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Eating Well: A Basic Plan

Grain Products - Fruits and Vegetables - Fibre - Water - Sugar - Fats in Foods - Simple Ways to Reduce Fat - Cholesterol - Protein - Vitamins - Minerals - Calcium - Salt - Iron - Iron Supplements - Non-Nutrients in Foods

Eat a variety of foods from the Food Guide on each day. Most people who follow the diet outlined by the Food Guide will get all the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients their bodies need and will have little trouble controlling their weight.

Grain Products

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Whole grains, such as wheat, oats, brown rice, and potatoes, contain large amounts of vitamins, minerals, fibre, and water. Contrary to popular belief, foods made from whole grains are not fattening. They are primarily carbohydrates, which have less than as many calories per gram as fats do.

Whole-grain foods become fattening only when you add fat to them (or if you eat too much of them). Try substituting nonfat yogurt or salsa for

butter and sour cream on a baked potato. Use fresh vegetable and tomato sauces instead of rich cream sauces on pasta.

Fruits and Vegetables

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Fruits and vegetables provide vitamins, minerals, and fibre and are naturally low in fat. Fruits and vegetables are most nutritious when they are eaten fresh and raw or lightly cooked. Steam vegetables (on the stovetop or in the microwave) to retain more vitamins.

Many fruits and vegetables contain compounds that appear to protect against cancer, such as the antioxidant vitamins A and C and beta carotene. Beta carotene is found in deep orange and dark green vegetables and fruits, such as carrots, apricots, winter squash, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, and broccoli. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits and citrus fruit juices, such as oranges and orange juice, and in cantaloupe, strawberries, peppers, broccoli, and tomatoes.

Vegetables in the cabbage family, including broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, contain other compounds that appear to protect against several types of cancer.

A diet that contains plenty of fruits and vegetables protects against heart disease and high blood pressure too.

The Canadian Cancer Society recommends that you eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.


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Fibre is the indigestible part of plants. It is not absorbed into the bloodstream like other nutrients are. However, it plays an important role in keeping your digestive tract healthy by providing "bulk." A high-fibre diet may protect you against colon cancer.

There are 2 types of fibre found in foods: insoluble fibre and soluble fibre.

Insoluble fibre , which can be found in whole-grain products, such as whole-wheat flour, provides bulk for your diet. Together with fluids, insoluble fibre stimulates your colon to keep waste moving out of your bowels. Without fibre, waste moves too slowly, increasing your risk for constipation, diverticulosis, and probably colon cancer.

Soluble fibre , which is found in fruit, legumes (dry beans and peas), and oats, helps lower blood cholesterol, reducing your risk for heart disease. Soluble fibre, especially the fibre in legumes, can also help regulate your blood glucose level.

Do you need more fibre in your diet? If your stools are soft and easy to pass, you probably get plenty of fibre. If they are hard and difficult to pass, more fibre and water may help. See Constipation for more information about constipation.

To increase fibre in your diet:


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One easy way to improve your diet is to drink more water. Active people need 2 L (2 qt) of water a day, and people who exercise regularly need even more. Start your day by drinking a big glass of water when you first get up; then drink 6 to 8 more glasses (240 ml or 8 oz each) throughout the day. If you drink other fluids, you can get by with less water, but plain water is best. (Milk is another good choice, with the added bonus of a boost of calcium.)


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In moderation, sugar does little harm. However, if too many of your calories come from sugar, you will gain weight and/or not get enough of the other nutrients you need. Sugar also contributes to dental cavities.

Added sugars should contribute no more than 10 percent of the calories in your diet. To reduce sugar in your diet:

Fats in Foods

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Canada's Food Guide recommends that less than 30 percent of your total calorie intake come from fat. Reducing dietary fat to 30 percent will slow the development of heart disease, reduce your cancer risk, and improve your overall diet. No more than 10 percent of total calories should come from saturated fats.

However, some scientists think that getting 30 percent of your total calories from fat is still too much for a healthy heart. A diet that consists of 20 percent fat (no more than 7 percent saturated fat) may further reduce your risk for heart disease and can also help less active people stay closer to a healthy weight.

If you need help reducing fat in your diet, a registered dietitian can create a menu plan that will help you meet your goal.

Simple Ways to Reduce Fat

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When eating meat:

When using dairy products:

When cooking:


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For many people, a diet high in saturated fat raises the amount of cholesterol in the blood. Review the tips on how to reduce fat in your diet.


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Protein is important for maintain-ing healthy muscles, tendons, bones, skin, hair, blood, and internal organs. Most adults in North America get all the protein they need in their diets. If you eat animal products (milk, cheese, eggs, fish, meat), your diet will contain plenty of protein.

However, if you eat little meat, poultry, or fish and use no dairy products, your diet will require careful planning in order for you to get all the protein and other nutrients you need.


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Vitamins are tiny elements of food that have no calories, yet are essential to good health. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble and can be stored in the liver or in fat tissue for a relatively long time. Other vitamins, including all the B vitamins and vitamin C, are water-soluble, and your body can only retain them for a short time, so it is important that you consume them often.

