The month of February is national Heart and Stroke month. Eating a healthy, balanced diet is one of the most important things you can do to protect your health. In fact, up to 80 percent of premature heart disease and stroke can be prevented through your life choices and habits, such as eating a healthy diet and being physically active.
A healthy diet is made up mostly of whole or natural foods. We use the words whole and natural to refer to foods that have not been highly processed. With this in mind, a healthy diet includes:
- Eating lots of vegetables and fruit. This is one of the most important diet habits. Vegetables and fruit are packed with nutrients (antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fibre) and help you maintain a healthy weight by keeping you full longer. Aim for 7 to 10 servings of vegetables and fruit every day.
- Choosing whole grain foods more often. Whole grain foods include whole grain bread and crackers, brown or wild rice, quinoa, oatmeal and hulled barley. They are prepared using the entire grain. Whole grain foods have fibre, protein and B vitamins to help you stay healthy and full longer. Choose whole grain options instead of processed or refined grains like white bread and pasta.
- Eating a variety of foods that provide protein. Foods with protein include fish, beans and lentils, tofu, dairy products and lean meat. Protein helps build and maintain bones, muscles and skin so you need to eat protein every day. Try to eat at least two servings of fish each week, and find recipes with beans, lentils and tofu for variety in your diet. Dairy products are also a great source of protein. Choose lower fat, unflavoured options.
- Avoid highly processed foods. Highly processed foods are foods that are changed from their original food source and have many added ingredients. During processing, often important nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fiber are removed while salt and sugar are added. Examples of processed food include: hot dogs, chips, cookies, frozen pizzas, deli meats, white rice and white bread. Many minimally processed foods are okay. These are foods that are slightly changed in some way but contain few industrially made additives. Minimally processed foods keep almost all of their essential nutrients. Some examples are: bagged salad, frozen vegetables and fruit, eggs, milk, cheese, flour, brown rice, oil and dried herbs.
- Watch out for sugar-sweetened beverages. Sugar-sweetened beverages are a large contributor to weight gain, because it is easy to drink empty calories without realizing. Drink safe drinking water when you are thirsty, or choose unsweetened milk, coffee or tea. Sugar-sweetened beverages, including energy drinks, fruit drinks, soft drinks and flavored coffees include tons of added sugar. These drinks often offer no nutrition and have a negative impact on your health. 100 percent fruit juice is considered a sugar-sweetened beverage, and has almost as much added sugar as a soft drink. Reach for the whole fruit and drink water instead.
Stay tuned next week for some more great information on healthy eating habits according to the experts on the Heart and Stroke website. Remember the old adage – “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” and just add another 6 or 7 fruits and vegetables per day.