March is Nutrition Month! Nutrition is the basis of living a healthy lifestyle. I’m sure you know this, but your body is very complex; each and every day there are physical and chemical processes occurring that help you maintain normal physiological function.

There are essential nutrients required for normal function that your body cannot make itself, and thus must be provided from a dietary source. There are nine amino acids, two fatty acids, thirteen vitamins and fifteen minerals that are considered essential nutrients. Your health can be affected negatively when over time your body doesn’t get enough of these nutrients, and when it gets too much of certain nutrients that can cause harm (when in excess).

Poor nutrition can cause anything from:

• fatigue and weakness;
• headaches;
• weight loss or gain;
• digestive upset;
• poor immunity (you get sick more, and harder to recover from illness and injury);
• poor mental health;
• body aches and pains;
• and so much more

Over time, inadequate nutrition can even lead to chronic disease. Chronic diseases are long-term diseases that are not contagious, diet-related and largely preventable[i].

I don’t mean to get too dire on you, but this is the nature of the topic at hand, and is why I do what I do.

As a result of changes in the way we eat and live, some chronic diseases are increasingly affecting those worldwide, and present a growing burden for society. They include diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, osteoporosis, and dental diseases. Chronic diseases account for approximately 63% of deaths worldwide, and the proportion of people dying from chronic disease is constantly increasing at 14% each year[ii]. Tobacco use, alcohol consumption, genetics, education, environmental and economic factors also play a role in developing these diseases, however diet and exercise play a huge role in the development or prevention of these diseases, and are factors we can work on (with the right information and support).

In general, eating and lifestyle practices that are leading to the rise in chronic disease are:

Excess processed foods, which can be high in sodium, sugar, empty calories, and saturated/trans fats. These include:
o Snack foods such as potato chips
o Deep fried foods
o Many packaged foods (reading labels is important, here’s how to read a food label)

• Excess foods with added sugar, such as:
o Sugar sweetened beverages such as colas and juice
o Milk Chocolate
o Candy
o Commercially baked products, such as cakes and cookies

• Increased portion sizes, especially (but not limited to) refined carbohydrates, such as:
o White breads, pastas, cereals (often eaten in excess, leading to weight gain)

Increased total calories in general. We are consuming roughly 400-500 calories more than we were 30-50 years ago. This is contributing to increased rates of weight gain and obesity.

• Excess red and processed meat.

• Physical inactivity.

Foods that are part of a healthy diet, that provide essential nutrients we need and can help prevent (and manage) chronic diseases include:

• Vegetables and fruits

• Complex carbohydrates found in:
o Whole grains (e.g. bulgur, quinoa, whole grain breads, crackers and pasta, brown or long grain rice, buckwheat, oats, popcorn)
o Vegetables, and
o Legumes (e.g. beans, peas, lentils)

• Dairy products or dairy alternatives:
o Cow’s and goat’s milk and milk products such as cheese and yogurt
o Non-dairy beverages such as fortified soy, almond, cashew, coconut or rice milk
o Non-dairy products such as coconut and soy yogurt and cheeses

• Protein sources such as:
o Lean proteins such as seafood, chicken, turkey and some game meats
o Legumes
o Nuts

• Healthy fats sources such as:
o Olive oil
o Avocado
o Nuts and seeds, and
o Fatty fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel, trout, herring and sardines)

As chronic diseases are largely preventable, it is important for all of us to work on getting in enough physical activity and an overall healthy diet.
As a health professional, I understand that if it were easy to live a healthy lifestyle, everyone would be doing it! Our environments are not always supportive of making healthy choices, for many different reasons. It’s important to know this, and if you struggle with making healthy lifestyle changes you are not alone.

Many people tend to try to take on too many changes at once, and then get overwhelmed and give up; sometimes blaming themselves. If this sounds like you, it doesn’t mean you have failed (something I hear a lot), it just means perhaps you tried a strategy that wasn’t a good fit for you, or you took on too much.

If you are one that has struggled in the past, my best advice would be to:

• Nutrition is a science, and there is so much misinformation out there in the online world. Seek nutrition information from a credible source, and work with a credible nutrition professional if possible, such as a registered dietitian.
• The secret to success is to break down your healthy living goals into mini goals that are easy to manage and track your progress. Goals should also be SMART which means ‘specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound’. For more information on SMART goals, visit here.

[i] WHO, Raising the priority of non-communicable disease in development work at global and national levels.

[ii] Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Control, Public Health Agency of Canada, using POHEM Model, Statistics Canada.

About the Author

Felicia Newell is a Registered Dietitian (RD), Nutritionist, and Health Coach. She is also the owner of Sustain Nutrition, and helps clients from all around the globe fight through the misinformation in the online world, and master their health goals in a way that also allows them to also enjoy life. After many years in practice and through extensive research, Felicia knows that the ‘restrictive dieting’ technique never works long-term, and she takes the realistic approach of the ‘80/20 rule’, as well as working with clients to find the specific strategies that work best for them. You can download her FREE Meal Planning Starter Kit to help get you on your way to crushing your health and wellness goals.

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