Nutrition Month in Canada takes place in March and aims to draw awareness to the importance of making informed food choices and developing healthy eating habits. While consuming food is necessary to sustain life, eating the right foods can also improve our health, prevent disease, and help us live longer.
The benefits of eating healthy foods
Eating a healthy, balanced diet can protect against many long-term chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and stroke. In fact, a healthy diet, when combined with physical activity, can prevent up to 80% of premature heart disease and stroke by improving cholesterol levels, reducing blood pressure, helping manage weight, and controlling blood sugar.
What a healthy diet looks like
According to Canada’s Food Guide, a healthy diet includes:
- Eating lots of fruits and vegetables which are packed with nutrients like antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fibre.
- Choosing whole grain foods that have fibre, protein and B vitamins.
- Eating protein foods to help build and maintain bones, muscle, and skins.
- Limiting highly and ultra-processed foods which are often derived of important nutrients and have excess amounts of sugar and salt.
- Drinking water to stay hydrated without adding calories to your diet.
How to eat healthy on a budget
While eating healthy is key to maintaining your overall health, the cost of all food, including nutritious food, has skyrocketed making it difficult to make smart choices. . Here are some tips to help you eat on a budget without having to sacrifice nutritious or healthy food:
- Plan your meals: meal prepping can save you both time and money. It allows you to use items you already have, choose recipes with ingredients you can use in multiple meals, and cook large portions to last throughout the week or freeze for a later date.
- Make a list: having a shopping list helps you reduce impulse buys and stay on budget.
- Shop the season: fresh fruits and vegetables are usually less expensive when they are in season. Frozen and canned produce can be a healthy and affordable alternative to “out of season” items.
- Buy store brand: generic or store brand items are generally the same quality as other national brands, but much less expensive.
- Shop sales: compare prices between grocery stores, look for stores that offer price-matching, stock up on staples, and use flyers, mobile apps, and coupons to match your grocery list with sale items.
- Replace meat: plant-based protein foods like legumes are inexpensive, nutritious, and have a long shelf life so are less likely to spoil quickly.
- Grow a garden: if you can, growing your own fruits, vegetables and herbs can save hundreds on your grocery bills.
How your mood affects what you eat
Mood and food are closely linked, and most of us are likely guilty of emotional eating at one time or another. Ever found yourself reaching for “comfort foods” that are salty or sugary when you’re feeling down, depressed, anxious, or stressed? Everyone is susceptible to this for both biological and psychological reasons. Comfort foods are called that for a reason – they provide comfort by releasing certain neurotransmitters, like when sugar triggers dopamine, the pleasure neurotransmitter. Psychologically, when we feel bad, we remember past times when eating a certain comfort food made us feel better. This can trigger an emotional eating response that ultimately becomes a persistent bad habit. It’s why it’s important for us to be aware of how our emotions trigger our food choices so we can make positive changes and healthier choices.
Eating healthy is one of the most important things you can do to improve your overall health – now and into the future. And it doesn’t have to break the bank. This Nutrition Month, look at what small changes you can incorporate into your everyday life to help you eat healthily and improve your lifestyle.