While March may be Nutrition Month, having a healthy diet is something that we should always be focused on – because the healthier you eat, the better you will feel. As far as the benefits of good nutrition, there are many. For example, when you eat healthy, you can significantly reduce your risk of developing certain chronic diseases – including diabetes and even cancer. It’s also said that you can prevent both premature heart disease and diabetes by as much as 80% just by having a healthy diet and incorporating other healthy lifestyle factors into your daily routine, such as getting regular physical activity and avoiding bad habits, such as smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. Along with preventing chronic illness, good nutrition also promotes the growth and repair of your body and keeps your immune system healthy.
Of course, in order to reap all of these benefits, you will need to know how to properly build a balanced diet. There are many healthy eating patterns – some more so than others. Among some of the best diets in terms of keeping you living as healthy a life as possible are the Paleo, Mediterranean, and DASH diets. Healthy foods that are common in each of these diets include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and lentils, fish, poultry, nuts and seeds, milk, cheese, and yogurt, as well as healthy oils such as olive and canola. You should always avoid unhealthy foods and those that are highly processed, such as potato chips, cookies, cakes, and anything else that contains added sugar (including carbonated sodas and fruit juice.) These unhealthy food products are not only linked to weight gain and obesity, but they can also cause your blood sugar levels to spike and increase your LDL levels – otherwise known as the “bad” cholesterol. If you happen to have an underlying health condition, such as high blood pressure, then there are also specific (and sometimes considered surprising) foods that you should avoid, including tomato products, deli meats, frozen foods (such as pizza), pickles, and canned soup. If you’re diabetic, you should also follow a healthy eating plan by having a diet that is naturally rich in nutrients while lower in fats, calories, carbohydrates and sugar. You should also ensure you’re eating three well-balanced meals per day, and make sure that those meals are no more than 6 hours apart.
If you find yourself too busy to put in the effort of eating a well-balanced, healthy diet, you’re not alone. As many as 30% of Canadians say they feel that they don’t have enough time to put together meals for themselves and will often skip their meals as a result while instead focusing on snacks. Unfortunately, snacking isn’t enough to provide you the fuel (or nutrients) you need in order to stay energized throughout the day. Skipping meals is also one of the easiest ways that you can fall into unhealthy eating patterns. To avoid this (and to avoid any added stress), it’s recommended that you plan your meals ahead of time (in some cases, as far as a week in advance) and keep a variety of healthy snack foods on hand for when you find yourself craving something. It’s also important to pay attention to portion sizes when snacking. We will often grab our snacks by the handful out of large boxes or bags – but instead of doing this, take a small portion and put it on a plate or in a bowl. Watching television, surfing the web, or even driving are also ways to fall into unhealthy eating habits. This is known as distracted eating, and you are much more likely to eat more than you should when you do this – so always be mindful. As for which snacks are considered the healthiest, the best are ones that are high in protein and fibre. Examples include raw vegetables (such as carrots or peppers) with hummus, whole grain toast with peanut or almond butter, apple slices, and Greek yogurt mixed with berries.
If you’re someone who tends to eat while on the go, try changing your routine so that you are having sit-down meals with your family, as there is evidence to suggest that those who do have meals together are much more likely to eat healthier. In addition, research also shows that children and teenagers who eat with their family are likely to have better performance at school (such as improved grades), and are also less likely to smoke, use drugs, or drink alcohol.