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Published on Monday, July 24, 2023

Nourishing the body and the brain

By Kathryn Forsyth and Laura Needham

 

The revised Canada’s Food Guide has now been available for nearly three years.

Health Canada recommends that one half of your plate should be filled with vegetables and fruit, one-quarter with whole grain foods, and one-quarter with protein foods, such as meats, eggs, milk products, legumes, nuts & seeds, tofu, or lentils. It also recommends making water your drink of choice.

More than what we eat, Health Canada now recognizes that our health is effected by how we eat.

What and how we eat can change our physical, mental, and social well-being. Through our food, we may stay connected to others, share traditions and culture, protect our environment, and express our creativity.

Let’s take a closer look at the Food Guide’s seven recommended behaviours and how they relate to nutrition and mental well-being.

 

#1. Be Mindful of Your Eating Habits

Being mindful means paying full attention to what you are doing in the moment.

Focus on enjoying what you are eating at that particular meal or snack. Food provides us with necessary nutrients for our physical health, but also feeds our social and mental health as something we enjoy and as a part of our culture and traditions. Do not allow yourself to feel guilty that you could have chosen something else. Avoid naming foods as good, bad, unhealthy, or healthy. By removing these values from the foods you eat, you will be able to tune into your internal cues and body wisdom. The goal is to build a positive relationship with food and your body. Being mindful is the first step.

 

#2. Cook More Often

Many retirees are busier than ever with travelling, looking after grandchildren, volunteering in their community, and caring for aging parents. This is a busy load for any body and brain. Who has time to plan, let alone cook meals?

The food industry provides a plethora of prepared, processed and packaged foods to purchase to make the job of meal prep a little easier. Keep in mind, however, that many of those prepared foods often contain elevated levels of fat, sugar or salt. Choose products that save time and effort and align with your health goals. Items like frozen or pre-cut fruits and vegetables, canned beans, or precooked proteins can be a great way to save time and add some quick nutrition to your meal. If you are working on your food literacy, start by building your confidence with new simple recipes to follow. Plan your meals before shopping, including planned leftovers to save time, money, and reduce food waste.

Reducing food waste is an everyday action we can all take to be more environmentally friendly. If you have skills to share or would like some help, invite others over to do a big-batch cooking get-together.  You can freeze the extras to take to loved ones or use later. Lightening the load on a daily basis will help to keep mealtimes enjoyable and manageable.

 

#3. Enjoy Your food

Every culture has food traditions that honour their ancestors, faiths, and natural surroundings. Part of the enjoyment of eating is choosing foods that reflect your traditions and preferences. Take advantage of learning opportunities to experience multi-cultural cooking through restaurants, cooking classes, neighbours and festivals. These experiences will help you to appreciate connections to culture, the land and the food it provides – something Indigenous Peoples have known forever.

 

#4. Eat Meals with Others

With everyone’s busy schedules, taking time to sit down and eat together may take some planning, but it’s worth it. Studies from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health have shown that children in families that eat together at least three times a week are less likely to become involved with drugs, alcohol or smoking. Eating with friends and family keeps us connected to those we care about, resulting in real health benefits. There is no magic in the food, but sit-down mealtimes allow time to talk, share and show you care. Make a habit of getting together with others over mealtimes; whether you live alone or with others. Consider planning a breakfast date with friends or a lunch date with old school pals or co-workers, join a community meal program as a volunteer, or invite extended family for special holiday potluck meals where everyone can bring something to decrease the stress on the host. Start thinking about eating with others as a chance to connect and support one another through all of life’s ups and downs.

 

#5. Use Food Labels

Take your reading glasses with you when go grocery shopping. Reading food labels is one of the best ways to ensure you are bringing nutritious food home. Using the nutrition facts table can help you to: compare and choose products more easily; know what is actually in the product; and choose those that have little or many of the nutrients that are of concern to you. The idea is to pick the packaged foods that provide the most fibre and the least sodium.

 

#6. Limit Highly Processed Foods

Highly processed foods tend to be high in sodium, sugar, and saturated fat and low in fibre. These foods, in excess, may increase the risk of developing chronic diseases, like diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. Choosing minimally processed foods instead can offer the best of both worlds. Minimally processed foods are convenient, save time, and can be nutrient dense – with plenty of the fibre, vitamins and minerals that your body needs. As an added bonus, choosing foods that have limited processing may also mean avoiding the environmental impacts of food packaging. There are studies that have proven a higher fibre diet with more plant-based and minimally processed foods can reduce depressive symptoms. One of those studies is the SMILES trial from Australia (Supporting the Modification of Lifestyle in Lowered Emotional States). This study showed that following a diet of whole grains, legumes, nuts, fish, olive oil, vegetables and fruit can reduce depressive symptoms.

 

#7. Be Aware of Food Marketing   

Food marketing is advertising that promotes the sale of certain food products. Marketing can influence your food choices, even when you are aware of its presence. We are surrounded by food marketing. Marketing may be through traditional avenues, like print ads, food packaging, and billboards, or buried in product placement, social media influencers, and pop-ups on every social media platform.

Behavioural advertising now tracks your personal data online and can deliver targeted ads directly to your devices. Being aware of food marketing is part of your food literacy. Food labels are critical for cutting through marketing messages to understand food products and how they might affect your health.

The best way to decrease the influence of food marketing is to reduce your exposure. Given its prevalence on traditional and social media, this may mean limiting your family’s screen time or choosing platforms with limited advertisements. Help establish lifelong skills for a healthy relationship with food by teaching children about the strategies used by advertisers. The top three food items marketed to children are sugary cereals, sugary drinks, and candy snacks, undermining the caregivers’ role in choosing what foods to offer to their children. If you are grocery shopping with children, going in with a clear list and explaining that you will be buying only the items on the list can help – or you can skip the aisles all together by grocery shopping online for pick up.

Food marketing is not limited to telling us what to buy, it is further complicated by efforts to tell us that we must restrict. Billions of dollars in marketing are spent each year by the diet industry to normalize diet culture.

Diet culture is a system of beliefs that equates thinness with goodness and health, promotes weight loss as a form of achieving status, values certain ways of eating over others, and devalues bodies that do not fit the “image of health.” This leads to weight bias, which results in negative attitudes, assumptions, and judgements towards individuals based on their size, weight, shape or appearance. Weight bias can be found in all settings, especially education and health care. It can lead to prejudice, stigma and discrimination that worsens mental health and anxiety. This can lead to unhealthy coping strategies, like extreme dieting, disordered eating and eating disorders.

You can now see just how closely food is connected to mental health. It is time to call out diet culture and weight bias and the resulting discrimination it creates. It is time to examine our food systems to ensure they are supporting both the health of the people and the planet. It is time to follow these seven behaviours daily in order to nourish our bodies and our minds. It is time to support our children and grandchildren by role-modelling a positive relationship with food and the planet, and ensure a sustainable future for all.

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Categories: Your Health, Eating Well

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