Eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet is one of the best ways to keep you and your family healthy. The benefits of healthy eating are plentiful, and are especially seen in the prevention and control of chronic disease and even certain cancers.
Is eating right important? Yes! Can eating right be challenging? You bet!
We all understand and have experienced the struggles that come along with eating healthy and living a healthy lifestyle – struggles such as finances, time and awareness.
To support Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in the pursuit of living a healthy lifestyle, Lisa Dooley, a practising dietitian of 23 years, shared her top tips on getting the best nutrition with limited resources.
As a clinical dietitian with the Janeway Lifestyle program, Lisa acts as a translator between the scientific knowledge of nutrition and patients. Her aim is to improve community health and help manage chronic disease.
“I’ve always been aware of food. I actually suffer from a chronic disease that affects the way I eat,” she explained. “I think that’s what led me to the practice.”
The Janeway Lifestyle team works with children and their families who have been identified as being at risk for developing diseases, such as high blood sugar, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, liver disease or weight concerns.
Each and every family faces obstacles when establishing healthy habits. Here are just a few examples:
- People seem to have less time than ever before: With juggling work, school and additional responsibilities, it is hard to find the time to prepare nutritious snacks and meals, and to sit down and eat.
- The rising cost of food influences eating patterns: People are often faced with the difficult choice of spending more money to eat healthier, or spending less money to acquire more.
- Mixed messages: Every time we turn on the TV, listen to the radio, log on to social media or read the news, we are bombarded with conflicting information about food and different eating trends.
When it comes to nutrition, we have to wade through a pool of opinions and fads to determine what is fact or fiction. Lisa explained that foods and eating patterns have different effects on different individuals – there is no universal way to eat.
“It’s hard to say food A causes B condition, we are all different,” Lisa clarified.
It’s not surprising people are confused about eating.
“Struggles vary with the individual, eating well has many layers,” said Lisa. “People often face the uncertainty of what to buy, how to cook and store food properly.”
Lisa’s mission is to let people know that they can eat healthy, it can taste good and it can be affordable. Her focus is also on helping people learn the skills associated with healthy eating.
Lisa helps to support clients, showing them the tools and skills they need to successfully purchase, prepare and consume food. In doing so, she hopes to instill in her clients the confidence to continue a nutritious diet for life.
Budgeting Time and Money
It’s important to know that there are healthy foods and techniques available to help us stay on budget. With a little planning and creativity, your health will benefit in the long run from a commitment to healthy eating.
To help you get more bang for your buck, here’s Lisa’s top 15 tips for eating healthy on a budget:
- Read the flyers to determine where you can get the best price.
- Collect coupons for favorite items.
- Buy in season – produce is low-cost and more nutritious at this time.
- Buy frozen fruits and vegetables when out of season.
- Buy locally when possible – these items have more nutrients and can help reduce our carbon footprint.
- Cook from scratch – it is healthier and less expensive than buying.
- Have a plan – develop a list of what you do have and a separate list of what you need.
- Stock up on easy, storable foods when on sale, such as frozen fruit or canned options. Make sure to rinse canned food in water to remove extra sugar or salt.
- Incorporate beans, peas, and lentils – they are inexpensive and have high nutritious value.
- Cook in large batches and freeze for another time, but make sure to label with a date!
- Cook one meal, cooking multiple meals for one night can be tiring, expensive and unnecessary.
- Use division of responsibility when it comes to eating. Parents decide what to eat, when to eat and where to eat. Children have the responsibility of whether to eat and deciding how much to eat.
- Buy cheese and bread on sale and freeze it.
- Purchase no-name brand items – they are often cheaper than brand named competitors.
- Plant your own fruit or vegetables, seeds are relatively inexpensive.
Often, money is not the only resource we try to save when it comes to cooking and healthy eating. Time plays a large role in the food selection, preparation and eating process. To save time, follow Lisa’s tips:
- Invest in a slow-cooker, you can leave it on throughout the day and your meal will be ready to eat when you get home.
- It doesn’t hurt to eat breakfast for supper; it takes minutes to boil an egg and toast a whole wheat slice of bread.
- Eat leftovers or prepare your meals for the week on the weekend (or whenever you have the most available time).
- Use lentils – they cook quickly!
What We Need and What We Don’t
The key to eating healthy and happy is moderation. “I don’t like to tell people they can’t eat this or that,” said Lisa. “Treats are treats, and all foods can fit.”
However, Lisa advises that we should watch our intake of sugar and highly refined foods. Foods containing trans fats or nitrate are not the best choices for everyday consumption. Some examples include French fries, ice cream, candy, chips, white bread, pastries and pop.
Just like certain foods should be limited, there are foods we should definitely include in our diets.
Lisa emphasized the importance of drinking water to stay hydrated, and eating fruits and vegetables to obtain the nutrients and minerals we require and to reduce the risk of disease.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, there is a very high rate of diabetes. The consumption of foods that contain fibre such as apples, berries, carrots, sweet potato and squash are important in helping prevent and control diabetes. “We should be eating a green vegetable and an orange vegetable every day,” Lisa added.
Lisa also highlighted calcium as an essential mineral that our bodies require. Calcium plays a primary role in building healthy bones and teeth. Yoghurt for example, is an excellent source of calcium and good for the bacteria in the stomach.
To be healthy, Lisa explains that the intake of protein is important. Protein is used by the body for building and repairing tissues and to produce energy, lean meats and alternatives (peas, beans, lentils and nuts) should also be included in a healthy lifestyle.
As well, Lisa believes that buying close to home is a healthy shopping practice. When foods travel, they are usually picked before ripening, meaning they lose their full nutritional potential.
Lisa always shares the following myths about food with her clients:
- Low-fat is better. Not true! When the fat is removed from foods, sugar is often added – which is damaging to one’s health. Choosing healthy fats is best. Our bodies need the essential healthy fats that come from foods such as fish, avocados, nuts, seeds, and oils.
- Gluten free is beneficial for people who do not suffer from celiac disease or non-celiac gluten intolerance. Busted! Whole grains are part of a healthy diet and can help reduce the risk of disease. A grain has three parts, the bran, endosperm and the germ. To receive essential oils, nutrients and fibre, we need to eat the whole grain.
As well, it is common for gluten free products to have higher percentages of unhealthy fats, sugar and lack fiber and be much more expensive than their gluten containing counterparts.
- Some sugars are better than others. False! All sugar is processed in similar manners. For example, there is no real benefit to eating honey instead of table sugar. When digested, the body does not distinguish whether it is honey or sugar. All sugar consumption needs to be monitored. Like Lisa says, “sugar is sugar is sugar.”
Lisa said that the best part of her job is meeting children and families. “When people develop their own strategies for eating healthy, it’s very rewarding,” she said. “Clients have given me some of the best pointers.”
“You don’t need to be a top chef, but cooking is a skill that can be passed on to children, teaching them time management skills and family traditions,” added Lisa.
With so many healthy and unhealthy options, it is quite easy to feel lost. When our days continuously consist of multiple problems and sacrifices, deciding what to eat can seem so inconsequential but in reality, eating poorly certainly has its consequences. What we eat affects one of the most important aspects of life – our health!
It’s important to always consider and reflect on how we can make healthier decisions. Next time you are at the grocery store and feel overwhelmed, remember Lisa’s tips! ■
This story was written by Cassie Pilon, a public relations co-op student with Eastern Health.