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7 Ways to Eat Better Every Day

a bowl of food with quinoa, shredded carrots, cabbage and spinach

 

Canada’s Food Guide gives us general information about healthy eating. Now, a new report – Applying Canada’s Dietary Guidelines – by Health Canada shares additional recommendations to help you meet your nutritional needs. Here are 7 things you can do to eat better and why!

1. Eat a dark green veggie every day

Did you know that vegetables and fruit make up less than 25% of the foods we eat? We need to eat a dark green vegetable every day for essential vitamins and minerals, especially folate and iron.

Folate and iron are both important for red blood cells which carry oxygen from our lungs throughout our body.

Special attention: For adolescents and adults who could become pregnant and those who are pregnant / breastfeeding, eat foods rich in folate as well as take a daily multivitamin supplement with 400 mcg folic acid (400 micrograms or 0.4 milligrams). During pregnancy, the multivitamin should also contain iron.

Examples of dark green veggies:

  • Arugula
  • Asparagus
  • Beet greens
  • Bok choy
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Chinese broccoli
  • Collards
  • Dandelion greens
  • Fiddleheads
  • Green beans
  • Green peas
  • Kale
  • Mustard greens
  • Okra
  • Parsley (fresh)
  • Rapini
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • Seaweed (some types: kelp, dulse, wakame)
  • Taro leaves
  • Turnip greens
  • Watercress

Recipe ideas: Kale Chickpea Salad with Trout, Blistered Green Beans with Ginger

2. Eat an orange veggie a few times a week

Orange veggies are super sources of beta-carotene which convert to vitamin A in our body. Vitamin A plays a role in keeping our eyes, skin and immune system healthy.

Special attention: Men and individuals who are breastfeeding should enjoy orange veggies more often – on most days of the week.

Examples of orange veggies:

  • Acorn squash
  • Butternut squash
  • Carrots
  • Hubbard squash
  • Pumpkin
  • Red and orange peppers
  • Sweet potato

Recipe ideas: Mexican Stuffed Peppers with Quinoa, Beans and Corn, Sheet Pan Pork Tenderloin with Sweet Potatoes and Asparagus

3. Enjoy a variety of whole grains

On average, less than 30% of the total grains we eat are whole grain or whole wheat. Not only are whole grains naturally low in saturated fat, sodium and sugars but they also provide folate, thiamin, vitamin B6, iron, zinc, magnesium and fibre.

Enriched, refined grain foods (such as white rice and white bread) also provide iron and folic acid. However, breads can be a top source of sodium, and refined breakfast cereals / granola bars can be a source of added sugars.

Examples of whole grains:

  • Amaranth
  • Barley
  • Brown rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Bulgur
  • Corn
  • Farro
  • Kamut
  • Millet
  • Oats
  • Popcorn
  • Quinoa
  • Rye
  • Sorghum
  • Spelt
  • Teff
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Whole wheat pasta

Recipe ideas: Baked Mushroom and Herb Barley Risotto, Bulgur Chicken Burgers with Yogurt Sauce

4. Enjoy legumes, tofu, nuts or seeds every day for protein

Canada’s food guide recommends eating plant-based foods more often to reduce our overall intake of saturated fat. Currently, less than 20% of the protein foods we eat are plant-based. To pump up the plant protein, eat legumes (dried peas, beans, lentils, peanuts) or tofu at least once a day, as well as nuts or seeds at least once a day.

Recipe ideas: Chickpea Burger, Crispy Tofu Noodle Bowl

5. Eat foods with unsaturated fat

Replace foods high in saturated fat with foods which contain mostly unsaturated fat such as:

  • avocado
  • eggs
  • fish and fatty fish (salmon, trout, herring, sardines, mackerel, arctic char)
  • lean cuts of meat and wild grame
  • lower fat dairy products, fortified soy beverages
  • nuts, nut butters, seeds
  • poultry without skin
  • hummum
  • tofu
  • vegetable oils

Special attention: Help young children enjoy a variety of these foods throughout the day to help them meet their nutritional requirements for fat and calories.

