Guide to healthy eating

Blueberries and raspberries in cartons

There’s no doubt that what we eat influences our physical and mental wellness and can impact academic success. Learning some nutrition basics can help you have more energy and stay healthy. Even busy students can incorporate these simple strategies.

Eat a variety of healthy foods each day

canadas food guideBuilding a balanced plate is easy when you follow the Food Guide proportions. Fill half your plate with vegetables and fruit – any kind, the greater the variety the better! Fresh, frozen or canned are all good choices. Add ¼ plate of whole grains, like 100% whole grain bread, oats, barley, brown rice, whole grain pasta or quinoa. Fill the remaining quarter with a protein-rich food like beans, lentils, chickpeas, edamame, nuts and seeds, lean meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs, lower fat milk, yogurt, kefir, cheese or soy milk. Choosing protein that comes from plants more often is good for health, better for the planet and usually costs less money. The healthiest fats and oils also come from plants, like olive, canola or avocado oils and peanut butter. Use small amounts to add flavor and nutrients to meals.

Choose fewer highly processed foods 

processed foodsEat more foods that contain fewer ingredients and especially less salt, sugar and saturated fat. Highly processed foods, like sugary baked goods and cereals, sweetened drinks, candy, fast food burgers, French fries and pizza, and meats like hot dogs, bacon, and chicken nuggets, boxed macaroni and cheese and instant noodles contain few nutrients. Relying on these foods too often can affect your health. Enjoy all foods but balance less nutritious meals or snacks with healthy choices more often. Reading food labels can help you compare and choose products so you can make an informed choice when buying packaged foods.  

Did you know?

100g gummy bears (about 35), contain 18 teaspoons of sugar.

How much should you eat?

The amount of food you need depends on many factors including age, body size, gender and activity level. Pay attention to feelings of fullness to help you know when you’ve had enough to eat and give your body time to digest your meal before you take seconds. Canada’s Food Guide can help you learn more about the amount and types of foods you need.

How often should you eat?

Eating regularly keeps your blood sugar stable and improves your focus and energy level. Even if you can’t always eat at the same time, try to include 3 meals every day. When there is more than 4 or 5 hours between meals, plan for an energy-boosting snack. Evenings can be an especially tempting time to mindlessly eat sugary, salty or high fat treats like chips, candy or cookies. If you’re hungry or feel an energy slump, take a study break and eat a healthy snack. Choose foods that help to fuel your brain, like vegetables and hummus, an apple with peanut butter or sunflower seeds or Greek yogurt and fruit. Save the treats for a movie night or an evening with friends instead of relying on them as regular study snacks.

Make time for breakfast

According to studies, students who eat breakfast have better concentration and less fatigue and consume more nutrients and fibre. Breakfast replenishes your body’s energy after an overnight fast. While it’s tempting to hit the snooze button, making time to eat is well worth it. Many make-at-home options only take a few minutes, like an egg on a whole grain English Muffin or bagel, yogurt with frozen berries and granola, or a whole grain cereal with milk and fruit.

Easy Overnight Oats

  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup (75 to 125 mL) uncooked oats
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup (75 to 125 mL) yogurt
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup (75 to 125 mL) any type of milk
  • 1 tsp to 2 tsp (5 to 10 mL) chia seeds (optional)
  • A little honey or maple syrup if needed
  • Mix ingredients and refrigerate overnight or up to 3 days. Add ins: fresh, dried or frozen fruit, nuts or seeds, nut butter, coconut, cinnamon, vanilla, etc.

What you drink counts, too

Drink water as your main beverage, aiming for at least 9 cups or 2 litres daily. Fancy coffees and cappuccinos, pop, sweetened teas, energy drinks and even fruit juice can overload your diet with sugar and extra calories. If you drink coffee, limit yourself to no more that 2 per day.

How sweet it is. . .

  • 591 mL bottle of cola = 260 calories/18 tsp sugar
  • Medium iced capp = 360 calories/ 12 tsp sugar
  • Large “double-double” = 264 calories/8 tsp sugar

What about supplements?

Vitamin and mineral supplements don’t provide the benefits you get from eating a variety of real foods. Taking a daily multi-vitamin is safe but avoid other supplements without first checking with a registered dietitian or your healthcare provider. Vitamin D is hard to get from food alone; adults living in Canada may consider taking a supplement that contains 600 IU of Vitamin D during the fall, winter and spring. Women who could become or who are pregnant need a daily multivitamin containing folic acid. Don’t used “detox teas” as there is no scientific evidence they are helpful and in fact can be dangerous. View “natural” or herbal preparations with caution; their effects on health often need further research.

There’s more to eating well…

dinner Try to cook most of your meals. Even if you don’t have much cooking experience, start with easy recipes that need only a few ingredients. Eat meals with others when you can. Take time to enjoy your food. Be a mindful eater – notice when you are hungry and when you are full. Plan meals ahead of time and make a grocery list before you shop. When you stock up on nutritious foods, you’re more likely to eat well and less likely to rely on takeout or fast foods. Eating doesn’t have to be perfect – try to do the best you can. Improvements in your diet are more likely to be successful if you focus on small, manageable, measurable goals. Change takes some effort, but you’re worth it!