Importance of Healthy Eating
- A healthy diet is an important contributor to heart health. A heart healthy diet consists of many factors, which includes eating home-cooked meals with heart-healthy ingredients as often as possible, eating three balanced meals daily and learning how to let your hunger and fullness cues guide how much and how often you eat.
- Healthy eating habits can improve cardiovascular risk factors such as: blood pressure, blood sugar, blood cholesterol, weight and waist circumference. An increased waist circumference is associated with cardiovascular disease and diabetes. For more information on blood pressure, visit our High Blood Pressure section. For more information on blood sugar, visit our Blood Sugars & Your Health section. For more information on blood cholesterol, visit our Cholesterol & Triglycerides section.
The Mediterranean Diet
- The Mediterranean diet is not a “diet”, but an overall pattern of eating that can be adopted to many different styles, cultures, and budget levels.
- It is rank by health experts as one of the best patterns of eating for longevity and cardiovascular health.
- The Mediterranean Diet has been linked to improvements in blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
- The main focus of the Mediterranean diet is to get back to the basics. This means preparing meals at home, with whole, minimally processed foods, as often as you can.
- Minimally processed foods keep almost all essential nutrients. Examples of minimally processed foods would include brown rice, oats, fruits and vegetables.
- The Mediterranean Diet is represented by a pyramid. The foundation of the Mediterranean Diet is built on eating with others and being physically active. The Mediterranean Diet encourages you to do these activities as often as possible.
Foods to include more often
- Fruits and vegetables, such as: apples, carrots, bananas, broccoli, cabbage, melon, pear, squash, beets, collard greens, chard, okra, turnip and many more.
- Whole grains, such as: brown rice, whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, quinoa, amaranth, sorghum, millet, buckwheat, barley, and couscous.
- Nuts & seeds, such as: almonds, walnuts, Brazil nuts, cashews, chestnuts, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts, pecans, pili nuts, pine nuts, pistachios, sunflower seeds, tiger nuts, baru nuts and many more.
- Legumes, such as: chickpeas, all types of beans, peas, lentils, lupins and many more.
- Fish, such as: salmon, mackerel, shrimp, bassa, cod, arctic char, pollock, haddock and many more. Research has shown that fish rich in omega 3 fat can be beneficial for heart health. Examples of fish that are rich in omega 3 fat include salmon, rainbow trout and sardines.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
- Herbs and spices to add flavor to your food and reduce sodium/salt.
Foods to include in moderation
- Poultry, such as: chicken and turkey.
- Low fat diary.
- Eggs. Research shows 2-4 eggs per week is safe for heart health.
- Solid fats, such as butter and non-hydrogenated margarine.
- Red Wine.
Foods to limit
- Red meat, including beef, goat, lamb, pork, and processed meats (such as hot dogs, sausages, deli meats, salami, bacon).
- Highly processed foods, including potato chips, white rice, white bread and ready to eat meals.
- Fruit juices and pop.
- Commercial sweets and pastries.
Facts about reading food labels
- Reading food labels can help you to to make informed choices about the packaged and processed foods you eat.
- Many of the healthiest foods do not require a food label. For example, fruits, vegetable and fish products do not need to should their nutrition facts – they are just healthy on their own. It is important to include these healthy, whole food options most often.
Reading food labels
- Nutrition labels provide information on key nutrients. For heart health, we are most interested in saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and fibre.
- The percent (%) daily value is found on the nutrition facts table and can be used to determine if the product contains a little or a lot of a particular nutrient.
- Saturated Fat: Choose food products most often that have a % daily value of 5% or less saturated fat.
- Trans Fat: Choose food products most often that have 0 trans fat.
- Sodium: Choose food products most often that have a % daily value of 5% or less sodium.
- Fibre: Choose food products most often that have a % daily value of 15% or more fibre.
Canada’s Food Guide
- The Canada Food Guide is a visual representation of what your plate should look like. The Canada Food Guide is a simple tool to promote healthy eating.
- A balanced meal is the key to healthy eating. A balanced meal should include vegetables and fruits, protein and whole grains. Let’s now review the different categories of Canada’s Food Guide:
- Vegetables & Fruit:
- Try making half (1/2) of your plate vegetables and fruit.
- Vegetables and fruit offer fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which are important for heart health.
