Basics of nutrition

Going over the basics of nutrition is a good starting point for us.  There are a lot of exciting ideas in my head for future posts like omega-3 fatty acids and how to get your kids to eat everything like French kids do.  But for now, I will offer you some basics of nutrition on how to choose well from each of the food groups.

Vegetables and Fruit

Did you know that you should try to choose one green vegetable and one orange vegetable/fruit every day?  It is recommended for adults to eat between 7 and 10 servings (roughly 3.5-5 cups) of vegetables and fruit each day which should includes one green and one orange vegetable.  Green vegetables like spinach, kale, broccoli, bok choy, brussels sprouts, salad greens, asparagus and others get an honorable mention because they tend to be rich in nutrients like folate, iron, calcium and fibre.  All good things.

What if you don’t like green things?  I have heard many people say, “my child won’t eat anything green.”  To them I say, “try this kale salad.”   I haven’t met a human being (little or big) who doesn’t like this salad.

Why orange?  Orange vegetables and some orange fruit are high in beta carotene which may reduce your risk of eye disease, certain cancers and heart disease.  This includes carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, squash and some fruit (excluding oranges ironically) such as mango, cantaloupe, and apricots.  If you are looking for ideas, here is a recipe for baked sweet potato fries.  In a hurry?  Costco sells sweet potatoes already washed and cut.  Bake them on parchment paper so they don’t stick and to save time cleaning up.

Grain Products

Is there a difference between 100% whole wheat and 100% whole grain? Yes!  Look for grain products that are labelled “100% whole grain.” Labels like “multigrain,” “made with whole grains,” even “100% whole wheat” means the product has been refined and stripped of its nutritious parts: fiber, B vitamins, and iron.  Try to aim for at least half of your grain products to be 100% whole grain.

Other highly nutritious grain products are quinoa, chia, steel-cut oats, flax, whole wheat pasta, wild rice etc.  Quinoa has become popular lately.  Not only is it 100% whole grain, it is also a complete protein which means it has all of the amino acids our body needs.  365 Days of Quinoa is an excellent recipe book if you are looking.  The quinoa chocolate cake is delicious.

Milk and Alternatives

How do non-dairy beverages like soy, rice and almond compare to cow’s milk?  Most beverages like soy, rice and almond milk have a similar vitamin and mineral profile to milk.  Generally speaking, if they have been fortified, they are fortified to the same level as milk.  To be sure, check the label for the calcium and vitamin D content.  In terms of fat and protein, there are two glaring differences.  Cow’s milk is much higher in saturated fat and also much higher in protein.

How many cups of low fat milk or other fortified non-dairy beverage should I drink each day?  Everyone over the age of two should aim for two cups a day.  This ensures that you are getting adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D.  If you are between 9 and 18, or over 50, you can have more from this food group, but for the rest of us, just two servings is enough.

Meat and Alternatives

Should I limit red meat?  Yes.  You should limit red meat to less than 16 oz (500g) per week.  Red meat is a good source of iron, protein, vitamin B12 and zinc, but it is linked to higher rates of colorectal and colon cancer.  With whatever meat you choose, it is a good practice to choose lean meat and trim the visible fat.

How often should I eat fish?   Twice a week is ideal.  Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, arctic char, and trout are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which are known to protect your heart.

Are there health benefits to eating vegetarian?  Yes.  Going without meat doesn’t mean depriving yourself.  Having a meatless meal once a week is a good thing for you and the environment.  Vegetarians have a reputation of out-living the carnivores.  I have enjoyed more than a few recipes from this blog, which is marketed as a carnivore friendly vegan blog.  Did you ever think that carnivore and vegan could be used in the same sentence?

Those are all of my basics of nutrition tips for today.  As always, please let me know if there is something specific you would like me to blog about or if you have any burning nutrition questions for me.

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Written by Audrey Inouye

Audrey Inouye is a Registered Dietitian and mother of 3 young boys. She has spent the last 10 years working with and traveling to the First Nation Communities in Alberta to promote health and well-being. She is presently on an extended family leave to stay home and raise the kids. Some of Audrey's favourite things are yoga, family travel, playing with her kids and cooking.

