healthier” for the human body. If eating a diet that is low in pesticides, growth-hormones and fertilizers is personally important to you, then organic foods absolutely have a place in your grocery cart and within your healthy eating plan. If you’re on the fence about whether to go organic, you can always hedge your bets and strategically choose when to go organic based on which foods have been shown to contain the highest – and lowest – levels of pesticides. As of 2018, strawberries, spinach and apples top the “dirty” list, while avocados, pineapples and cabbage top the “clean” list.
Watch out for the “organic halo effect.” Studies have shown that consumers will assume a product is virtuous in all aspects, including health, if it is labelled organic. Consumers may choose that product over a non-organic one, even if it is equally unhealthy. They may also consume more of the organic food than normal because they assume that it is healthier and lower in calories. As with any food, reading the label is important to understand the nutrients and caloric content you are consuming.
Tips for planning and preparing healthy meals
Healthy meal planning
We’ve all heard the adage, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” When it comes to sustaining a healthy diet and body weight, it’s never been truer – just ask any physician or dietitian. Planning healthy meals is essential to developing healthy eating habits.
Mapping out your eating plan can look different from person to person, and your plan will depend on your individual situation and goals. Your plan could include any combination of:
- Pre-tracking your meals, macronutrients, and calories for the upcoming days
- Using a calorie or sugar-tracking app
- Grocery shopping with your spouse or roommate, and spending one day each week planning meals
- Consulting a registered dietitian to develop a personalized, evidence-based eating plan that will meet all your goals and nutritional needs
- Keeping your fridge and cupboards well-stocked with healthy foods that adhere to your dietary goals and keep you on the wagon
- Keep your cupboards stocked with smaller dishes and glasses
Planning your meals, packing your lunches and keeping healthy snacks on-hand in your office, purse, car or gym bag are all excellent ways to curb temptation. If you fail to plan ahead and find yourself skipping meals or exceeding your threshold on the hunger scale, you probably won’t be reaching for carrot sticks or hard-boiled eggs as a first choice.
We all find it more challenging to make smart food choices when hunger strikes, which is why diet-ers often succumb to the siren song of icing-laden cake at a child’s birthday party or a few rounds of pizza and drinks after work. The occasional treat, of course, can be part of a healthy diet and is actually encouraged by dietitians, but you risk derailing your progress if you let these indulgences become a part of your regular routine.
Become an intuitive eater
Eating at your desk while you catch up on emails, hitting the drive-thru before or after work, polishing off a bag of chips in front of the TV . . . if any of these sounds familiar to your routine, you’re not alone. The vast majority of North Americans regularly engage in these kinds of mindless eating habits, an indisputable contributing factor, alongside increasingly sedentary lifestyles, to the skyrocketing obesity rates plaguing Western nations.
Here are some easy ways to curb mindless eating and incorporate mindful eating into your lifestyle:
- Focus on hunger cues – learn to identify your hunger level on a scale, and try to only eat when you’re truly hungry – not because you’re bored, stressed, or upset.
- Drink water with each meal – oftentimes, your body misinterprets thirst as hunger; drinking water before each meal can help make you feel fuller, as well as reduce your overall caloric consumption.
- Turn mealtimes into distraction-free zones – take a break and avoid eating while working, driving, texting or watching TV. This enables you to focus fully on enjoying your food, monitor your satiety level and hunger cues and avoid mindless snacking or over-eating.
Don’t forget that sometimes feeling hungry is okay! Dietitians are quick to point out that learning to manage hunger takes practice and mindfulness, and that it doesn’t happen overnight. That said, while you should plan to feel hungry sometimes, you shouldn’t make a practice of letting your hunger escalate to a level where you feel ravenous.
What can I do to prevent bad eating habits?
Controlling your environment is your best defense against the temptations of unhealthy snacks and mindless eating. It’s the ace up your sleeve when it comes to sustaining your healthy eating habits.
