Countless blogs and influencers go on and on about the merits of “clean eating,” but in the end, it all boils down to eating healthy. And that’s easier than you think: all you need to do is follow a few basic rules.
Some people go to extremes and get so worked up about it that it becomes almost impossible to eat “right” and hold down a full-time job. And if you’ve got a family? Forget about that! So while the basic principles are all fine and dandy, you need to be careful not to become orthorexic, which is when eating healthy turns into an obsession.
To “eat right,” you need to eat the top performers from each food group. It isn’t about going on a diet, it’s about changing the way you eat. The “secret” is that by following these basic rules, you’ll maintain a healthy weight—sorry, you’ll still need to exercise—and prevent certain diseases for which poor nutrition is a major risk factor.
1. Eat more fruits and vegetables.
According to the experts’ recommendations , half of what’s on your plate should be fruits and veggies. Vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals and fibre, while being low in calories. Buy local produce when you can: it’s more eco-friendly and fresher, and you’ll be supporting the local economy. Seek out farmers’ markets, where you typically find better fruits and vegetables for less than you’d pay at the supermarket. Organic food baskets are another convenient solution, but in winter, frozen vegetables are the eco-friendlier choice. And when it comes to freshness, nothing beats growing your own sprouts! You can use a wide range of seeds for home sprouting, and the results are tasty and packed with vitamins and minerals.
2. Go for whole grains, which haven’t been stripped of their bran and germ.
And remember that there are so many more options than just wheat—quinoa, brown rice, spelt, barley, oats, chia and so on—and each has its own unique flavour. Whole grains contain more fibre and leave you feeling full longer than products made with white flour do.
3. Choose lean protein sources.
You don’t need to go vegetarian, but eat less red meat, which is high in saturated fat. Instead, opt for fish, poultry, tofu and legumes such as beans, lentils and peas. Start a new tradition: meat-free day! In fact, this is already a well-established part of certain religious traditions. Until 1966 when Pope Paul VI lifted the obligation, Catholics weren’t supposed to eat meat on Friday. As long as you don’t see it as some kind of penitence, adopting a meatless day is easy!
4. Avoid processed foods.
These are generally very high in salt and contain too much added sugar and fat. Take the time to read food labels: if the list of ingredients is long and looks like it’s more about chemistry than food, leave it on the shelf. But remember that some processed foods are perfectly good for you—whole-grain pasta, canned beans and lentils, frozen fruits and vegetables.
5. Eat fat! Just make sure it’s the good kind.
Cut down on saturated fats, which you find in cheese, butter and meat, and go for olive, canola or flax oil, nuts and fish instead. Good fats promote good cholesterol, which is essential to your health. Saturated fats are easy to spot because they’re solid at room temperature. Replace cheese and mayo with peanut butter (the natural kind with no hydrogenated oil), hummus or avocado.
6. Limit your alcohol intake.
The latest recommendations are a maximum of one drink per day for women and two for men. One “drink” means 150 ml of wine, 354 ml of beer or 44 ml of hard liquor. Coolers, premixed cocktails and cocktail mixes are usually highly sweetened and contain colouring.
7. Drink water!
Cut down on coffee, soft drinks and juice, and drink more water! It’s much better for you and it costs less too. When you’ve got the munchies, drink a glass of water; you might just forget you were hungry in the first place.
8. Cut down on sugar. Once you do, you’ll find it becomes less and less appealing.
Avoid soft drinks, candies and prepared desserts. Watch out for foods not typically thought of as sweet but which contain huge amounts of sweeteners, like yogurt, breakfast cereals and sauces. Your best bet, by far, is to sweeten foods yourself, say, by adding a teaspoon of maple syrup or honey to plain yogurt.
9. Beware of salt!
Canadians eat too much of it, more so than our neighbours south of the border. Our bodies do need salt, but only tiny amounts of it. The recommended daily allowance of salt for the average adult is 1500–2300 mg. Yet the national average is closer to 3400 mg a day! Eating too much salt increases your risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease and kidney disease. Replace table salt with aromatic sea salt: it’s tastier, so you’ll use less! What’s more, sea salt contains less sodium chloride than regular table salt.
10. Avoid overeating.
Go for variety and don’t give up all your favourites or else you’re bound to fail. If you have a sweet tooth, don’t cut out sugar just like that! And don’t eliminate gluten from your diet if you don’t suffer from celiac disease or dairy products if you’re not lactose-intolerant.
Everything in moderation. Feeling deprived and unhappy is bad for your health too!