Recipe ideas: Light Lemony Spring Herb Hummus, Crunchy Flax Chicken Nuggets

6. Get calcium every day

Calcium is a nutrient needed at all stages of life for bone health. Look for choices which meet your traditions and personal / cultural preferences.

Special attention: Children, adolescents, adult female and older adults have higher needs for calcium than others, so should include calcium containing foods at all meals and some snacks.

Examples of food sources of calcium:

  • Lower fat, unsweetened milk, yogurt and kefir (0-2% M.F.)
  • Unsweetened, fortified plant-based beverages (oat, soy, cashew, almond)
  • Cheese that is lower in fat and sodium
  • Tofu made with calcium
  • Legumes (e.g. edamame, navy beans, white beans)
  • Fish and shellfish (e.g. canned sardines / canned salmon with bones)
  • Some dark green / leafy green vegetables (e.g. arugula, bok choy, Chinese broccoli, okra, rapini, watercress)
  • Some seaweed (e.g. kelp, dulse, wakame)

Recipe ideas: Mac ‘n Cheese Muffins, Cod au Gratin

7. Get vitamin D every day from food and / or supplements

Vitamin D is made by the skin when exposed to sunlight. However many factors like smog, season, time of day, sunscreen use, and amount of skin exposed can all affect the amount of vitamin D that is produced.

If you don’t eats foods with vitamin D every day, take a 400 IU (10 mcg) vitamin D supplement. Some multivitamins also contain vitamin D.

Special attention: As we age, we make less vitamin D from the sun, and this can affect our bone health. Anyone aged 51 and older should take a 400 IU (10 mcg) vitamin D supplement every day in addition to eating vitamin D rich foods.

Examples of foods with vitamin D:

  • Fatty fish (salmon, artic char, rainbow trout)
  • Eggs (yolk)
  • Unsweetened, lower fat milk
  • Unsweetened, fortified plant-based beverages
  • Soft margarine

Recipe ideas: Baked Salmon with Honey Mustard Marinade, Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs

References: Health Canada (2022 May 7). Applying Canada’s Dietary Guidelines.

This article originally appeared on Canadian Food Focus, a source for Canadian food and farming stories that provide advice to help you make confident food choices.

3 Important Nutrients for Vegetarians

Various fruits and vegetables on a cutting board and table

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re a vegetarian, you’re probably eating a variety of plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Following a plant-based eating style has many benefits, such as a lower risk for developing heat disease, type 2 diabetes and colon cancer. But did you know that you could be missing out on some important nutrients? Here are 3 key nutrients to think about.

Iron

Iron is a part of hemoglobin that’s in red blood cells and helps carry oxygen throughout our body. There are two different forms of iron:

  • heme iron – found in animal-based foods such as meat, poultry, fish, shellfish and eggs
  • non-heme iron – found in plant-based foods such as vegetables, grains, legumes and tofu.

Heme iron has better bioavailability, in other words, it is more easily absorbed by our body compared to non-heme iron. For this reason, it’s recommended that vegetarians get almost two times more iron as non-vegetarians, especially adults and adolescent females.

To improve the absorption of non-heme iron, try these tips:

  • Enjoy your meal with a food or drink that contains vitamin C (e.g. citrus fruit, citrus fruit juice, kiwis, mangoes, cantaloupe, sweet peppers, bok choy, broccoli, kale, potatoes).
  • Add a food that contains heme iron if you include these foods in your diet (e.g. fish, shellfish, eggs).
  • Cook with cast iron pots.
  • Avoid drinking large amounts of coffee or tea, or having high amounts of calcium at the same time as your vegetarian meal because these block iron absorption. Wait about one to two hours after a meal before enjoying coffee, tea or taking calcium supplements.
  • Try the Lucky Iron Fish, a reusable cooking tool that adds extra iron to your foods and beverages.

