Making healthy changes takes time and it’s definitely not an overnight process. Most people need a little time to practice healthy habits and let them become routine. That’s why I’m doing this Journey to Healthy Eating Challenge. It’s all about making small sustainable changes over time, so those changes become second nature.
March’s healthy eating goal was to reduce the amount of salt we are eating. As a whole, our population consumes too much sodium. High sodium diets are associated with the development of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Considering the high prevalence of cardiovascular disease in our society, it’s really best if we all back away from the sodium just a little bit.
Before we explore April’s healthy eating challenge, I’d like to reflect upon this past month’s low salt objective:
In all honesty, there are times when I find cutting down on salt very challenging. For me, it’s not the salt shaker in my kitchen that is the problem. I have a (disorganized) cupboard full of herbs and spices in which I use very frequently. I don’t heavily salt my foods. Hard boiled eggs always deserve a sprinkle of salt, in my opinion, but otherwise my salt shaker isn't used that much.
The salt in my diet, like most of us, comes from pre-packaged foods. As a busy mom, there are days when I want (or need) to open a can of tomato sauce for a spaghetti dinner or heat up pre-made soup to feed the family. Sodium always creeps in when I’m busy, tired and looking for a quick dinner fix. And to be completely honest, I don’t feel guilty about it. Sometimes we need to those quick fixes. However, these are not foods that are ideal to be choosing all the time. The best prevention from falling into this 'sodium trap' is planning. I’ve said it before but meal planning is my number one tip for healthy eating. Planning keeps me on the right track and choosing healthier foods, and that includes lower sodium options.
Now, I can’t always be on the ball and make everything from scratch. There are a few easy tricks I have found that lower the sodium content of meals using pre-made foods. When using pre-made spaghetti sauce, I like to add a can of ‘no salt added’ diced tomatoes and some pureed vegetables (i.e. zucchini, bell peppers, spinach) to the sauce. While this doesn’t take any of the sodium out of the original sauce, it does increase the volume and cuts down the amount of the original sauce you’ll be eating per serving. With something like canned soup, I’ll often add extra water and some frozen vegetables, salt-free canned beans and/or some herbs. This thins out the saltiness of the soup and adds additional flavour, so the sodium load is lessened.
The sodium in foods like pizza can’t always be decreased in the same way. For pizza or other salty meals, the best you can do is make better choices around those foods. For example, with pizza I like to serve it with a side salad. This helps me balance the salty foods with non-salty foods. This can even be done by looking at a day’s worth of meals. If you know your dinner is going to be a sodium bomb, try to pick lower sodium food choices for for breakfast and lunch. It’s really all about finding balance, not perfection.
Now on to April’s Challenge…
April Challenge: Focus on Fiber
When most people hear the word fiber, they think of poop (right?). And it’s true. Full disclosure: us dietitians talk a lot about poop. If you talk about food going in, it’s only natural to talk about it coming out. So yes, fiber helps us have good bowel movements but it’s so much more than that. Before we get into why fiber is important, let’s do a quick review of what fiber actually is.
Fiber is a carbohydrate but with an interesting twist. Unlike other carbs such as sugars or starches, fiber does not get digested and absorbed in the traditional sense. Fibers are long chains of carbohydrates that withstand our body’s digestive processes. In other words, they do not get broken up by our digestive enzymes nor do they provide us with any calories, or energy. It is their indigestible nature which provides us with unique health benefits.
As alluded to before, fiber acts to maintain regular bowel movements - and depending on the type of fiber eaten this can mean helping with either loose stools (diarrhea) or constipation. Not only does fiber help with regularity but it is also beneficial to bowel health by reducing risk of hemorrhoids and in the management of diverticular disease. There is also the possibility that fiber lowers rates of colorectal cancer but evidence is mixed at this point.
Dietary fiber has also been shown to improve glycemic control and cholesterol levels. Meeting recommended fiber guidelines of 25g and 38g for women and men respectively, has been shown to increase satiety (or fullness) and help with achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight. Unfortunately, most people don't get enough fiber in their diet. Considering its potential benefit on your cardiometabolic and bowel health, it should be a dietary priority and a worthy nutrition goal to work on this month.
- Read the nutrition facts label to identify high fiber foods:
- High fiber foods have more than 4 grams of fiber per serving.
- Choose whole grain breads with at least 2 grams of fiber per serving.
- Include foods high in fiber at every meal including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
- Aim for 10 servings of vegetables and fruits each day:
- 1 serving = 1 piece of fruit, ½ cup cut up fruit or veggie, 1 cup leafy greens.
- Don't want to measure veggie portions? Just make 1/2 your plate veggies at lunch and dinner.
- Skip the fruit juice - choose whole fruit instead (juicing eliminates the fiber).
- Eat fruits and veggies with their peels when possible (i.e. apples, pears, potatoes).
- Plan meals using whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, whole grain pasta, wild rice, pot barley, millet, or bulgur.
- Choose whole grain breakfast cereals such as steel cut oats, wheat or oat bran cereals, or those that contain psyllium.
- Enjoy vegetarian meals with chickpeas, black beans, lentils or kidney beans often.
- Add chia, ground flax, or hemp seeds to smoothies, yogurts or baked goods.
- Add nuts and seeds to salads.
ALREADY DOING THIS CHALLENGE? TRY THE BONUS CHALLENGE.
Already up on your fiber game? Try the bonus challenge of getting your body moving just a little bit more this month. As the weather improves this spring, it should make it easier to get out and exercise. This month try walking after meals. Take 15-30 minutes for a brisk walk after your meals (or even before your meals, if that works better for you). Multiple studies show that walking before or after meals is a big help for those struggling with blood sugar control. And even if your blood sugars aren't a problem, getting your body moving regularly is still a worth it. We can all stand to get moving a little more.
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!
INTERESTED IN THE PREVIOUS MONTH'S CHALLENGES?
- Find January's Journey To Healthy Eating Challenge here.
- Find February's Journey To Healthy Eating Challenge here.
- Find March's Journey to Healthy Eating Challenge here.