Last week we covered the importance of leading an active life with “What’s Your Excuse?”, this week we look at another important factor to your overall empowerment; nutrition. Nutrition can be very challenging to grasp; we are constantly bombarded with some new fad diet or miracle ingredient that’s “guaranteed” to help us lose weight, but do these really work? Maybe in the short term, but probably not for the rest of your life. Having solid knowledge and basic understanding of proper nutrition is key to being at your best in all aspects of your life. When you eat the right foods and the right amounts of those foods it affects your mood, energy and outlook on life. The question is: where do we start?
Well, for now let’s have a look at the different food groups.
1. Produce – example: vegetables and fruit
2. Grain products – example: rice, barley, couscous, millet, bread, pasta
3. Milk and alternatives – example: yogurt, cheese, dairy milk, non-dairy milk (almond, soy, hemp, etc.)
4. Meat and alternatives – example: chicken, beef, fish, eggs, tofu, tempeh, seitan, beans
5. Fats – example: canola oil, olive oil, margarine, nuts
It’s always a good idea to include a variety from each food group into your diet, that way you can avoid the possibility of a nutrient deficiency. You don’t necessarily have to include a bit from each food group in each meal, but you should include some of each throughout the day. Talk to your health care provider or enlist the help of a nutritionist or dietician before embarking on a new nutritional regiment and to discuss any dietary restrictions you may have.
Focus on eating lots of fresh produce whenever possible and in winter months look for frozen fruits and vegetables without any additives; they are just as nutritious as fresh. Your produce should mostly be the non-starchy kind and be mostly vegetables with some fruit. The reason I say some fruit is because although it is good for you, fruit has a lot of sugar in the form of fructose and too much fructose can affect your body; you may not get “fat” but it can affect your body composition and how svelt you look. Unless you are extremely active throughout the day (i.e. construction worker, housekeeper, personal trainer, etc.) you don’t need to eat tons; 2 servings of fruit per day is a good amount. On the other hand, go wild with non-starchy vegetables, try to include a serving in most of your meals each day. Vegetables are high in fiber, low calorie and loaded with vitamins and minerals, so you get lots of nutritional bang for your buck. You can include some starchy vegetables (i.e. sweet potatoes, carrots, squash) in your diet, but as with fruits these should be limited each day.
Next let’s look at whole grains. I love my grain products; a bagel at breakfast makes me so happy and I get such joy from shovelling a fork full of spaghetti in my mouth at the end of a long day, but it’s really not the best idea for me or anyone to eat like that, unless of course you’re planning on running a marathon. When it comes to grains, whole is the best choice. Focus on including oats, brown or wild rice, barley, wheat germ, millet, buckwheat, wheat berries; essentially try all kinds of whole grains. As for the beloved bread, avoid white and stick with 100% whole grain or sprouted gain, these are the absolute best; they have great taste and tons of nutrients. For pasta (aka my love) again avoid white and go for a whole grain version like spelt or brown rice pasta; yes this is more expensive than the conventional stuff so only eat pasta a couple of times a week if you really wish. Try include whole gains in your meals throughout the day, but measure out your portion sizes to make sure you don’t overdo it and also read labels to check for any added fillers or sweeteners (you’d be surprised at how many loaves of bread are loaded with sugar).
Milk and alternatives are great for your calcium needs, but they can be high in fat so if you choose to consume some at each meal then it may be a good idea to choose the low fat or fat free variety. I personally abstain from dairy but I do consume almond milk with smoothies or with oatmeal, almond milk is also my go-to for baking.
Meat and alternatives are great for your protein needs, but it can be tricky in terms of portion sizes. Stick to 4 oz (palm sized) servings at each meal. Also, meat, fish and eggs can be very fatty so stick to lean meat like turkey or chicken, white fish and egg whites on most days and only consume the fattier varieties a few times each week if at all. As for the alternatives (i.e. tofu, tempeh, seitan and beans), these are great, low in fat and high in fiber. If you don’t already include these into your daily diet, I strongly suggest you do; they are not only highly nutritious but they are also less expensive. I also abstain from meat, fish and eggs in my diet, so the bulk of my protein needs are met with tofu, tempeh, seitan and beans, and I really enjoy them. They’re versatile and can be prepared in many different ways. There are tons of great recipes and cooking tips available, so give them all chance!
Now for the fats…who doesn’t love delicious, gooey, fatty food…I know I do! But beware too much fat can seriously harm your ticker and your booty! Unsaturated is the way to go; canola, olive and grapeseed oils are great, as are nuts (unsalted and unsweetened of course) and avocados. It’s very important here to watch your portion sizes. Fats are more caloric than carbs and protein so measure it out. If you’re just eyeballing everything then you very well may be overeating and packing in the extra calories without even knowing it. Also be careful with saturated fat, typically found in animal products like eggs, dairy, fish and meats, it’s really unhealthy and it affects your cholesterol so proceed with caution. As for trans fats, typically found in store bought baked goods and shortening, just avoid them altogether.
Now let’s talk about a non-food group known as junk food. Junk food is exactly what its name entails; it’s just junk. Eating chips, candy, fast food, ice cream and other sweets regularly is no good, you really are hurting yourself by eating this way, so try your absolute best to eliminate them from your diet. Do not include this into your daily diet, instead treat yourself to one portion once a week if you really want it, but don’t feel obliged. Also don’t make it an entire day of treats and binge eating, one meal each week max, and that’s it. Always keep in mind that just because it’s available doesn’t mean that you should eat it.
So that’s the breakdown of the food groups, and it is a good place to start in terms of understanding what good nutrition means and what it can mean for you. Start trying new foods in your meals, maybe a new vegetable like daikon or a new grain like faro or try grilling some tofu for a change of pace. If you do have any dietary restrictions then adjust your options accordingly and again, be sure to consult with a healthcare expert before trying something new. Eating whole and clean foods are essential for your wellness and health, so go on, eat up and get healthy!
Start it, Finish it
* Stay tuned for my next post as we dig a little deeper into nutrition and discuss how much you should be eating each day.