Best vegetarian foods for iron:

  • Iron-fortified grain products (e.g. breads, cereals, pasta)
  • Whole grains and whole grain foods
  • Legumes (e.g. split peas, lentils, beans)
  • Soy / soy products (e.g. firm or extra firm tofu, tempeh, soy veggie burger, fortified soy beverage)
  • Nuts / nut butter
  • Seeds / seed butter (e.g. pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, hemp seeds)
  • Dark green vegetables (e.g. Swiss chard, asparagus, edamame, snow peas, kale)
  • Dried fruit (e.g. raisins, dried apricots)
  • Prune juice
  • Blackstrap molasses

Zinc

Zinc is important for a strong immune system and helps with wound healing. Vegetarians, especially vegans, can be at a higher risk for zinc deficiency because fruits and vegetables contain very little zinc. If you’re a pescatarian, try fish and seafood for zinc. If you’re a lacto-ovo vegetarian, you can get zinc from eggs and dairy products.

Plant-based foods contain phytates (a natural substance found in grains, nuts, seeds and legumes) which actually reduces zinc absorption. To improve the absorption of zinc, try soaking grains, nuts, seeds and legumes before cooking.

Best vegetarian foods for zinc:

  • Legumes (e.g. beans, split peas, lentils)
  • Nuts and nut butters (e.g. almonds, peanuts, cashews, pecan, pine nuts)
  • Seeds (e.g. pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds)
  • Whole grains
  • Fortified cereals

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is important for healthy nerve cells and for making red blood cells. Vitamin B12 is found naturally only in animal-based foods. Many plant-based foods are fortified with vitamin B12 such as fortified plant-based beverages and products labelled as “simulated meat products” or “simulated poultry products.” If you’re vegan, it may be helpful to take a vitamin B12 supplement. Talk to a Registered Dietitian for more advice.

Best vegetarian foods for vitamin B12

  • Plant-based foods fortified with vitamin B12 (e.g. fortified soy yogurt, veggie burgers, simulated meat products, simulated poultry products)
  • Plant-based beverages fortified with vitamin B12 (e.g. fortified soy / oat / rice / almond beverage)
  • Fortified nutritional yeast

There are many delicious foods to enjoy on a vegetarian diet. If you’re not sure whether you’re getting enough nutrients or have questions about supplements, consult with a Registered Dietitian.

References:  Health Canada (2022 May 7). Applying Canada’s Dietary Guidelines – Considerations for Vegetarian Diets.

This article originally appeared on Canadian Food Focus, a source for Canadian food and farming stories that provide advice to help you make confident food choices.

New Front-of-Package Nutrition Labels are Coming to Canada

A magnifying glass with the words "High in sat fat, sugars, sodium"

 

 

 

 

 

You’re probably already familiar with the Nutrition Facts information found on the back of food packages. Health Canada is now introducing a new nutrition symbol that will appear on the front of food packages. This new front-of-package (FOP) nutrition symbol will help consumers quickly identify foods which are high in saturated fats, sugars and / or sodium. Here’s what you need to know.

Background

According to Heart and Stroke, 60% of the food we buy is prepackaged and processed, and many of these foods may be high in saturated fats, sugars and / or sodium. Eating a diet that’s high in these nutrients of concern is linked to a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and some types of cancer. At the same time, 8 out of 10 Canadians say that nutrition is important when choosing foods.

To help Canadians make informed choices, Health Canada is introducing a new front-of-package (FOP) nutrition symbol to identify packaged foods which are high in saturated fats, sugars and / or sodium. The regulations came into effect on July 20, 2022 and food companies have until January 1, 2026 to update their packaging their labels. Over 40 countries including Chile, Argentina, Mexico and New Zealand, currently have a front-of-package nutrition labelling system.

 

What does the new front-of-package (FOP) symbol look like?

French only front-of-package symbol

Horizontal front-of-package label with magnifying glass and words

 

 

 

 

The new FOP symbol is a black and white image of a magnifying glass along with the name(s) of the nutrient(s) of concern – saturated fat, sugars and / or sodium – that are deemed high in the packaged food or beverage. It may appear either as a horizontal or vertical symbol. The FOP symbol may appear on the food package as one bilingual symbol or as two separate symbols in both official languages.

English only front-of-package symbol

French only front-of-package symbol

 

 

 

 

The FOP symbol will always appear on the upper right half of the food package. In the sample chocolate bar below, the symbol indicates that the food is high in saturated fat and sugars.Sample chocolate bar with the front-of-package symbol for high saturated fat and sugars

 

 

 

 

 

Which foods will need to show the FOP symbol?

