The Journey to Healthy Eating’s February Challenge encouraged the non-vegetarians among us to have more plant-based proteins. While learning to diversify your diet by including more vegetarian meals is valuable enough, it has the added benefit of improving your cardiometabolic health (i.e. decreasing your risk of heart disease and diabetes). Before we move on to next month's challenge, I'll reflect a bit on February's objective to Make Monday's Meatless.
My personal perspective on February's challenge is that, even for those not new to the plant-protein scene, planning is key. To be completely honest, meal planning is my number one tip for healthy eating, no matter your eating goals. It’s not the most fun thing to do, but it is necessary. Personally, I find when I skip meal planning for a week that I really suffer for it.
Another key, especially when time is of an issue, is using either canned or frozen beans and legumes. As much as I’d like to say that I take the time to soak and cook dried beans every time, it’s just not possible. Even with planning ahead of time, life gets in the way. There’s nothing wrong with taking a shortcut on this one. It just makes sense sometimes.
A quick side note regarding canned beans: if you are going to use them look for the low sodium ones and give them a rinse before you use them. There are also some brands that use BPA-free cans so if possible, use these. Follow this link to learn more about BPA.
Now on to March’s Challenge…
March Challenge: Eat Less Salt
This month's Journey to Healthy Eating habit to adopt is to eat less salt, or sodium. In nutrition literature, the words salt and sodium are often used interchangeably, however, they aren't exactly the same. Without going into too much detail, sodium is a mineral while the world salt is a term used in chemistry to describe a type of compound. The salt we are most often talking about in nutrition is sodium chloride which is why you will often hear the words used to describe each other. Other salts do exist but in the dietary world when you hear ‘salt’ you can assume that most of the time it is sodium chloride, or table salt, that is being discussed.
The reason we are so concerned about the amount of sodium in our diet is that it is associated with the development of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. A high sodium intake has also been linked to increased calcium losses which has the potential to negatively effect our bone density and increase osteoporosis risk. To top it all off, high sodium diets have been linked to cognitive decline in older adults, kidney stones, and edema. It just makes sense to try to cut down a bit, doesn't it?
While our body does need sodium for many of its processes, the problem comes when we have too much of it. And it is way too easy to overdo it. The average western diet contains too much added salt, which mostly comes from packaged, processed foods, as well as, from eating out in restaurants.
Current national health guidelines (i.e. Health Canada, American Heart Association) recommend no more than 2300 mg of sodium per day. This is equivalent to about a teaspoon of table salt each day. And that’s a maximum. Ideally, it is recommended that you aim for an average of 1500 mg of sodium or about a ½ teaspoon of salt each day. That’s not very much when you think about it.
- Read the nutrition facts label! The lower sodium content the better
Aim for less than 5% DV (daily value) of sodium per serving
Avoid amounts greater than 15% DV of sodium per serving
- Look for low or no sodium alternatives (there are lots available)
- Cut down on restaurant meals. Eat at home more often
- Cut down on packaged and processed foods
- Choose fresh or frozen veggies instead of canned ones
- Put down the salt shaker. I mean it, put it down!
- Flavour food with spices and herbs instead of salt
- Be aware of less obvious sources of sodium, (e.g. condiments such as hot sauce or ketchup, vegetable juices, and bread products)
Already doing this challenge? Try the bonus challenge.
If you are already watching your sodium intake and feel pretty confident in this healthy eating skill, this month’s bonus challenge is to ‘brown bag it’. I encourage you, if you aren’t already doing so, to take your lunch to work or school instead of buying food each day. Packing your own lunch gives you more control over the sodium content (and overall nutritional content) of your food, plus there is always the added bonus of saving money.
ARE YOU FOLLOWING ALONG WITH THIS CHALLENGE? Make sure to check back on the blog and Facebook page all month long for challenge related articles and tips.
Remember to TAG YOUR PHOTOS ON SOCIAL MEDIA WITH #JOURNEYTOHEALTHYEATING.
Stay tuned for next month’s Challenge!