Eating a healthy diet, that is, eating a balanced diet, is one of the most effective ways to protect your health. In fact, up to 80% of heart disease and premature stroke can be prevented through lifestyle choices and habits such as a healthy diet and a physically active lifestyle.
Your diet can help reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke by:
- improving your cholesterol level;
- lowering your blood pressure;
- helping you manage your weight;
- controlling your blood sugar levels.
What does a healthy and balanced diet consist of?
Canada’s Food Guide recommends eating a variety of healthy foods each day, favoring plant-based foods, and limiting your intake of highly processed, or ultra-processed, foods.
A healthy diet includes:
1. Lots of vegetables and fruits
- This is one of the most important eating habits. The vegetables and fruits contain many nutrients (antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber) and help you maintain a healthy weight by keeping you full longer.
- Vegetables and fruits should make up half of all your meals and snacks.
2. Whole grains
- The whole grain foods include bread and crackers, brown and wild rice, quinoa, oatmeal and hulled barley. These foods are prepared with whole grains. They contain fiber, protein, and B-complex vitamins to help keep you healthy and full for longer.
- Choose whole grain options instead of processed or refined grains like white pasta and bread.
- Fill a quarter of your plate with whole grain foods.
3. Protein foods
- These include fish, seafood, eggs, poultry, lean red meats – like game -, low-fat milk, yogurt and kefir, as well as low-sodium cheese and in bold.
- Protein helps build and maintain bones, muscles and skin.
- Eat protein foods everyday.
- Try to eat at least two meals of fish a week, cook dishes of food from plant sources.
- The dairy products are a good source of protein. Choose options with less fat and not flavored.
- Protein foods should make up a quarter of your plate.
4. Little or no highly processed, or ultra-processed foods
- Foods that have undergone significant transformation, also called ultra-processed foods , are foods that have been altered from their original food state and to which many ingredients have been added. During processing, important nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, and fiber, are often removed while salt and sugar are added. For example, processed foods include: fast food products, hot dogs, potato chips, biscuits, frozen pizzas, cold cuts, white rice, and white bread.
- Some foods that have undergone small processing have good nutritional quality . These are foods that have been slightly modified in some way, but contain few industrial additives. Minimally processed foods retain most of their essential nutrients. These foods include: packaged salads, frozen vegetables and fruits, eggs, milk, cheese, flour, brown rice, oil and dry spices. We are not referring to foods with minimal processing when we advise you not to consume processed foods.
- A Heart & Stroke-funded study found that nearly half of the country’s daily calorie intake comes from ultra-processed foods.
5. Plenty of water
- Water promotes health and helps you stay hydrated without calorie intake.
- Sugary drinks , including energy drinks, fruit juices, 100% juice, sodas, and flavored coffees, contain high amounts of sugar and have little nutritional value. It’s easy to drink empty calories without thinking about it, which can lead to weight gain.
- Avoid consuming fruit juices, even if they are 100% juice. Although the latter have some nutritional benefits of fruits (vitamins and minerals), they contain more sugar and less fiber than these. Everyone should eat the fruit rather than drink the juice.
- When fresh drinking water is not available, stay hydrated with coffee, tea, low-fat unsweetened milk, or boil water.
The 5 best tips from the experts
- Prepare most of your meals at home using whole or minimally processed foods. Choose a variety of proteins to liven up your meals. Pick fun names for each day that will help you plan.
- Plan your meals weekly – this is very important for quick and easy meal preparation. Check out our tips for buying your groceries here.
- Choose recipes that contain a lot of vegetables and fruits. You should fill half your plate with vegetables and fruit at each meal. Choose brightly colored fruits and vegetables every day, including orange and dark green vegetables (click here for more information). Frozen or canned fruits and vegetables without sugar are a perfect substitute for fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Avoid sugary drinks and drink water instead. Low fat unsweetened milk is also a good way to stay hydrated. Keep a reusable water bottle in your bag or in your car so you can refill it wherever you go.
- Eat smaller meals often. Eat at least three meals a day with snacks between meals. When you wait too long to eat, you are more likely to make low-nutritional choices. Keep snacks that are easy to eat in your purse or in your bag in case of an emergency.