Healthy eating 101

Eating well is one of the most important things you can do to enhance and maintain optimal health.

A healthy salad

Benefits of good nutrition

Eating well can help reduce your risk of certain illnesses, increase your energy levels, improve your mood and more. Here are some of the many benefits of healthy eating:

  • Reduced risk of illness and disease, including:
    • Cardiovascular illness (heart disease)
    • Osteoporosis
    • Diabetes
    • Some cancers (30% of cancers are related to diet)
    • High blood pressure
    • Stroke
    • 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

What is a healthy diet?

A healthy diet is one that is:

  • Mainly composed of plant-based foods: These include fruit, vegetables, whole grainsbeans, 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.

Additional resources:

How can I improve the quality of my diet?

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 grainsbeans 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 (i.e., whole foods). 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.
  • Learn how to eat well on a budget and find affordable food resources in Montreal
  • Master some basic cooking skills, experiment with spices and learn how to prepare healthy food with little time
  • Learn how to read food labels and understand basic nutrients

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.

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