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Re-wiring Your Food Decisions

Most of us have grown up hearing “Eat your veggies, they’re good for you!” or have been told to have a piece of fruit if hungry. Similar messaging follows us into adulthood as we continue to hear about the health benefits of fruits and vegetables from healthcare professional, health organizations such as Heart and Stroke or in the media. Despite knowing the benefits of this basic message, only 31.5 per cent of Canadians are getting five or more fruit and vegetable servings a day. Nova Scotia, PEI and Newfoundland are consuming less than the national average. Why are we falling short? Increasing knowledge, mindfulness and recognizing personal barriers can be beneficial to improving your good eating habits.

Yes, The Evidence Is That Good

In this confusing and forever-changing nutrition world, the basic message to eat more produce has stayed consistent over the years. Many studies have shown eating more fruits and vegetables can lead to lower rates of heart disease, stroke, cancer, hypertension, diabetes, and help with reaching a healthy weight. One large study showed for every additional, consistently-consumed serving of fruit and vegetables, there was a proportional decrease in rates of cancer and heart disease. Those who ate five servings daily showed a 20 per cent decreased risk of heart disease and stroke compared to three servings a day. Increasing to eight servings a day had a 30 per cent decreased risk!

Has Canada’s Food Guide Been Lost In Translation?

This guide has been promoted as Canadian’s ‘bible’ to healthy eating since 1942, yet in my dietetic experience it’s not a tool that most know well or diligently follow. Most can rhyme off some or all of the food groups (fruits and vegetables, grains, milk/alternatives, meat/alternatives, ‘others’ for oils, high-fat, salty and sugary foods/beverages) but struggle to recall the number of servings or what a serving looks like. We need a variety from all groups, but fruits and vegetables are most important for their abundance of nutrients, including antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fibre. The daily fruit and vegetable recommendation for adults is seven to 10 servings a day with one serving being equal to one-half cup (about the size of a baseball). The majority of the daily foods we eat should be plant-based.If you’re not getting enough, what are you getting too much of? For many people, meat and meat alternatives and grains, along with the ‘other’ category, may be overtaking your diet.

No Need To Keep A Tally

Tracking and measuring daily servings is often impractical and not how we typically choose foods or plan meals. Keep it simple. A basic guide to healthy eating is to aim for three of the four food groups at meals and vary within each food group. Look at your balance at meals and snacks: are they mostly fruits and vegetables? Is half your meal plate vegetables? Try to plan your meals around vegetables and fruit versus making meat or grains the centerpiece. Aim to eat foods in their most natural state, and when possible cook more from scratch to minimize intake of processed foods and beverages.

If jumping to seven-a-day seems daunting, slowly start by adding an extra serving a day. Remember, increasing from one serving to two is progress and beneficial to your health. The nutrients in fruit and vegetables provide benefit themselves but also adding more often helps to balance your diet and replace some of the not-so-healthy foods.

Food Choices Deep-Rooted

If the thought of fruits and vegetables leaves a bad taste in your mouth, what is the likelihood of change? Where do those thoughts come from? Perhaps it’s from being held captive at the table until you’d finished every last Brussels sprout or having been brought up on vegetables cooked to a mush, or an abundance of canned pears, peas and carrots. It may be a matter of recognizing the source of your thoughts in order to effectively change your behaviour.

Try new produce and new ways of preparing them; if they look good to your eyes it’s more likely your taste buds will agree. Try roasting a variety of cut up vegetables such as turnip sticks, broccoli, peppers, radishes, and mushrooms. This enhances flavour by caramelizing their natural sugars. Dress them up by adding different seasonings such as balsamic vinegar, slivered nuts, and/or sesame oil. Dip cut-up vegetables in milk or egg white, then roll in panko crumbs and bake for a crisp exterior. Try prepared spaghetti squash or julienned zucchini to replace some or all of your pasta or rice. Purée frozen fruit with milk or yogurt and a drop of vanilla extract for a creamy, refreshing snack.

We all want good health, longevity, and overall to feel well. We know that nutrition plays a key role in health, yet it isn’t typically a driver in our food choices. Humans are creatures of instant gratifications, habit and our environment, so choosing healthier options often goes against human nature. Food needs to serve its multiple purposes but can you bring nutrition more to the forefront when making food choices? The reality is, the fries will always taste better than the salad, but how will you feel after you’ve eaten one over the other and how does this fit in with your overall goals? Take that mindful pause then make your decision. You may still choose the fries but maybe the salad will make it onto your plate a little more often.

The price of food is downright expensive and it’s on the rise. Fruit and vegetables are no exception but but there are ways to cut costs. The most costly item on your plate tends to be meat, but our portions tend to be large. A serving is about three ounces or 75g cooked (the size of deck of cards), but we tend to think of our serving as one steak or chicken breast regardless of the size. Can you reduce it and put the savings into buying more produce? You’ll still have a full, yet healthier, plate.

Quick Tip: to figure out the number of servings in a package of meat aim for 100 grams (uncooked) per serving. The total weight is usually listed in kg so just move the decimal to the left by three numbers. Example: a .560-kg package of chicken converts to 560g, providing about five-and-a-half servings of chicken.

Savvy Shoppers

Save money by buying in season, check weekly flyers and shop at discount grocers and farmers markets. Don’t be afraid to buy imperfect produce. Buy produce in bulk and split with a friend if it’s too much to eat before spoiling. Canned (preferably no added salt/sugar) and frozen can be cheaper healthy options and they’ll also save time in the kitchen. Root vegetables tend to be cheaper year-round, but you don’t need to limit to just mashing or boiling. Think outside the box: try oven-roasted turnip fries, plain or seasoned with garlic and rosemary. Make cabbage steaks by slicing off half-inch circles; brush with a little oil, place on a cookie sheet and bake until tender. Grate raw cabbage into a salad. Cut cabbage into pieces and stir-fry on stove with a little oil and herbs and spices. Season carrots with dill and roast in the oven, or add them grated raw to a sandwich.

What You See Is What You Eat

For better or for worse, environment plays a key factor in the foods we choose. Control your environment when you can. Research has shown that people who have a fruit bowl on their counter weighed 13 pounds less than those who don’t. Have cut up fruit and vegetables front and center in your kitchen and workplace, and keep not-so-healthy foods hidden away or out of your house. It may cost more to buy pre-cut options but it’s a saving if they otherwise have the tendency to rot in the crisper.

Our society doesn’t really promote vegetables and fruit, so eating healthier comes with barriers. The goal is not perfection; take a step-by-step approach to making better food choices––one fruit and vegetable at a time.

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