You may not be able to eliminate that box of doughnuts that appears in your workplace staffroom, dictate what’s being served at a wedding buffet or insist on healthy holiday dinners at your mother-in-law’s house – but you can control how you prepare for and tackle these situations.
A great tip is to pack your lunch the night before and make sure to keep high-protein, high-fiber snacks in your desk at work and/or in your purse, car and gym bag. Invited to a luncheon or a social event? Ask if you can bring a healthy option, or take the initiative to let the host know that you have dietary concerns.
Staying hydrated is important for many reasons, but in this context, it will ensure that thirst doesn’t incrementally drive your hunger cues as well.
Want some healthy tips for eating out? We highly recommend looking ahead at restaurant menus when you intend to dine out. Most restaurants post their menus online, and sometimes even nutritional information, which makes it easy to pick balanced meals and nutritious options in advance.
Most importantly, you can control your environment in the place where you spend the most time – your home. Always ensure your fridge and cupboards are stocked with healthful foods – proteins, nuts and seeds, fresh produce and whole grains or dairy – that adhere to your meal plan. Often, taking the time to do this is enough to effectively reduce the temptation to hit the drive-thru or order take-out.
Are you an emotional eater? Do you go crazy for bread, chocolate, peanut butter, salty foods or ice cream? Welcome to the club – many people do. Feeding your stress is a common challenge, and often requires time and attention to develop the appropriate coping strategy. If self-talk and coaching is not enough on its own, we recommend seeking support from professionals, from dietitians to psychologists and doctors. Stress is another form of mindless eating and it can be among the most difficult habits to conquer. But, it can be conquered nonetheless!
To manage stress eating;
- Plan ahead and be consistent. It’s challenging to start, but with some practice, you can become very adept over time. You’ll find it comes with the added benefit of helping you feel more in control when life gets chaotic.
- “Out of sight, out of mind!” Keep unhealthy treats and snacks out of the house. You’re much less likely to consume junk foods and sugary snacks if they’re not immediately accessible. So, do your best to keep them out of your home! This doesn’t just apply to traditional “junk foods,” but also “trigger” foods – any foods you find yourself unable to stop eating when they’re around. Foods like nuts, seeds, and cheese, for example, can be good for you, but their high caloric density can put a serious dent in your calorie allowance and derail your weight loss plans if you can’t moderate your consumption.
- Ensure you are not dieting too strictly. Depriving yourself entirely of foods you enjoy is more likely to harm than help you in the long run. Overly restrictive diets often fail because they’re not sustainable over the long term. Eliminating entire food groups, and never indulging in an occasional treat, can ultimately cultivate an all-or-nothing dieting mentality that can be a precursor to binge eating, yo-yo dieting and detrimental effects to your mental health.
Do your best to only bring small quantities of these “sometimes” foods into your home when you’ve planned to treat yourself – and then enjoy them guilt-free! During your routine weekly shopping trips, however, try to keep them off your grocery list and out of your cupboards. Another way to look at this is to allow yourself an occasional treat outside the house. A single serving ice cream cone when you are out and about is much better than stocking a 2L pail of your favourite chilled dessert at home.
You can help find a healthy middle ground by turning “comfort” food into “healthy” food. Substituting spaghetti with whole grain pasta (or vegetable noodles) and reducing the fat content of your favourite go-to recipes, can make your favourite meals work within your healthy eating plan!
Balanced meals = better meals
Move over food pyramid, let’s follow the balanced plate concept
It’s 2019, so it’s time to rethink how your meal looks. Canada’s Food Guide was refreshed in January 2019 and has a clear image of your plate divided into three sections. 50% of your meal should come from vegetables and fresh fruit. 25% is a healthy lean protein – and it doesn’t have to be meat. The last 25% should come from whole grain carbohydrates. Opt for whole grain options whenever possible.
This concept is a simple tool to help manage food in all areas of your life. If you consider your grocery shop and fridge, stock up using this model. As you plan your meal, pull out ingredients that fit this mix before you start cooking. And, if you know you will have a carb or protein heavy meal, think to add in additional fruits and vegetables throughout the day in your snacks to help meet this balance by the end of the day.
