Healthy eating isn’t necessarily a difficult thing to do once you get the hang of it, but are you aware of all the different ways in which certain foods can actually benefit your health? Below we take a look at the four main groups (vegetables and fruit, grain products, milk and alternatives, and meat and alternatives) and break down which foods within those groups are considered to be some of the healthiest, along with the many ways in which they can help you achieve an overall better quality of life.
Vegetables and Fruit: In the old Food Guide, it was recommended that we get anywhere between 7 and 10 servings of vegetables and fruit each day. While Canada’s Food Guide has since been revised, vegetables and fruits are still one of the most important parts of a healthy diet and should be included with each meal if possible.
Among some of the healthiest vegetables and fruit are:
• Spinach – This vegetable is atop the list due to its impressive nutrient profile, containing as much as 56% of your required daily vitamin A intake, in addition to being rich in antioxidants such as beta-carotene and lutein. These anti-oxidants have been known to reduce the risk of chronic disease and cancer. Furthermore, a 2015 study also found that spinach consumption could also help lower high blood pressure, which can be beneficial to your heart health.
• Carrots – Also high in the antioxidant beta-carotene and packed with vitamin A – containing more than 400% of the recommended value in just one cup – carrots are also a great vegetable to eat due to their ability to prevent cancer. In addition, they’re also good for the eyes as they can help prevent cataracts and macular degeneration.
• Broccoli – Rich in glucosinolate as well as sulforaphane, these compounds found in broccoli can be an effective protective agent against cancer. Broccoli is also packed with soluble fibre, which can help reduce cholesterol and prevent constipation, and it is also a vegetable that can help reduce inflammation due to containing omega-3 fatty acids. In addition, broccoli is also a powerful antioxidant as it is deeply concentrated in vitamin C which is known to help give you boosted immunity and can also improve both health and help you maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
• Garlic – Allicin, which is the main active compound that is found in garlic, comes with many benefits including antioxidant, antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties. It is used in relation to many conditions associated with the heart and blood, including high and low blood pressure, high cholesterol, coronary heart disease, as well as a condition known as atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries.) It can also help combat sickness such as the common cold.
• Ginger – Also considered a vegetable, ginger has been used as a natural remedy for many decades – specifically when it comes to helping treat nausea and vomiting induced by things like motion sickness, pregnancy, or even a result of a side-effect from taking certain medications. It is important to note that women who are pregnant who plan on taking ginger should always check with their doctor prior to consumption, as some studies have suggested it may be linked to miscarriage when taken in higher doses. Aside from nausea, ginger is also a potent anti-inflammatory and can help treat a variety of inflammation-related disorders including arthritis, gout and lupus.
• Citrus Fruits – Oranges and grapefruit, for example, are two examples of citrus fruits that have many health benefits. Oranges are rich in vitamin C, which important for building immunity, as well as rich in the compound known as D-limonene, which is known to prevent certain types of cancers including lung, skin and breast cancer; while grapefruits are also a great source of vitamins and minerals and can reduce insulin resistance as well as help with weight loss. You should beware of grapefruit, however, if you are on certain medications, as it has been known to cause interactions. If you are unsure about any potential interactions between medications and grapefruit (or other foods/drugs), always check with your doctor or pharmacy.
• Pineapple – Another great source of vitamin C, pineapple also contains a mix of enzymes known for their anti-inflammatory and digestive properties, as well as their ability to reduce the risk of cancer.
• Avocado – While you may have thought this to be a vegetable, avocado is actually a fruit. However, unlike other fruits which are typically higher in carbohydrates, avocado is on the low scale and is mostly compromised of healthy fats in addition to potassium.
Grain Products: Great for providing the body with energy in addition to being a great source of fibre, we should get at least 6 to 7 daily servings of grain products. In fact, half of the servings on your plate should consist of grain products.
Some of the best grain products that will provide you the most benefit include:
• Oats – Considered to be one of the healthiest grain products on the planet, oats are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, fibre, as well as antioxidants, and can help keep both blood sugar and blood pressure levels regulated. Oats are also high in beta-glucan which can help promote the healthy bacteria in your gut, and leave you feeling fuller for longer periods of time, therefore making you less likely to want to snack in-between meals (and on unhealthy foods!) which can also ultimately help with weight loss.
• Brown Rice – Not only is it nutritious and rich in vitamins, minerals and other important compounds that can help prevent things like diabetes and heart disease, but it’s also gluten-free. Brown rice is also a good source of calcium, potassium, folate, and riboflavin, as well as high in manganese which is vital for the development of your bones, the healing of wounds, blood sugar regulation, and nerve function.
Milk and Alternatives: Dairy and alternative products, like soy, are a great source of vitamins (including vitamins A and D) and protein and are essential in building and promoting the strong health of our bones.
Some good examples of milk and alternatives include:
• Milk – Either skim, 1% or soy are considered the healthiest kinds of milk and contain the lowest number of calories and sugar. If you’re lactose intolerant, soy milk is an alternative option to try. Milk is a rich source of calcium (great for the bones and teeth), while soy milk is free of cholesterol as well as low in saturated fat – and, of course, contains no lactose.
• Cheese – Another good source of calcium, cheese can also be beneficial for the healing of wounds and blood clotting, as well as can help you maintain healthy blood pressure levels. It is important to note, however, that cheese can be high in things like sodium, saturated fat and calories, so it’s something you should eat in moderation.
Meat and Alternatives: These not only offer a variety of tastes, but also provide your body with a variety of essential vitamins and nutrients, as well as protein, which is important for giving your body the ability to build and repair tissues as well as to make enzymes, hormones, and act as a building block for our muscles, cartilage, bones, skin, and blood.
Examples of some meat and meat alternatives include:
• Beef, Pork and Ham – These can all be good meats for you to consume, but It all depends on the cut. For beef, for example, you should choose well-trimmed inside or outside cuts, or sirloin cuts. If you’re opting for ground beef, make sure it’s lean or extra lean. Pork should be lean as well. The leaner the meat, the fewer the calories and the higher the protein.
• Poultry – Another great source of protein, poultry includes things like chicken and turkey. Unlike beef and pork, chicken is much lower in saturated fat and cholesterol and is therefore less likely to increase your risk of heart disease. With turkey, it contains something known as tryptophan, which can keep your serotonin at a healthy level and improve your mood. When consuming turkey, aim for turkey breast as it is lower in calories and fat compared to other cuts. In addition, white meat also contains a lower fat content. It’s also much healthier if you buy your poultry skinless, or remove the skin prior to cooking, as poultry with skin can also increase the fat content.
• Fish – Some people prefer seafood, which can be just as healthy for you if not more so than meat and poultry. Salmon, for example, is rich in omega-3 fatty acids which can help prevent heart disease.
• Beans – From kidney beans to soy beans, black beans, peas and lentils, these are all some healthier alternatives to meat, a great source of fibre, B vitamins, iron and protein, and can be incorporated into a wide variety of other foods and meals, such as casseroles, soups and salads, and can even be made into dips.