Is gluten bad for you? Should you only buy organic? Is a plant-based diet healthier? Healthy eating doesn't have a one-size-fits-all solution.
Most health professionals recommend limited consumption of red meat and processed meat (eg. bacon, hot dogs and lunch meats like salami) due to cardiovascular risks associated with high saturated-fat diets, as well as the colorectal cancer risks associated with diets high in processed meats. On the flip side, vegetarians run the risk of cutting out high quality protein sources and associated nutrients if they don’t meal-plan properly. Book a consultation with a Medisys Registered Dietitian to learn more.
Getting started: Want to adopt a more plant-based diet but don’t know where to begin? Try introducing “Meatless Mondays” in your house. Look for a new, protein-rich, vegetarian recipe to make each week and modify your grocery list accordingly. Also, try swapping out meat and poultry for plant-based proteins 2 to 3 times per week.
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While Celiac disease (an autoimmune disease where gluten attacks the small intestine) occurs in a very small percentage of the population in Canada, mild to moderate gluten-sensitivity can cause bloating and discomfort. This has led many individuals to seek gluten-free foods. If adopting a gluten-free diet, opt for whole grains and whole foods that are naturally gluten-free, instead of processed foods like gluten-free crackers, breads, or cookies made with rice or refined corn flour instead of whole wheat flour. Cutting out whole grains from your diet can eliminate valuable nutrients including fibre, certain vitamins, and minerals and can put you at risk for heart disease depending on which foods you are choosing as alternatives.
Getting started: If you are looking to reduce your intake of gluten. Start by including a couple of small servings of alternate, unrefined gluten-free grains each day such as quinoa, millet, buckwheat and brown rice. Try wheat replacing pasta with zucchini noodles or spaghetti squash, topped with a generous helping of vegetable-based sauces and a protein source.
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Adopting an organic diet free of pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics can be expensive and restrictive. If you choose to buy organic, you can start with making changes in the areas that will matter most, without breaking the bank. In Canada, there is no legal requirement for manufacturers to label products as genetically modified (GMO). As such, just because a product is labelled “organic” doesn’t mean it’s non-GMO.
Getting started: If you would like to go the organic route, start with produce with an edible peel/those in the “dirty dozen” category that are most affected by pesticide use. Foods that tend to be least affected with pesticide are also referred to as the “Clean Fifteen”.
Now let’s talk about meats. Organic, free-range meats are preferable for many for various reasons. In Canada, growth hormones are approved for use in cows raised for beef but not for dairy (or in pork and poultry). If your budget doesn’t allow for organic meats, you may opt to cut down on serving sizes or substitute with plant-based proteins such as lentils, tempeh, and beans.
Eating whole, unprocessed foods 80-90% of the time is something to strive for, but make sure you don’t fall into the “shame game”! Having an occasional bowl of ice cream or a fast-food cheeseburger doesn’t make you a bad or weak person. The following are tips to help you “clean up” your diet, without the guilt.
- Cook more meals at home – plan your menu, shop and prepare ahead of time
- Eat more vegetables – fresh or frozen are best
- Stock your pantry – dried beans, lentils, whole unrefined grains and a few canned vegetables for quick wholesome meals
- Limit packaged, commercially prepared foods