Your Health

Eat for your life

Eat for your life

Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, January / February 2011

After a month of holiday festivities, feasts and increasing waistlines, many of us are ready to swear off rich foods for good. But registered dietitian Colleen Rogers says many people have the misconception that in order to eat healthy, they have to give up all those goodies that they enjoy so much.

"The way I look at a balanced diet is to eat healthy 80 per cent of the time, and treat yourself 20 per cent of the time," says Rogers, a diabetes specialist at St. Boniface Hospital.

Of course, she says, the problem for most of us is we get that ratio backwards. And we do so to the detriment of our health.

The statistics don't lie. Canadians are not healthy eaters. A Statistics Canada food survey found one-quarter of Canadians get 35 per cent of their daily calories from fat. More than half of Canadians have less than the recommended minimum of five serving of fruits and vegetables a day. And a 2007 study by the Institute of Medicines of the National Academies found the majority of Canadians exceed their daily recommended intake of sodium.

The end result of these eating habits is skyrocketing obesity rates. A 2004 study in the Canadian Journal of Public Health found that more than 14 million Canadians are overweight and obese.

Rogers says people should strive to eat at least three meals a day that involve three of the four food groups listed in Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide, which are fruits and vegetables, milk and alternatives, meat and alternatives, and grains.

As well, we should decrease our salt intake by avoiding processed foods. Diets high in sodium are linked to high blood pressure, which increases our risk of heart attack and stroke.

"If you've watched Seinfeld, you've probably seen the episode where they say, 'These pretzels are making me thirsty!' Salt attracts water, so what happens in our body is when we eat too much salt our body retains water," she says. "And then we have a higher amount of fluid in our body and that causes our heart to pump harder, which is linked with high blood pressure, which is hard on our heart, arteries and kidneys."

We should also cut back on the bad fats - saturated fats - while increasing our intake of good fats: monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats.

"Monounsaturated fats come from things like olive oil, canola oil, whereas the polyunsaturated fats come from things like the omega-3 and omega-6 fats," she says. "They help to lower our bad cholesterol, which is our LDL cholesterol, and they may help improve our good cholesterol, which is HDL."

High levels of bad cholesterol are linked to elevated risk of heart disease and stroke. Both trans-fats - hydrogenated oils found in some processed foods - and saturated fats - found in animal fat - increase our bad cholesterol levels.

A good way to increase our consumption of some of the good fats - polyunsaturated fats - is to increase our consumption of fish, says Leigh Finney, a registered dietitian with the Region. "We want to emphasize fish more often," she says. "Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide encourages people to have fish three times a week if they can."

We should also increase our fibre intake, which helps manage our blood sugar, blood cholesterol and keeps our digestive tract moving on time. And the best way to get fibre is to increase the amount of whole grains in our diets - whole wheat breads and cereals and brown rice, for instance - and our intake of fruits and vegetables.

In fact, diets high in fruits and vegetables are a good health move all around, Finney says.

"We know that fruits and vegetables are key foods in helping prevent certain types of cancer, heart disease and diabetes," she says. "We know that when we're not eating a good diet, we are increasing our risk for a lot of those major diseases."

For more information about healthy eating, visit (Search: Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide).


About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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