Thursday, 19 September 2013

Tools: Getting Started on a Healthy Diet


When my trainer started talking to me about getting serious about a whole foods way of life I was very interested. Didn't sound that complicated. Eat food that is whole and unprocessed. Don't eat food that isn't. Easy peezey lemon squeezy. Or so I thought.
Two university degrees, two post-grad programs, and years of working in health care....irrelevant. I couldn't visualize how this change would work in practice. What were the details? How did that look? What do I eat?!!!!  In fact it was pretty simple and my trainer wrote down some ideas and got me started and I haven't looked back.

For years I have given patients handouts on health topics. Some people have found these very helpful and others haven't. I've provided the latest and greatest on how to reduce cholesterol, lose weight, decrease blood pressure or manage eczema. I've scribbled out lists of quick tips for avoiding diabetes, treating depression, or managing arthritis.

I've noticed that these food lists are all remarkably similar. The universe is trying to tell me something. There are nutrients that we absolutely must have in great quantities. But our plates are crowded with empty calorie food so we aren't getting them.

Now I have a standardized list for getting started on a healthy diet. Eating whole and unprocessed foods helps address many conditions and reduces your risk of developing problems down the road. And you'll feel great. 

Some might use my list as a starting point. Others want some fine-tuning or want to go further. It depends on your current lifestyle and what your goals are for the future (see Lifestyle Profile: Which one are you? ). You might have variations. Perhaps you are already following a particular nutrition program or working with a trainer and this list recommends foods you're not currently eating. No problem. Adapt my list in any way that works for you.

If you're not following any programs and are starting from scratch just pick one thing and then keep adding. Remember....one good change usually leads to another.


1. Vegetables & Fruit:
  • Eat them with every meal. Yes....every meal. And your snacks. 
  • Aim for 10 to 12 half-cup servings per day (e.g. 2 BF, 3 LU, 4 DI, 2-3 SN)
  • Emphasize the veggies (e.g. 10 servings vegetables per day, 2 fruit)
  • Choose a variety of colours - red, orange, green, yellow, blue/purple, white
  • Eat them raw, steamed, grilled however you want but use fresh vegetables
  • don't forget herbs and spices - they have lots of nutritional value
2. Water
  • 1 large glass (16 oz) with every meal + 1 during the day
  • Daily total = 4 x 16 oz
  • If you increase your vegetable and fruit intake but don't drink enough water you may have "gastrointestinal distress". You could become unpopular on elevators. Your partner may begin to call your bed "the fart sack". You get the picture. 
3. Oats & Flax
  • 1/2 cup of oats daily and 1 tbsp of ground flax seed daily
  • can be raw oats (e.g. in plain yogourt with fresh fruit, flax, & almonds) or cooked
  • can be whole oats (best) or instant
  • must be plain--->no added sugars or flavours
  • very important for people with cardiovascular conditions like high cholesterol
4. Almonds
  • 1 palm full of raw almonds once daily
  • can be a snack on its own or mixed in with other foods
  • must be raw---> not dry roasted, honey coated, or other flavours
  • very important for people with cardiovascular conditions like high cholesterol
5. Protein 
  • whole cuts of meat such as chicken, turkey, beef, fish,
  • beans, legumes, eggs, cheese/dairy in appropriate amounts (i.e. not at every meal)
  • choose variety e.g perhaps one serving of each type of protein a week 
  • choose different types of fish--->salmon, halibut, cod, tuna, mahi mahi
  • must be whole----> no ground beef, chicken or turkey. no sandwich meats, hot dogs, ham. 
6. Fats
  • healthy fats: olive oil, walnut oil, flax seed oil, avocados, raw nuts
  • make your own salad dressings with oil, vinegar, garlic, herbs and spices
  • you need fat in your diet to make hormones, absorb vitamins, & maintain brain and nerve tissue
7. Carbohydrates
  • make vegetables your primary source of carbs---> potatoes, yams, broccoli, 
  • make fruit your secondary source of carbs---> any fresh fruit
  • make whole unprocessed grains your tertiary source of carbs--->quinoa, oats, brown rice
  • eat a maximum of 1/2 cup of carbs per meal. 
  • avoid processed/refined carbs---> bread, cereals, pastas, crackers, junk food. not even gluten free.
8. Break up with caffeine
  • reduce or eliminate big caffeine hits
  • choose water or tea instead of coffee
  • have coffee once a week as a treat or not at all
  • although coffee may have some health benefits, excessive amounts like we drink in North America can trigger a lot of problems: heartburn, hypertension, irritable bowel, and the "cortisol effect" that packs weight on around your waist
9. Separate from Sugar
  • avoid sugar in all it's various forms including high fructose corn syrup. It is added to many foods including ones that you wouldn't suspect (Tonic Water!)
  • by avoiding processed food (see below) you eliminate a lot of sugar
  • don't add any sugar to your food that includes honey, maple syrup, agave syrup
  • eating sugar makes you crave sugar - it's cyclical. Break the cycle. 
10. Divorce Processed Food
  • avoid all processed food
  • anything that isn't whole is processed. that includes "square food" that comes in boxes and bags from the grocery store, soda pop, "energy drinks"
  • bread, cereal, crackers---> all processed. Don't eat it. 
11. Look at your plate 
  • Don't crowd your plate with calorie-dense nutrient-deficient food
  • The majority of your plate should be vegetables (50 to 75%) with whole protein (25%) and healthy fats. Carbohydrates should take up a maximum of 25%. 
  • Your plate shouldn't be super-sized. Nothing bigger than your head. 
  • Still use that meat and 2 vegetables rule from your childhood? Forget it!!! Make it meat and 7 vegetables. Seriously - have a little bit of everything and enjoy the flavours. 
  • Do the plate check at every meal. Not just Monday to Friday. Not just breakfasts. All the time. 


To see a summary version of this article go to Tools: Starting a Healthy Diet.
To read about Power Foods to include each week go to The Fridge List.

Thanks for reading Getting Healthy with NP Sam. Comments welcome please click the pencil icon below. 
Coming Soon! Sleeping Yourself Healthy, Sample Menus for Beginners, and Real Fast Food & Whole-some Weekend recipes

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