Forget crash diets, eliminating entire food groups and creating unsafe caloric deficits. Not only are these practices rarely healthy, they’re also not sustainable. If you want to lose weight, feel more energized and generally improve your health, focus instead on eating a healthy, balanced diet and maintaining a modest caloric deficit. You can also toss out all of those chemical-laden, heavily processed diet bars and shakes collecting dust in the back of your cupboard. Instead, choose whole, nutrient-rich “real” foods that provide actual nutritional value.
Research has shown that getting sufficient calories from a nutrient-dense, well-balanced diet with appropriate amounts of carbohydrates, lean proteins, and healthy fats supports better health, satiety and weight control. And, it all starts with a healthy, balanced breakfast: the most important meal of the day.
Prioritize a balanced breakfast
It’s no longer a secret why breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Several studies have confirmed its benefits in recent years, especially when it comes to weight control, managing productivity and improving brain power.
While eating breakfast is one thing, eating a healthy breakfast is another thing altogether. So what constitutes a healthy, balanced breakfast? Building a balanced breakfast is easy once you understand the balanced plate concept. Fill half your plate with vegetables and some fruit, one quarter whole grain, fibre-rich carbohydrates, like a slice of whole wheat toast and one quarter protein-rich foods such as eggs or Greek yogurt. A small portion of healthy fats – such as natural peanut butter or one quarter of avocado – can earn its place onto your plate as well.
Consistently starting your day with a balanced breakfast will kick-start your metabolism each morning, keep mid-morning hunger at bay and ensure you reap the benefits of healthy eating throughout the day.
Eat the rainbow
Want a simple, effective tip to ensure you get enough fibre in your diet, as well as antioxidants and other important nutrients? Add colour to your daily food intake.
That’s it. Think red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown . . . you get the idea. Now, don’t think you’ve discovered a brilliant loophole here, we’re not talking about brightly coloured candies. Rather, eating a colourful selection of fresh produce is the foundation of successfully consuming a rainbow of foods each day. Eating at least five colours each day is a good indication that you’re filling your plate with healthful foods rich in antioxidants, and that you’re getting your daily share of soluble and insoluble fibre.
Which diet is right for me?
How to choose a diet
Whether it’s for weight loss, heart health, controlling blood sugar, or just optimizing your health, making permanent lifestyle changes can truly test your willpower. Whatever your motivation, it may deliver an onslaught of new challenges to your daily routine. The good news is that if you have a basic understanding of the psychological stages of change, you’ll have a major leg-up on making lasting changes toward healthy eating, weight loss, and your health.
If weight loss is your motivation for changing your eating habits, then adhering to the top three dietary behaviours for weight loss can make a huge impact in your life with relatively minimal effort: keep a daily food diary, eat out less often and consume fewer liquid calories.
Choosing a weight loss program or finding an eating plan that you will stick to can feel extremely daunting, especially if you’ve struggled with yo-yo dieting in the past. There are a few key factors, however, that all successful diet plans – or eating plans as dietitians prefer to call them – share:
- Fits your budget, financially and time-wise – You’re less likely to fall off the wagon if you can afford everything on your grocery shopping list and you aren’t required to rely on expensive, packaged diet foods. It’s also important that the meal planning and prepping you commit to fit into your routine.
- It’s balanced, flexible and adaptable – You may have iron willpower, but sticking to a highly restrictive diet on a long-term basis increases your likelihood of developing nutritional deficiencies, can potentially put your health at risk, and can be socially isolating by decreasing your chances of ever dining out, eating at a social event or indulging in the occasional treat.
- Involves your physician or clinical team – Before launching a new weight loss program, always check with your physician or learn what a registered dietitian can do for you. They will ensure that your nutritional needs will be met and that you are not compromising your health.
The Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet has been enjoyed for centuries, but only in the last two decades has it been backed by a wealth of research that supports its benefits to our health. Modeled after the eating styles of countries such as Greece, Spain and Southern Italy, this diet is much more balanced than some alternative styles of eating.
It is promoted by many clinicians as among the most sustainable healthy eating plans. Health benefits linked to this way of eating include:
- Reduced cardiovascular risk factors
- Prevention of metabolic syndrome
- Weight loss and decreased risk of obesity
- Prevention of diabetes and pre-diabetes
- Decreased risk of developing certain cancers, in particular breast cancer and colorectal cancer
- Lowered risk of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Prevention of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases
- Decreased disturbances in circadian rhythm
- Healthy aging
The Mediterranean diet prescribes:
- Plenty of plant foods – a primarily plant-based diet, which includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and herbs and spices.
- Fats high in monosaturated fat – including extra virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds.
- Moderate fish intake – fish consumption is favoured over meat, especially red meat which is rarely eaten.
- Includes dairy – especially fermented dairy products, such as probiotic-rich yogurt and kefir.
- Modest (red) wine intake – you read that right… as long as your physician approves, the Mediterranean diet advocates moderate consumption (up to a glass each night) of heart-healthy red wine
- Prioritizing physical activity and social connections – They make this a daily routine!
Though the Mediterranean diet may not help you lose weight as rapidly as some other programs, it has been shown to promote gradual weight loss, and many followers report it’s much easier to adopt as a permanent lifestyle change than more restrictive diets.
What is a vegetarian diet?
You might be surprised to read that a vegetarian diet doesn’t usually include meat, poultry or fish and encompasses many types of vegetarian eating. This includes lacto- (includes milk), ovo- (includes eggs) vegetarian diets or a combination of the two. Another type of vegetarian diet is a vegan diet, where all animal products are avoided.
These terms fit in with the broader term plant-based eating, which simply refers to diets where the majority of food comes from plants. Contrary to popular belief, these diets can still include small amounts of meat, poultry, fish and other animal products. Other terms that fit this definition include: semi-vegetarian, flexitarian, pescatarian (includes fish), and even the Mediterranean Diet.
Vegan and vegetarian diets are increasingly popular as alternative food movements, and options for eating healthy non-meat proteins, and even dining out, are now widely available on an international scale.
Vegetarian and vegan diets are often associated with weight loss and health benefits, and for good reason – a plant-based diet, rooted in whole and unprocessed foods, often supports a lower calorie intake and is generally rich in fruits and vegetables – nature’s gift for preventing and managing metabolic syndrome, among many other health benefits.
Be warned, however, that not all vegetarian or vegan foods are healthy. Potato chips, meat substitutes, and snack foods may be marketed as vegan, but they are also likely highly processed, high in sodium, sugar and calories, and highly capable of putting a major dent in your weight loss efforts, or even make your health worse.
With all types of vegetarian diets, including a vegan diet, a balanced and adequate intake of certain nutrients is the primary concern. Substituting in healthy, appropriate whole foods can make the difference between a sustainable, nutritious diet and an unhealthy, “junk-food” one. Without meat or fish, (or eggs and dairy for vegans), many wonder how it is possible to consume their required nutrients.
Along with adequate protein, the main nutrients of concern include B12, calcium, iron, vitamin D, DHA, and zinc. There is a surprisingly diverse array of nutritional foods that are able to provide the necessary nutrients. Many plant foods are a better source of iron than red meat, however, look to pair these with the right foods, such as Vitamin C, to help with iron absorption. New vegetarians may be surprised to learn;
- Alternatives for Omega-3’s include walnut, flax and many other seeds.
- Beans are an excellent source of vegan-friendly protein.
- Pulses and quinoa are great examples of highly nutritious foods in vegan diets.
- Dairy isn’t the only source of calcium, although it does provide some essential probiotics.
If you are new to this style of eating, it’s important to speak with a registered dietitian to ensure you’re getting the full balance of macro- and micro-nutrients.
Gluten is a family of proteins found in several grains like wheat, rye, spelt and barley. Many people consider gluten in breads, pasta, and baked goods treats, but it can include so much more. While most people tolerate gluten-containing foods just fine, it can cause problems for people with certain health conditions, such as celiac disease, gluten sensitivities, IBS or wheat allergies.
