- Healthy eating has many benefits that include more energy, better concentration, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, a reduced risk of many illnesses, and it is much better for the environment.
- A healthy diet consists mainly of plant foods such as fruit, vegetables, legumes (e.g. beans, lentils, chickpeas), whole grains, nuts and seeds.
- Foods are more nutritious when they are closer to their natural state (e.g. whole grains as compared to refined grains); so include many unprocessed (or slightly processed) foods in your diet and avoid highly processed foods.
- There are practical guidelines to help people make healthy food choices, including Canada’s Food Guide, My Plate, the Vegetarian Food Pyramid and the Healthy Eating Plate.
- Tasty, healthy meals and snacks can be prepared in little time and at low cost
Healthy eating is one of the most important things you can do to enhance and maintain optimal health.
This section summarizes the most important information you need to know about healthy eating. Consult the "For Those Who Want to Know More" section below for additional information.
- Reduced risk of illness and disease that include:
- Cardiovascular illness (heart disease)
- Some cancers (30% of cancers are related to diet)
- High blood pressure
- and more…
- Increased energy
- Better sleep
- Better concentration/performance
- Better mood
- Greater sense of health and well-being
- It’s better for the environment
- Stronger immune system and a reduced risk of infectious diseases
- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight
- Helps to manage some health problems
- Promotes bowel regularity
- Healthy skin, hair and teeth
- Better sex
- Save money
A healthy diet is one that is:
- Mainly composed of plant-based foods: These include fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Discover 16 ways to get more plant foods into your diet.
- Rich in whole foods and low in highly processed foods.
- Generally low in fat, and specifically low in "unhealthy" saturated and trans fat. A high-fat diet—or one that is rich in “unhealthy” fats—increases a person’s risk for chronic health problems that include heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
- Low in added sugars. Sugars occur naturally in foods such as fruit and milk. Added sugars are concentrated sources of sugar that include white sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, molasses, glucose, fructose and syrups that are added to processed foods (check the "Nutrition Facts" panel) or that we add to foods at home. A diet high in added sugars has been associated with an increased risk for diabetes, weight gain and calories.
- Low in sodium. A diet high in sodium is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, high blood pressure, kidney disease and stomach cancer.
- High in fibers. A high fiber diet is linked with better health and a reduced risk of some chronic illnesses.
- Rich in vitamins and minerals
- Calorie balanced (calories consumed is the same as calories burned), unless you are trying to gain or lose weight or are pregnant.
Eating healthfully is easier than you think. Here are a few general strategies to eating healthfully:
- Eat lots of plants. Plant foods (e.g. fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts/seeds) tend to be low in fat, calories and sodium; plus they have no cholesterol. They also have fiber and are often rich in vitamins, minerals and other beneficial compounds. Discover 16 ways to get more plant foods into your diet.
- Consume a variety of foods. This ensures that you get a full complement of nutrients.
- Eat regularly throughout the day. Aim for a breakfast, lunch and dinner along with a few snacks. Avoid going for long periods of time without eating.
- Eat foods as close to their natural state as possible. The processing of foods strips them of valuable nutrients. Unhealthy ingredients such as salt, sugar or fat are often added to processed foods.
- Focus on healthy fats. The amount of fat in the diet is not as important to your health as the type of fat. Healthy “unsaturated” fats are found mainly in plant foods (e.g. olive oil, canola oil). When you choose animal foods—which are a main source of unhealthy fats—opt for lower fat versions, such as lean cuts of meat or low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese.
- Beware of liquids. Liquids can add a significant amount of additional calories to a diet (e.g. soda, juice, specialty coffees), which can result in weight gain. Choose water often to satisfy your thirst.
Canada's Food Guide can help you make healthful food and beverage choices.
REMEMBER: There is room for all kinds of food in a healthy diet. Ice cream, potato chips, chocolate and other foods high in calories, fat, sugar and/or salt all fit into a healthy diet, as long as these foods are eaten occasionally and in small amounts.
- If you are doing your own research on the Internet, make sure you know how to evaluate the reliability of information on the Internet
- How to effectively set, achieve and maintain your health goals
- How to eat well on a budget and Affordable food resources
- Some ideas for eating well with little time
- Healthy eating for athletes and active people
- Understanding nutrients
- How to read a food label
- Vegetarian and vegan diets
- Worksheet to assess your diet or to plan a day of healthy eating
- Healthy eating for students living in residence
- Encyclopedia of Spices
- Nutrition and Healthy Weight
- What you need to know about sugar
- What you need to know about sodium (salt)
- What you need to know about cholesterol, and how to lower your cholesterol
- Video on Mindful Eating
- Search the USDA Nutrient Database to identify the levels of nutrients in food (e.g. fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins etc.)
- Look up the nutrient content of food from dozens of restaurants
- Learn about food additives and their safety from the Center for Science in the Public Interest
- The Environmental Defense Fund website has a Seafood Selector that provides an eco-rating, mercury levels and Omega-3 levels of a wide variety of seafood. It also has a Fish Buying Guide.
- Learn about food safety at befoodsafe.ca. The site includes a safe internal temperatures cooking chart and a storage chart.
- Learn about nutrition and building muscle from "The 4 Truths About Building Muscle"