Most people who eat a variety of foods from Canada's Food Guide get all the necessary vitamins. However, if you typically eat fewer than 1,500 calories per day, you may want to consider taking a vitamin-mineral supplement. Choose a balanced, multivitamin-mineral supplement rather than a specific vitamin or mineral, unless your doctor prescribes a specific supplement. Avoid taking much more than 100 percent of the recommended daily allowance of any vitamin or mineral unless it is prescribed by a doctor.

Certain vitamins found in foods have been shown to prevent some diseases. However, researchers are still trying to determine whether those vitamins have the same preventive effects when taken as

supplements. If possible, add more variety and balance to your diet rather than trying to make up for a poor diet by taking supplements.


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Minerals have many important roles in the structure and function of your body. You need minerals to build and maintain healthy teeth and bones; to carry nerve signals to and from your brain; to carry oxygen to your cells; to regulate blood sugar levels; and to maintain a healthy immune system.

A total of 60 minerals have been discovered in the body, and 22 are essential to health. Eating a variety of foods is the best way to get all the minerals you need.


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Calcium is the primary mineral needed for building and main- taining strong bones. Calcium is especially important for growing children and for women, especially in the peak bone-building years between the teens and early 30s. Calcium also helps women prevent osteoporosis, which can occur after menopause. See Osteoporosis.

Children from 1 to 3 years of age need 500 mg of calcium per day; those from 4 to 8 years of age need 800 mg per day; and those from 9 to 18 years of age need 1,300 mg per day. Adults between 19 and 50 years of age need 1,000 mg per day. Adults age 51 and older need 1,200 mg per day.

Low-fat dairy products are the best source of dietary calcium. One cup of skim milk contains about 313 mg of calcium. Nonfat and low-fat yogurt have 442 mg per cup. Milk products provide other nutrients in addition to calcium, such as protein. Other foods, such as tofu, fortified soy milk, broccoli, greens, and calcium-fortified orange juice, provide calcium in varying amounts.

While dietary calcium is preferred, low-dose calcium supplements can also help keep bones strong. One 500-mg Tums (calcium carbonate) tablet provides about 200 mg of calcium.

Lactose Intolerance

People whose bodies produce too little of the enzyme lactase have trouble digesting the lactose (sugar) in milk. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include gas, bloating, cramps, and diarrhea after drinking milk or eating milk products.

If you have mild to moderate lactose intolerance:

  • Eat small amounts of milk products at any one time.

  • Try eating cheese. Most of the lactose in cheese is removed during processing.

  • Eat yogurts containing active cultures, which provide their own enzymes that digest the lactose in milk.

  • Drink pretreated milk (such as Lactaid), or try enzyme tablets (such as Lactaid, Dairyaid, or Lactrase), which will help you digest lactose.

  • You may be able to tolerate milk if you drink it with snacks or meals.

If you have severe lactose intolerance:

  • Read labels to avoid any form of lactose in foods.

  • Be sure to include non-dairy sources of calcium in your diet. See Calcium. You may need calcium supplements to get enough calcium. Ask your doctor or a dietitian.

  • Find ways to get enough of the nutrients supplied by the milk group from the rest of your diet.


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Most people get far more salt (sodium) than they need. Canada's Food Guide recommends no more than 6 g (about 5 ml or 1 tsp) of salt each day. For some people, excess salt causes high blood pressure. See High Blood Pressure.

In general, processed foods contain the most salt, while unprocessed foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, have the least. If you want to cut back on the salt in your diet:


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Your body needs small amounts of iron to make hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in your blood. Adult men need 10 mg of iron per day; adult women need 15 mg per day. People who have increased blood loss caused by ulcers or heavy menstrual periods, or who lose blood from taking blood thinners (anticoagulants) or arthritis medications (such as aspirin), are at high risk for iron deficiency anemia. Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia include paleness and fatigue. A blood test is needed to confirm the diagnosis, and further testing may be needed to determine the cause of the blood loss.

To get more iron in your blood:

Iron Supplements

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Women who menstruate and who eat fewer than 1,500 calories per day may wish to consider taking a multivitamin-mineral supplement that contains iron. (Men are much less likely to need iron supplements.) A low-dose ferrous-form iron supplement containing no more than 20 mg is safe for most women to take daily. However, too much iron can cause a number of serious medical problems or mask the development of others. Do not take more than 20 mg of iron per day without consulting your doctor first. Take iron supplements between meals, at bedtime, or on an empty stomach. Keep iron supplements away from children.

Non-Nutrients in Foods

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In addition to the essential nutrients, foods also contain non-nutrient compounds that act on your body in some way. These include phyto- chemicals (found in plants), many of which protect against cancer.

Some foods contain compounds that have medicinal effects, such as the compound found in cranberries that may flush bacteria from the urinary tract and prevent urinary tract infections.

The non-nutrients in foods are of great interest today, and many of them are just being discovered. Foods are made of hundreds of chemicals that cannot be duplicated in a supplement. Taking a supplement cannot provide "insurance" against a poor or inadequate diet. If you think that your diet is poor, then the best advice is to improve it.

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