The one question I most often get asked as a dietitian is what “tricks” I have to help people get and stay healthy. While I don’t think there are any shortcuts to achieving health, there are a few tips that I live by. It’s what I like to call “The 5 F’s.”
Fat: Fat is the one word that we often don’t associate with healthy eating. But in fact, fat is a necessary component in a healthy diet. Fat helps regulate our metabolism, keeps us full for longer, and acts as a energy source for our body. The trick is eating the right types of fat. In general, we want to choose unsaturated fats more often, and choose saturated fats less often.
- Saturated fats are usually found in solid form at room temperature, such as butter and lard, and are also the type found in animal products, such as meat, cheese, and cream.
- Unsaturated fats are often found in liquid form at room temperature, for example canola oil or olive oil. They are also found in nuts, fish, and flax seeds in the polyunsaturated form, which are often referred to as “omega-3’s” and “omega-6’s”.
There is a multitude of health benefits associated with these polyunsaturated fats, including prevention of heart disease, improved cholesterol levels, reduction in arthritis symptoms, maintenance of mental intelligence, and the list goes on. A simple way to ensure we reap these benefits is to aim for 2-3 servings of fish per week. If you don’t eat fish, flax seeds, soy and walnuts can be good sources of omega-3’s. In summary, my advice isn’t to cut fat out of our diets, but rather to be smart when choosing which type of fat to put into our mouths.
Fluid: We’ve all heard the rule of drinking 6-8 classes of water a day, but few of us actually live by it. The benefits of adequate hydration are endless – from decreasing appetite to improving our immune system, urinary tract, sexual health, and energy levels. Water is the best option, as it is most easily absorbed by the body, though herbal tea and low calorie beverages work also. The easiest way to stay hydrated is to carry a water bottle with you and drink from it throughout the day. Start with one cup of water at each meal and one cup between each meal. Then slowly add to this as you become comfortable. When you are first increasing the amount of water you drink, you will notice you make more trips to the bathroom! This is normal, and will balance out once your body adjusts to the extra fluid. Be patient and your body will thank you.
Fruits and Vegetables: There’s a reason why your mother made you eat your veggies when you were young! Not only are they great sources of essential nutrients, they are also generally low in calories and fat. There is no limit to the amount of fruits and vegetables you can eat, so go ahead, indulge! Try vegetables plain or with a low fat dip as a snack, or add them to soups, casseroles and main dishes. Fruit is the perfect, portable snack. The choices are endless, so be sure to sample all the season has to offer, and you can be sure you’ll find something you like! For ideas on incorporating more fruits and veggies into your diet, see my FAQ page.
Fibre: Very few of us get the recommended 25-35g of fibre a day. But with a few simple changes to our regular eating routine, we can be well on our way. First, choose whole grain breads and cereals over refined. Avoid the “white” whenever possible – white bread, white pasta, white rice. Instead choose brown rice, whole wheat pasta, or be adventurous and try other whole grains such as bulgar, quinoa, and oatmeal. Add wheat germ or wheat bran to your baked goods. Add flax seeds (which are also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids) to your cereal and casseroles. For more info on using flax seeds, see my FAQ page. And remember that fruits and vegetables are a great source of fibre; in fact, an apple gives 4g of fiber and only 60 calories! Getting enough fiber on a daily basis helps fight hunger, alleviate constipation, reduce cholesterol, and prevent a variety of diseases. Just remember to increase the amount of fiber in your diet slowly, and be sure to drink lots of fluid to help move it through your body.
Fitness: As important as healthy eating is, in order to reap the full benefits of a healthy lifestyle, you must also be active. Eating and physical activity are the two most effective prescriptions for a healthy life. More often than not, they outperform drugs in their effect on disease. In order for us to get active and stay active, we must find ways of moving that we enjoy. Take advantage of the many free opportunities nature provides – take your dog for a walk, go for a bike ride in a local park, or find a new hiking trail to explore. Or if you prefer a more organized activity, take up a new sport or join a local health club and take advantage of the many classes it offers. It doesn’t matter how you move, just that you’re doing it on a regular basis. Any amount of activity is better than nothing, but aim for 30-60 minutes of exercise on 3-5 days of the week. Remember that activity is cumulative, so getting 10 minutes of exercise 3 times a day, will give you a total of 30 minutes for the day. So take the stairs instead of the elevator, park a little farther away from your destination and walk the extra distance, or go for a 10 minute walk on your lunch hour. It is easy to incorporate activity into any lifestyle; you just have to make it a priority and find something that works for you!