9 Responses to Basics of nutrition

  1. I’ve been following since Aug 2012 the Esselstyn/Ornish/Campbell “Forks Over Knives” plant-based diet, the precepts of which follow much of what you’re recommending, except of course for the meat. Also, I eat no dairy products. Though this violates Esselstyn’s diet, for vitamin B12 and omega 3′s I do eat salmon or tuna ~3 times per month, but no other meat. One cup of the fortified soy milk I drink provides half of the daily recommended B12, and I take a multi-vitamin with B12. For protein (and more), I eat loads of beans, legumes, lentils, chick peas, etc. I eat a lot of flax meal, and I take a daily DHA supplement, and vitamin D supplement in the non-sunny seasons. My blood work–including b12, for which I’ve been tested twice–looks good. My total cholesterol is 98, LDL=39, triglycerides=111. (Full disclosure: I also take a very low dose–10 mg–of generic Lipitor.) The fat content of my diet is ~10%. I feel excellent, and, after losing 20 lbs the first 2 months on the diet, my weight has stabilized in the center of the BMI range for my height.

    I think/hope I have all the nutritional bases covered, but I’m not a dietitian. What are your thoughts please?

    • Kurt,
      It sounds to me like you have done quite a bit of research and are very conscious of what you are eating. It is great to see men taking an active role in their diet.

      I agree that a plant based diet with whole foods can be very healthy. However, it is hard for me to say whether you are on the right track without doing a more comprehensive nutrition assessment. One red flag for me is the fat content of 10%. Healthy sources of fat are important in our diet and this amount seems fairly restrictive.

      At Simply Yours Nutrition, my colleague Sarah offers a Diet Review Package if you would like a thorough review of the Esselstyn/Ornish/Campbell diet. The package information is on our website http://www.simplyyoursnutrition.com/Services.html. Feel free to contact us if you have any further questions.
      Audrey

  2. On Milk: as a venerable saying goes “Want any answer, look to Nature”. Name one other creature on the planet which consumes milk after its infancy stage. The answer is don’t drink milk.

    A focus on caloric intake is essential, too. The G8 populace consumes far too many calories.
    People would be stunned by just how few quality calories are required to function normally.
    (And exercise, damn it! :) )

    Also, consume more blue-green algae. Seriously.

    • Yes, the fact that we as humans drink milk from another animal is definitely an interesting topic which I have a lot of opinions about. There are many factors needed to build strong bones aside from calcium intake. In fact, consuming too much dairy has many negative health affects.

      Physical activity especially when we are younger is absolutely critical for strong bones. For women with children, breastfeeding gives us tremendous protection from osteoporosis and the longer you breastfeed, the greater the protection you receive.

      Unfortunately, in our society, we tend to be inactive and only breastfeed our kids for a few months if that so it is easier to just tell people to drink milk than to get exercise and breastfeed.

      With regards to vitamin D. We live too far north to receive the benefits of vitamin D from the sun half of the year, we wear sunscreen for the rest of the year and there are few sources of vitamin D from food (it is found naturally in fatty fish and eggs and added to milk and margarine). Recognizing that our vitamin D intake is low, the Canadian government requires that all milk be fortified with it which makes milk a convenient solution.

      I think you will really enjoy this article from the Harvard School of Public Health which puts the dairy issue into perspective.

      http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/calcium-and-milk/

      I think you will also like this article which includes many non-dairy sources of calcium.

      http://www.healthcastle.com/calcium.shtml

      Thanks for your comments!
      Audrey
      http://www.facebook.com/nutritiousbites
      http://www.simplyyoursnutrition.com

  3. I try to eat a high protein diet and limit carb. I also eat two fruits and two vegetables a day.

    I usually get fish 4-5 times a week, so I guess I’m doing pretty good.

    Nice guide! I learned something about the whole grain vs. whole wheat.

  4. I am curious as to what you think of the book “The Color Code”. I read it a while back and it really changed my eating habits. It was very rah-rah about eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, but it never said you couldn’t eat anything else after consuming all those fruits and vegetables. I appreciated the positive tone, but I am not a medical or nutritional professional.

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