Key ideas for a healthy diet

Spring is almost here, and this is the time when most of us start thinking about eating and feeling healthier. Since this is National Nutrition Month, we thought at Touchstone it's time to write about the keys to a healthy diet.

Healthy Diet

As Naturopathic Doctors and Nutritionists we often hear people say, "I just want to eat a healthy balanced diet, but what does that actually look like?" There are a lot of mixed messages about what is considered a healthy diet between ever changing dietary trends and the abundance of information on the internet. We understand how confusing it can be to interpret this information. So let us interpret it for you. Eating healthy can be easy and straightforward, if you know the basics. With busy schedules and people eating on the go, it seems like we've gotten away from the basic principles of a healthy diet. So the aim of this article is to provide a guideline for people who want to get back to the basics (of a healthy, balanced diet).

The Standard American Diet (SAD)

Yes, we often make a joke that the Standard American Diet is sad. But what does that actually mean? The term SAD diet is used to describe a typical North American diet, which generally consists of high amounts of carbohydrates and bad fats, and low amounts of healthier foods such as vegetables and whole grains. We all love to eat pasta, bread, and crackers, however the problem is that we over dose ourselves on this type of food. In North America our number one most consumed food group is carbohydrates. Carbohydrates like bread, pasta, crackers and other grain based food equals sugar. Yes, all carbohydrates are converted to glucose (sugar) in our body and just like it's not a good idea to eat lots of cookies, it's not good to eat a lot of pasta.

Key idea #1

Try to reduce the amount of carbohydrates in your diet. Instead of crackers and cookies, try substituting fresh fruit and veggies. Pair up the fruits and veggies with a nut butter or some humus to enhance the flavor. Choose breads and pastas that are made from whole grains, rather than refined white flour, and limit the number of times you eat these foods in a week.

Key idea #2

A basic rule for a balanced healthy diet is to have carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats at each meal. To know how much of each to have a simple guide is to use your hands: a protein serving should be the size of your palm, healthy fats should be the size of your thumb, and complex carbohydrates should be the size of palm as well. However, if you're skipping out on the rice, pasta or bread, and having veggies as your source of complex carbohydrates, the sky's the limit.

Carbohydrates themselves are not the enemy. In North America we also tend to eat food with lots of sodium, saturated fats and additives that make them taste good. And the worst part is that most times we don't even realize that we're eating them! It seems like every day we hear about a new chemical that is commonly added to food that is making us sick. This type of talk just makes us scared and we don't know what to eat anymore. However, there is a way to avoid these things in our diet.

Key idea #3

Food labels can be tricky to read as they often don't refer to a realistic serving size. For example, in terms of sodium content on a can of soup most nutrition labels will be for ½ a can of soup. So if you plan to eat the full can (as most people do), make sure you do the math on the nutrition label. This will give you an indication of how much sodium is actually in the food.

Key idea #4

Food additives and sodium are used to keep packaged food fresh, and are also a cheap source of extra flavour. It's easy to avoid these chemicals is by cooking at home. Cooking at home allows you to control what goes into your food so rather than sodium, try using herbs for flavour. You can also control the type of fat in your diet this way too. Try reducing saturated fats like red meat and dairy products, and use healthier types of fats such as avocado and olive oil.

The healthy balanced diet

So what is the "right diet"? There are all kinds of names and diet trends, but all healthy diets have the same idea, we need to flip the Standard American Diet on it's head. We need a food pyramid that balances a bit of snacks to lots of good food, rather than the standard style of trading off our not so great food with a bit of healthy food.

Comparison of the Standard American Diet to a Balanced Diet

S.A.D

  • Lots of Carbohydrates
  • Meat rich in saturated fats
  • Few vegetables

Balanced Diet

  • Lots of Vegetables
  • Lean meats and proteins
  • Few carbohydrates

If we eat a balanced diet, with vegetables being the bulk of our food intake, many of our common health concerns will greatly improve. However, that can be easier said than done. We all fall into eating habits, use food for comfort, and have varying levels of cooking skills. All too many diet plans focus on the negative, what not to eat, rather than being positive and talking about what good foods you can add to your diet.

Key idea #5

Focus on adding vegetables and other healthier options such as whole grains, rather than worrying about what not to eat. Changes come slowly and small changes over time can mean big results. Another suggestion is to focus on having half of your plate covered with vegetables, you can do this by substituting a bed of rice for a bed of salad for example.

The old saying “We are what we eat” seems to have never been more true, and if we want to be healthy, eating nutrient rich foods is surely the foundation of that health. Make the diet a lifestyle plan that grows over time, and remember if you want some support along the way Touchstone Naturopathic Centre is always here to help.

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