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
To help you make informed and nutritious food choices, Health Canada unveiled the new Canada’s Food Guide in February 2019. The guide emphasizes choices and behaviours for a balanced diet that will help you stay healthy.
Proportions rather than portions
In your diet, instead of including a certain number of servings from each food group based on your gender and age, as the guide had previously suggested, the new guide stresses food proportions. Health Canada suggests that a balanced meal should be half fruits and vegetables, one-quarter protein-rich foods and another quarter whole grain products.
The guide now recommends plant-based proteins such as legumes, nuts and seeds, along with soy products such as tofu and tempeh. Also included in this category are all types of meat, poultry, eggs, fish and seafood, as well as certain dairy products such as yogurt, cheese and milk.
This group, formerly known as “grain products,” includes whole wheat pasta, whole grain bread, brown rice, quinoa and oatmeal.
In addition to addressing dietary choices, the new guide also encourages you to look at your eating behaviour, i.e. the habits surrounding your meals. This includes the context in which you eat, who you eat with and why. The new guide recommends you:
be aware of your eating habits, to fine-tune your senses and make better choices ;
cook more often, to reduce the amount of processed food you consume ;
enjoy your meals and be open to discovering new foods ;
eat meals in good company, to better appreciate these moments and pass on healthy eating habits.
Finally, the guide is packed with tips on how to get useful information from nutrition labels and reduce your intake of foods high in salt, sugar and saturated fats. It also provides tips on how to be wary of food marketing.
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)
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
Limit fast-food restaurants to teach your children the importance of good nutrition based on meals prepared at home, with healthy foods
If you engage in intense physical activity or are a professional athlete, the consequences of poor nutrition can be numerous:
Reduced energy and endurance
Increased risk of injury
Compromised immune system
Lack of coordination
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.
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.
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 before exercise
Whether they are good or bad fats (lipids), it is preferable to limit intake before a physical effort, because their digestion is considerably slower than cebohydrates, wich can cause can cause gastric problems and affect performance during intense physical activity. After exercise and during rest periods, it is important to include again good fats in your meals.
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. It is important to stay properly hydrated, as both dehydration and overhydration can have negative effects.
You should drink often and not wait until you are thirsty because this sensation is often triggered when you are already dehydrated. However, you should 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.
Dehydration can cause weakness, headaches, loss of concentration and coordination, all of which can lead to decreased performance. You should drink often and not wait until you are thirsty to drink since this feeling is often triggered when you are already dehydrated.
On the other hand, overhydration, which is more than 9.5 liters of water per day, can cause hyponatremia (low blood sodium levels) which can lead to cerebral edema.
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, all in balanced proportions. On the other hand, energy drinks, a marketing term, (e.g., Red Bull, Guru, Monster) contain not only astronomical amounts of processed sugars, but also significant amounts of caffeine and other stimulants. Note that the presence of these ingredients is not always clearly indicated on the container.
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: