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The Challenges of Healthy Eating

peaches on a table

Nourishing your body is the most natural and essential action of daily life. Day after day, every meal you eat implies making food choices, whether those are conscious or automatic. But do your choices contribute to your health and quality of life?

Over the past few decades, the rate of obesity and nutrition-related chronic diseases has increased even though people are increasingly aware of the benefits of good nutrition. Several factors can influence our decisions and eating habits, such as the foods offered in schools, grocery stores and restaurants, marketing and social exchanges, or simply a lack of information about which foods are less nutritious.

We are also probably constantly bombarded with changing and contradictory information from all sources, reliable or questionable, on what is better for you. According to Health Canada, Canadians face several challenges in making healthy choices, including:

  • High availability of low-cost foods and beverages that are also high in calories, fat, salt and sugar
  • Very powerful food marketing that particularly impacts children
  • Nutritional information that is difficult to understand and apply
  • Nutritious foods that are difficult to access for certain segments of the population

Are you concerned about your weight? Learn how to manage it and prevent the risks with our practical advice.

Canada’s Food Guide

To help you make informed and beneficial food choices, Health Canada offers you Canada’s Food Guide. In short, the Guide recommends the following “healthy choices”:

Vegetables and Fruit
  • Eat a dark green vegetable (broccoli, spinach, romaine lettuce) and an orange vegetable (carrots, winter squash, sweet potatoes) every day
  • Prepare your vegetables with little or no fat, sugar or salt
Grain Products
  • Eat at least half of your portions of cereal products as whole grains (oats, barley, quinoa, brown or wild rice)
  • Choose whole grain breads, oatmeal or whole wheat pasta
Milk and Substitutes
  • Drink skim milk or 1% or 2% M.F. milk daily (500 ml daily to get enough vitamin D)
  • If you don’t drink milk, choose fortified soy beverages
  • One or two servings of yogurt or cheese every day, which are also rich in Vitamin D
Meat and Substitutes
  • Eat meat substitutes regularly, such as legumes or tofu
  • Eat at least two Food Guide Servings of fish every week (herring, mackerel, char, sardines, salmon or trout)
  • Select lean meats and alternatives prepared with little or no added fat or salt:
    • Trim the visible fat from meats and remove the skin on poultry
    • Use cooking methods such as roasting, baking or poaching that require little or no added fat
    • If you eat luncheon meats, sausages or prepackaged meats, choose those lower in salt (sodium) and fat

Food Labelling

Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) are responsible for enforcing federal food labelling requirements and regulations. This important tool provides reliable and accurate information on the composition of the foods you buy. Read food labels to make informed choices. Click here to view the CFIA interactive tool.

From Childhood Onwards

Like good lifestyle habits, healthy nutrition must begin in early childhood. By making good food choices for your children, you help them prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and adopt healthy eating habits for the rest of their life.

To encourage your child to eat well, the Canadian Paediatric Society recommends to:

  • Plan meals and snacks at regular times and eat as a family
  • Offer balanced and varied foods from the four food groups in each meals and include at least two of the four groups in each snack (see Canada’s Food Guide)
  • Prepare foods that your children can eat easily. For example, for younger children, cut foods into small pieces or crush them to prevent choking
  • Teach your children to use a spoon or a cup so they can eat without help
  • Include your children in meal preparation
  • Avoid blackmailing by offering dessert as a reward for finishing the meal
  • Avoid fast-food restaurants to teach your children the importance of good nutrition based on meals prepared at home, with healthy foods

Sports Nutrition

If you engage in intense physical activity or are a professional athlete, the consequences of poor nutrition can be numerous:

  • Reduced energy and endurance
  • Dizziness
  • Increased risk of injury
  • Compromised immune system
  • Lack of coordination
  • Anemia
  • Early ageing

To prevent health problems related to intensive sports, you must adapt your diet to your energy needs and balance your consumption of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. You should also hydrate with care, making sure not to drink too much since over-hydration, (e.g. drinking more than 9.5 litres of water per day), can cause hyponatrema (a blood sodium level that is too low) which can lead to cerebral edema.

The Coaching Association of Canada offers practical recommendations to help you maintain good nutrition during intense physical activities.

Lots of Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates help you avoid hypoglycemia and are a source of energy, just like lipids. They are stored in your liver and muscles as glycogen. They increase your performance by providing you with constant energy, for a longer period than simple carbohydrate would. Your food intake before and after a sports activity must contain 55-60% carbohydrates.

Sources of Complex Carbohydrates
  • Pasta (whole wheat, kamut or multigrain)
  • Brown rice or wild rice
  • Bread and bagels (whole wheat, multigrain, kamut)
  • Whole grains (oatmeal, millet, barley, quinoa, buckwheat)
  • Dry beans and lentils
Lean Proteins

Lean proteins promote your energy balance and help maintain your muscles. However, be aware that several high-protein foods are also rich in fat. Hence, low-fat protein sources should be prioritized.

Sources of Lean Protein

  • Skinless poultry
  • Fish and seafood
  • Lean meat (extra lean beef, pork tenderloin, bison, deer, moose)
  • Eggs and light cheese (no more than 15% to 20% M.F.), low fat yogurt, milk, whey protein
  • Legumes, tofu and soy beverages
Limit Your Fat Intake

Whether they are good or bad fats (lipids), it is preferable to limit intake, because they require a considerable digestive effort that can cause gastric problems and affect performance during intense physical activity.

Good Hydration

The Role of Water

Water carries carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, vitamins and minerals to areas where they can be used. It also acts as a lubricant for your joints and muscles, and maintains your body temperature by contributing to sweat evaporation.

You should drink often and not wait until you are thirsty because this sensation is often triggered when you are already dehydrated.

Sports Drinks

For longer activities, you may choose to drink a sports drink (e.g.: Gatorade, Powerade), which provides energy in the form of carbohydrates as well as electrolytes to replace what you lose during intense physical activity.

But be careful! Don’t confuse sports drinks with energy drinks. Sports drinks contain fast-acting sugars that support you in the short term and slowly assimilated sugars that promote your endurance. However, energy drinks, a marketing term, are considered to be a natural health product or supplement by Health Canada. These beverages (e.g., Red Bull, Guru, Monster) contain significant amounts of caffeine and other stimulants, although it is not always clearly indicated on the container.

Genetics and Your Nutrition

Preventive medicine now offers you the possibility to manage your diet with precision, based on your genetic predispositions, thanks to two scientific innovations that are evolving quickly: nutrigenetics, which focuses on the reactions of an individual to given nutrients as a function of their genetics (difficulty losing weight for example can be linked to certain genes), and nutrigenomics, which studies the role that food can play in the expression of genes (certain foods may, favor the expression of given genes which, in turn, could lead to the development of some diseases).

The Biron laboratory gives you access to this new personalized medicine through the Nutrition Profile from BipgeniQ, a Canadian company operating in the field of genetics. By analyzing your DNA from a simple saliva sample, it is possible to determine which nutrient pose the most risk to your health or, on the contrary, those on which you should focus to maintain a good health. With the help of our dietician and your health professional, you can then modify you eating habits based on personalised recommendations derived from your genetics.

BiogeniQ analyzes 10 foods, divided into 5 categories:

  • Metabolic health: vitamin C, folate, glycemic load
  • Cardiovascular health: caffeine, omega-3, sodium
  • Bone health: vitamin D
  • Weight management: saturated fat
  • Intolerances and sensitivities: lactose, gluten

For more information on nutrition:

Coach Canada

Health Canada

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