- Examples include apples, carrots, bananas, broccoli, cabbage, melon, pear, squash, beets, collard greens, okra, eggplant, turnip and many more.
- Fruit juices and fruit concentrates are high in sugar and low in fibre. Replace juice with water and chose whole or cut vegetables and fruits instead of juice.
- Try healthier cooking methods like baking, roasting, steaming or stir-frying. Add flavour to your vegetables and fruits by adding olive oil, lemon juice, favoured vinegar or herbs and spices.
- To reduce cost: buy in-season, on sale, frozen or canned options. For frozen and canned options, compare the nutrient facts table to choose products that are lower in sodium, sugar and saturated fat.
- Try making one quarter (1/4) of your plate a protein food.
- Protein is the part of the plate that keeps you full and satisfied. Protein offers iron, zinc and many other vitamins & minerals which are important to help build muscle and other tissue.
- Examples of protein foods include meats, poultry, egg, tofu, dairy and dairy alternatives, beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, nuts, and seeds. Based on the Mediterranean style of eating, proteins to include more often are fish, nuts and legumes (kidney beans, black beans, chickpeas and lentils).
- Try healthier ways to prepare your protein foods by choosing plant-based proteins more often, rinsing and draining canned products, choosing unsalted nuts and seeds, draining off extra fat after cooking, trimming visible fat/skin from meats, choosing fresh protein foods that have no added sauce/seasoning, and choosing lower fat cheeses, lower fat yogurt and lower fat milk instead of full-fat options.
- To reduce cost, buy meat on sale and freeze what you won’t eat right away; buy dairy in larger containers; use eggs, tofu, beans and lentils more often as these are cheaper.
- Try making one quarter (1/4) of your plate a whole grain.
- Whole grains are digested slowly and help keep you full longer. Whole grains have been linked to a decreased risk of heart disease, improved blood sugar control and improved weight management and waist circumference. Whole grains are a healthy source of carbohydrate.
- Whole grains include all parts of the grain, and offer many vitamins, minerals, fibre and energy. When reading an ingredient list, choose foods that have the words “whole grain” followed by the name of the grain.
- Examples of whole grain foods: brown rice, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, quinoa, amaranth, sorghum, millet, buckwheat, barley, couscous.
- In the whole grain section, we also include starchy vegetables, such as potato and corn.
- Try healthier ways to prepare your whole grains by leaving out or reducing the amount of added salt, limiting sauces and condiments, and adding spices and herbs to enhance flavour.
- To reduce cost: buy in bulk, buy bread products on sale and freeze what you won’t eat right away.
- Water provides the best hydration. It is best to make water your main drink.
- To add flavour, consider adding fresh fruit /vegetables (berries, lemon, cucumbers) or herbs to your water. You can also try carbonated water if you like some fizz in your drink.
- Vegetables & Fruit:
- When you eat is as important as what you eat. It is important to refuel your body throughout the day, by having three balanced meals at regular times, and incorporating healthy snacks if you feel hungry. Balanced meals, using Canada’s Food Guide should keep you full for 3-4 hours.
- If you are interested in learning more about Canada’s Food Guide, book an appointment with our Registered Dietitian
- Mindful eating is eating with awareness. It is learning to recognize true hunger. Mindful eating is paying close attention to your hunger and fullness cues to guide when and how much you eat. Mindful eating is a skill you can learn.
- Mindless eating is eating without paying attention. Mindless eating is eating when distracted, or going long periods of time without eating, ignoring your hunger cues, followed by eating fast and eating too much.
- If you are interested in learning more about mindful eating, book an appointment with our Registered Dietitian
- Our unhealthy eating habits, such as skipping meals, going long periods of time without eating, eating when bored or stress, or having a low intake of fruits and vegetables can affect out health, weight and waist circumference.
- It is never too late to make a positive change. Small changes can have a big impact on your heart health.
- Changing our eating habits is not always easy. If you would like some support, book an appointment with our Registered Dietitian
For more information
- Book an appointment with our Registered Dietitian
- Visit our section on the Mediterranean Diet, Reading Food Labels, Canada’s Food Guide and Keeping on Track.
- Nutrition Resources: Canada’s Food Guide; The Mediterranean Diet: A Guide to Healthy Eating; Label Reading: Focus on the Facts; Recognizing Hunger Cues.