It is important to note that a true confirmation of a food sensitivity is not simply by eliminating that food for several weeks and seeing some health improvements. It’s after reintroducing that food back in the diet, and seeing the symptoms reproduced that we have a true confirmation of the offending food.
Cutting gluten out probably won’t cause you any major harm in the short run. However, it is important to read the labels because foods billed as gluten-free aren’t necessarily healthier for you. In many cases in fact, they can be worse. Gluten-free versions of food can often be higher in calories, fat, and carbohydrates, more refined and lower in fibre and nutrients in general than their gluten-containing counterparts.
With the help of a trusted professional, you can safely figure your symptoms out and eliminate those that are bothersome while ensuring you still have variety and adequate intake of your daily nutritional requirements.
Ketogenic diet for beginners
The ketogenic (“keto”) diet involves consuming a diet of between 70 to 90 per cent fat, eight to 20 per cent protein and five per cent carbohydrates. Staples of the keto diet include meat, fish, eggs, high fat dairy, oils, nuts and seeds, and leafy green vegetables. Carbohydrates – including pasta, starchy vegetables, fruit and grains – are extremely limited.
Don’t panic if you’ve been taught that fat is the enemy – in the ’80s, many popular diets vilified fat, but healthy fats have since been found to be a crucial part of a balanced diet. If you’re still wondering whether fat is friend or foe, the simple answer is neither. Your relationship status with any major macronutrient can be effectively described as: it’s complicated.
Living la vida low-carb works by putting your body into a state of ketosis. This is achieved when your body does not have a sufficient supply of glucose, which is derived from carbohydrates and is normally your body’s primary source of fuel. In the absence of glucose, your body begins to use fat as an alternative fuel source, producing ketones. The presence of ketones indicates that your body is now running on – and burning – fat.
Advocates of the keto diet celebrate its tendency to induce rapid weight loss and naturally suppress appetite. Critics argue that it’s an unhealthy way to lose weight and can lead to serious negative health consequences in some individuals. In addition, the long-term effects of a ketogenic diet have not been well studied.
While there’s plenty of evidence that the ketogenic diet is effective for promoting weight loss in the short term, a variety of potential side effects and its high level of restrictiveness means it’s not for everyone.
Before starting the keto diet, or any other restrictive diet for that matter, be sure to have an annual check-up with your physician and consult a dietitian, who can prepare you for the constipation, vitamin deficiencies, changes to your lab work, and other symptoms to monitor while on the diet.
DNA and diet: Innovations in healthy eating
Nutrigenomics is the study on the interplay between the genes you were born with, your nutrition, and health outcomes. It is in essence, a guide to personalizing your own nutrition. For example, using a saliva sample, several dozen genetic markers are measured to show how specific genes change your response to different dietary components. By tailoring nutrition to your genetic profile, a nutrigenetics test suggests how you can optimize your energy potential and maximize your health.
Some pitfalls of this type of study, as is with all genetic testing, is that although an individual is composed of certain genes, those genes are not always expressed. A trained individual practicing in this area will also take into account diet history, family medical history, results from medical tests and lifestyle factors to ultimately provide personalized recommendations to help you make the most of the results of your nutrigenomics test.
Finding your perfect diet
The multidisciplinary team of medical and dietary professionals at Copeman Healthcare continually review and compile a multitude of the latest dietary and nutritional studies to help us provide evidence-based medicine. We use our learning outcomes and experience to help our patients discover exactly which diet they should follow to improve and optimize their health. One step further, and they’ll find a recommendation that suits their lifestyle and preferences.
That’s right – we’ve cracked the code for determining your personalized perfect diet plan. And our findings may surprise you, because we discovered that it’s much easier than even the best weight loss programs would have you believe.
The truth is that the right diet is simply the one you’ll stick to. That’s it, that’s all. And that means that the right diet looks different for everyone. The best way to figure out which diet will suit your needs is to begin a conversation with a registered dietitian.