For most packaged products, the definition of “high” means that the food or beverage contains 15% or more of the Daily Value for saturated fat or sugars and / or sodium per serving.

For example, take a look at the nutrition facts information below for a can of soup. The saturated fat is at 5% DV, the sugars is at 2% DV but the sodium is at 36% DV. So this soup would need to show the front-of-package nutrition symbol with the word sodium to let consumers know that this product is high in sodium.

Nutrition facts table for a can of soup

 

 

Front-of-package symbol for high sodium

Front-of-package symbol needed for the sample can of soup by January 1, 2026

For foods with a small serving size such as salad dressings or pickles, the criteria is 10% DV instead of 15% DV for saturated fat, sugars and sodium. And for pre-packaged main dishes that have a larger serving size, such as a frozen pizza or frozen lasagna, the criteria is 30% DV for those nutrients.

Which foods are exempted from the FOP symbol?

This is a list of some foods which are exempted either because of a recognized health benefit, technical or practical reasons. 

  • Plain fruits and vegetables
  • Plain, unsweetened 2% milk & whole milk
  • Plain cheese and yogurt*
  • Plain nuts / seeds & nut / seed butter
  • Eggs
  • Raw, plain single ingredient meat, poultry & fish, including ground meat
  • Butter, margarine, ghee; Vegetable oils; Sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup; Salt (e.g. table salt, sea salt, Kosher salt, garlic salt, onion salt, celery salt, etc.) – It would simply be redundant and impractical to put a FOP symbol on these foods.

Any of the foods noted above are no longer exempt if they’re made with an ingredient that contains saturated fat, sugars and / or sodium. For example, a bag of plain salad is exempt from the FOP regulations. But is the bag of salad contains bacon bits and salad dressing, the FOP symbol may apply. Similarly, if salt is added to plain nuts, the FOP symbol may apply.

*Cheese and yogurt made from dairy these foods naturally contain saturated fat, sugars (lactose) and sodium (needed in the cheese-making process). However, these foods contain calcium which is considered a “shortfall nutrient” since many Canadians may not be getting enough and calcium. Any plain cheese or yogurt is only exempt from the FOP symbol if a serving of the food contains at least 15% DV for calcium (or at least 10% DV for calcium in foods with a serving size of 30 grams / 30 mL or less). The ongoing need for this exemption will be reassessed after 10 years.

Other exemptions include:

  • Foods that are only sold at a farmer’s market, flea market, craft show, road-side stand or sugar bush by the person who prepared and processed the product
  • Packaged individual portions of foods that are only intended to be served by a restaurant to accompany a meal or snack, such as coffee creamers or individually packaged crackers often served with soups at restaurants
  • Foods sold in very small packages or with limited display space, such as milk, cream and goat’s milk which are sold in refillable glass containers since there available labelling space is limited to the lid

Pros and Cons

Pros: The FOP symbol will help consumers make informed food choices. In Chile, where a similar FOP labelling system has been in effect since 2016, 92% of consumers said that the FOP label influenced their food purchase. And overall household food purchases in Chile contained 37% less sodium and 27% less sugars.

Another pro is that this new nutrition labelling policy will inspire food companies to reformulate their products. In the next four years, expect to see new and improved products containing less saturated fat, sugars and sodium.

Cons: The FOP symbol could promote a “good food vs bad food” mentality which supports diet culture. Remember that we eat food for more than just nutrition. We eat food for celebration, comfort and connection.

Sue’s advice

Use the new FOP symbol as another tool to help you make informed choices. Read the Nutrition Facts table on the back of the package to see what other nutrients are offered in the food. Look at the ingredients list to determine whether any fat, sugars or sodium have been added to the product. If you happen to occasionally eat a food / beverage that has a FOP symbol, don’t feel guilty or ashamed. All foods can be enjoyed in moderation and fit into a healthy, balanced diet.

 

This article originally appeared on Canadian Food Focus, an excellent resource for information about food and farming.

 

 

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