Source: Best Health magazine, October 2015
#1 Whole Grains
Your body will thank you for rethinking your wheat choices to include more whole grains. Not only are they rich in nutrients such as vitamin B, magnesium, iron and zinc but choosing whole grains may also reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, certain cancers and diabetes. A source of fibre, whole grains can also help fill you up, which helps with healthy weight management.
Best sources: Options abound, including brown rice, wild rice, barley, quinoa, rye, buckwheat, oats, amaranth, wheat varieties (such as spelt, farro, Kamut and durum) and wheat forms (such as bulgur and cracked wheat), to name but a few.
Look for whole grains listed first on food labels, such as ‘whole rye’ or ‘whole-grain whole wheat flour’; otherwise, a product that states ‘made with whole grain’ may be made with refined grain and just a bit of whole grain added, and ‘multigrain’ may not contain whole grains at all but rather a selection of different grains. To get more whole grains, make a marinated salad using barley, farro or red rice tossed with vegetables, cheese and beans to pack into lunch boxes. Extra cooked grains can be tossed into soups and stews. Cooked quinoa can be sprinkled on salads, added to smoothies, baked in a frittata or made into quinoa ‘fried rice.’
How much? Canada’s Food Guide recommends between six and eight servings of grain products per day for adults, with half of a small whole-grain bagel or 1/2 cup of cooked brown rice representing one serving. Of these grain products, strive to make at least half of them a variety of whole grains.
Replace empty calories with more fibre-rich foods. It’s a simple switch to make because there are lots of tasty options. The health benefits are numerous: You can better control blood sugar levels and diabetes, lower cholesterol, maintain a healthy body weight and promote regularity. Research also indicates that a diet high in fibre may lower your risk of heart disease and colon cancer.
There are two main types of fibre, and both are important for maximizing health benefits. Soluble fibre (found in carrots, oats and apples) helps with lowering cholesterol and controlling blood glucose, while insoluble fibre (found in wheat bran and whole grains) helps maintain regular bowel function.
Best sources: Nuts and seeds, such as almonds, ground flax and sunflower seeds, are good sources of fibre, as are whole grains, such as oats, brown rice, quinoa and barley. From the legume family, fibre-filled options include lentils, split peas, corn, edamame, chickpeas, black beans and lima beans, while a veritable rainbow of fruits and vegetables, such as apples and pears (especially with the skins), most berries, figs, dried apricots, prunes, broccoli, peas, winter squash and sweet potatoes, also contains a healthy hit of fibre. For a fibre-packed snack that’s portable, too, spread almond butter on apple slices, or make your own trail mix with air-popped popcorn, dried blueberries, walnuts and high-fibre cereal.
How much? As a daily target, aim for a total of at least 25 grams of both soluble and insoluble fibre spread out over a number of meals and snacks throughout the day, as overloading the digestive system with too much fibre all at once can lead to bloating and gas.
Drink plenty of water throughout the day, and exercise regularly to help keep fibre moving along. Also, check the nutrition information on package labels and choose high-fibre whole grains more often. Foods labelled ‘high fibre’ must contain at least four grams of fibre per serving, while a ‘source’ of fibre has a minimum of two grams of fibre per serving.
You don’t have to get rid of fat; you just need to switch the types you’re eating. A healthy fat that offers up a host of nourishing benefits, omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids help lower ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol levels and may help reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. Omega-3 fats have also been shown to reduce inflammation and improve bone and joint health, while preliminary research indicates that consumption of these essential fats may also be beneficial in reducing your risk of dementia, depression and some cancers.
Collectively important to overall good health, the three types of omega-3s include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), or ‘long-chain’ fatty acids that are found in fatty fish and algae, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 ‘short-chain’ fatty acid found in many plant-based foods.
Best sources: There are plenty of fish in the sea that provide heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, including oily options such as salmon, rainbow trout, tuna, anchovies and sardines. Along with these marine sources, plant-based foods that are notable sources of omega-3s include canola oil, walnuts and edamame. Another rich source of ALA omega-3s, ground flaxseed can be added to yogurt, smoothies, cereals, muffins, breads and salads (for a simple, healthy salad dressing, whisk flaxseed oil with cider vinegar, a touch of honey, sea salt and freshly ground pepper and keep in a jar in the refrigerator).
How much? Whether for cooking, dressings, spreads or other recipes, Health Canada recommends a total of two or three tablespoons of healthy fats per day, while Canada’s Food Guide recommends eating at least two servings of fish per week. For best sources, choose fish that are higher in omega-3s.
Bottom line? Most of us could benefit from incorporating more omega-3 fats into our diet, but check with your doctor before considering omega-3 supplements.