The not-so-surprising benefits of healthy eating
Healthy eating for disease prevention
Are you surprised to hear that while fueling your body in a healthful way, you can also help boost your immune system and prevent disease?
Eating healthy for disease prevention is based on some fairly simple principles: a balanced, nutritious diet comprised of whole foods that will sustain a healthy weight. Although these concepts aren’t difficult in theory, they can be trickier to put into effect in the real world.
Copeman dietitians have compiled six evidence-based dietary changes to help prevent diseases that are easy to implement and don’t require you to drastically overhaul your current diet. They include cutting back your sodium intake, eating more fruits and vegetables, reducing your red meat consumption, choosing real whole grains, limiting sugar and eating only to the point of satiety.
When put in practice, healthy eating and weight maintenance, as a whole, can dramatically lower your risk of many health problems and chronic medical conditions. This includes anemia, cancer, heart conditions, osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood pressure and countless others.
Healthy eating for your bones
Many of us don’t consume enough calcium, and this is reflected by increasingly high numbers of seniors who struggle with bone diseases and bone density issues.
As discussed above, it can be fairly straightforward to eat right to prevent chronic disease from taking hold – but what if bone disease runs in your family? You’ve recently begun a diet that omits common sources of calcium, such as going vegan? Or your doctor has informed you that you are at risk for osteoporosis?
Good news! Healthy eating for your bones is also easy – simply find and incorporate foods you enjoy that are high in vitamin D and calcium, which is vital for building and maintaining strong bones. Milk and dairy products are excellent sources of calcium of course, but dairy is not your only source of calcium. (Vegans rejoice!) It’s also found in almonds, white beans, lentils, salmon, cooked spinach and many fortified soy products.
Vitamin D aids in calcium absorption, and it’s extremely important for that reason. Foods rich in vitamin D include fatty fish, cheese, egg yolks and some brands of fortified yogurts and cereals. Vitamin D supplements may be prescribed by your physician, if necessary.
Other nutrients important for bone health include vitamin K, and magnesium. A Mediterranean diet, dense in all of these nutrients has also been associated with better bone density with age.
If you are worried about your bone health, or have concerns about deficiencies, contact your physician or a registered dietitian, Who can help you assess, identify and address any dietary issues and develop an eating plan to improve your bone health.
How food can affect your mood
It’s easy to assume that we know all the benefits of healthy eating – feeling better, improving cognitive function, maintaining healthy body weight and blood pressure, etc. And you’re right, those are correct.
However, another advantage is that healthy food can actually improve your mood. We’re not just talking about how happy you feel when you fit into your goal pants or look better in a swimsuit, either.
Research indicates that the types of foods we consume can impact our serotonin levels, and that making smart food choices can reduce depression and help maintain a better mood. Foods especially rich in the amino acid tryptophan – such as sunflower seeds, tofu, turkey and others – can be especially helpful.
Sugar might make you feel fantastic in the moment, but the crash it produces results in the exact opposite effect on your mental wellbeing. Yet another reason to try to reduce your refined sugar consumption.
Eat brain-boosting foods
What’s good for our body is often good for our brain. In addition to mood, there are certain foods that we can eat which have been shown to boost a variety of brain functions. Foods rich in antioxidants protect brain cells from oxidative damage, reduce inflammation and clear toxic proteins. You can also help lower triglyceride levels and blood pressure with fatty acids to keep your blood vessels healthy and brain cells flexible. With optimal blood cholesterol levels, studies have shown memory can improve. And lastly, don’t forget to provide a continuous supply of energy; glucose is the brain’s preferred source of fuel, but it can only store a small amount at one time.
Not only do these foods make us sharper in focus, but they can prevent serious chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. Look for omega-3’s and anti-oxidants in high concentrations, and better yet, try new foods to get these vital nutrients. Have you thought of different nuts and seeds for your fatty acids? Or a colourful, seasonal fruit or vegetable that is red, blue or orange?
If you’re interested in hearing more on this topic, we recommend Dr. Ramsey’s Eat Complete.
Eating well as you age
As we age, our bodies change – and so do our nutritional needs. Surprisingly, a startling number of people never take this into consideration when trying to adopt a healthy eating plan or weight loss program. It’s not hard to eat your age, however it may require a few adjustments, particularly when you are beyond 65 years of age.
In your teens, your body undergoes dramatic physical changes. How you eat and meet your changing body’s nutritional needs during these years can set you up for struggles or success later in life. Establishing healthy eating habits during this part of your life is crucial, as is increasing protein and caloric consumption to support your body’s development. Whether a teenager facing acne, or a senior facing wrinkles and sun spots, the right foods can also help your skin health.
As your hormones shift and your lifestyle changes – having children, facing financial stress, and placing your body through the physical taxation of a sedentary desk job or the rigours of a labour-intensive career – your nutritional needs change as well. Your appetite will decrease as you reach a senior age, but your requirements for certain vitamins and minerals actually increases, which can create problematic imbalances.
At Copeman we recommend working with a registered dietitian to identify your evolving dietary needs. This will ensure your healthy eating plan continues to support you as your lifestyle changes. Eating poorly may or may not cause irreparable damage, but it’s much easier to eat preventatively than to correct serious health issues that can develop later in life due to long-term, chronic nutritional deficiencies.
Copeman has programs for all ages. From Copeman Kids, the Young Adults Prevention Program, LifePlus, and the suite of Clinical Pathways, we are able to help our patients with their age and health-related concerns as they evolve.
Top tips for hitting your best weight and maximizing your overall health
Eating together: it’s more important than you think
For centuries – across all communities, cultures and manner of dinner tables – food has drawn people together.
Whether you share meals with your family, friends or roommate, research is revealing that sharing your meals with people you care about provides an array of significant health benefits. And these benefits are more than simply nutritional. Eating together also promotes the development of healthy relationships – both with food and within families.
Dining together promotes genuine connection, encourages better nutritional choices and naturally results in more mindful eating. Eating more slowly and pausing to savour your food are natural, healthy by-products of dinnertime conversation.
Time together at the table isn’t just a convenient opportunity for family time; it’s also ideal for promoting healthy eating habits for the entire family – kids and adults alike. Seniors who eat together are more apt to eat larger meals, and therefore demonstrate improved nutritional intake over their isolated counterparts. Studies in British Columbia have shown children who consistently eat with their families learn better table manners and communication skills. Teens have a lower risk of substance abuse, teen pregnancy and difficulties in school when they share in family meals. Other benefits to kids and teens include healthier body weight, lower risk of disordered eating, and healthier eating into adulthood.
Cooking together with your family can be even more rewarding. Instead of hitting the drive-thru or ordering pizza, break the cycle of bad eating habits in your home by inviting children into the kitchen. Encourage them to help prepare some healthy, easy recipes; not only does this create the perfect opportunity to connect with kids and talk about your day together, but it helps them learn a crucial skill that they’ll value and utilize for their entire lives.
Kick-start your metabolism
When it comes to healthy eating habits to lose weight or diets that promote quick weight loss, you’ve likely realized by now that there’s no magic bullet or quick fix.
We do, however, have some dietitian-approved tips and tricks that can help initiate your weight loss journey and keep your metabolism going. As discussed earlier;
- Never starve yourself – always eat at regular intervals, preferably every three to four hours
- Eat a balanced breakfast – even if you sleep in, make sure you grab breakfast, which is widely considered by health professionals to be the most important meal of the day
- Fill up on fibre and water – These both play an important role in digestion
- Track your intake – Create a food diary to help you stay on track
- Choose unprocessed foods – They help you eat more slowly and may reduce sugar cravings. Furthermore, studies show that diet quality may count more than diet quantity for weight loss.
- Consume adequate protein with every meal – eggs are just one example of a highly versatile and amazingly nutritious protein.
Portion control: Downsize your dishes and other easy tricks
This sounds too good to be true, but it is. One dead-simple, extremely effective psychological trick for fooling your body into feeling fuller and more satisfied with smaller portions is to simply downsize your dishes. Yes, simply eating off of a smaller plate can help you lose weight.
Smaller plates, bowls and glasses make your serving sizes appear relatively larger than they are, thus encouraging you to consume smaller quantities while still feeling just as satisfied.
Here are six more easy ways to regain control over portion sizes:
- Measure your food – It’s easy to eyeball, but a measuring cup, spoon or food scale will never underestimate the size of that gob of peanut butter on your spoon or that “generous” scoop of ice cream. Stop telling yourself that two or three servings are actually just one.
- Pre-portioned servings are your friend – Portioning your food (such as nuts and crackers for snacks, or pasta and rice for cooking) into single servings can help you get used to proper portion sizes and establish a familiarity with how much you should be eating at one time.
- Watch your oils, sauces, and dressings – cooking oils, condiments and these kinds of extras are almost always high in calories, so drizzling them at will over your salad, burger or frying pan can pile on calories faster than you think.
- Eating out – recognize that you will likely be given a serving that is more than what you would usually eat, and adjust accordingly. Take left-overs to go, or have smaller meals and snacks the rest of the day
- Sandwich your meal with veggies – Eat most of your veggies at the beginning of your meal. If you feel like going for seconds, have a second helping of veggies (and a smaller portion of the other dishes).
- Pay attention – Recognizing your body’s cues and stop eating when you feel satiated. It may take some practice to tune in to what that feels like, but it can prevent you from overeating. Contact a Registered Dietitian who can help you hone this valuable skill.
Beware of liquid calories
Limiting your consumption of liquid calories is one of the simplest, yet most powerful, diet tips for losing weight and maximizing health. Not surprisingly, it’s also one of the top diet saboteurs, and research shows that drinking calorie-laden beverages on a daily basis is a major contributing factor to skyrocketing obesity rates.
Alcoholic beverages and refined sugar are unnecessary calories. If you’re trying to watch your weight, start by limiting or eliminating your consumption of alcohol and refined sugar. You’ll soon see a noticeable difference in your weight, and likely your overall health if you can avoid these treats.
Drinking your calories – whether in the form of fruit juices, sodas, sugary coffee drinks or a few glasses of wine or beer – is an easy way to blow your daily calorie allowance. Liquid calories aren’t very satiating either, so they don’t help stave off hunger. In fact, they may make you feel hungrier later on when you come down from the sugar high that a sweetened beverage may cause.
Here are three dietitian-approved alternatives to sugary, alcoholic or calorie-laden beverages:
- Water – A classic staple whether it’s bottled or straight from the tap.
- Sparkling or infused waters – Craving something a bit more interesting? Try infusing your water with lemon, mint or herbs. Unsweetened sparkling waters can fulfill your craving for carbonation, and they usually come in flavoured options.
- Coffee and tea – drinking black coffee or unsweetened tea may take some getting used to, but it’s virtually calorie-free, available in decaf and can provide other health benefits if consumed in moderation. For example, one to two cups a day can have positive effects on your metabolism. But if you overdo it, too much caffeine can be bad for your immune system
- A good ol’ glass of milk or unsweetened milk alternative – are you getting enough calcium in your day? If not, why not hydrate AND fill up on some much-needed nutrition at the same time? A cup of a milk or calcium-fortified milk alternative gives you approximately 300mg of calcium and can be as low as 30-80 calories per serving depending on what you choose.
The bottom line on alcoholic and sugary beverage consumption is that you should treat them as extras. Enjoy once in a while, but don’t make them an everyday staple.
Incorporating just a few of these tips into your daily eating routines will get you on your way to creating a balanced eating plan that will help you lose or maintain weight, feel sharp and energized and live a long, healthy life.
If you have any more questions about healthy eating, or anything health-related, our registered dietitians and other healthcare professionals at the Copeman Healthcare Centre are here to help you enjoy the best of life. Think we missed any important topics?