By Rosie Schwartz, RD, FDC
Eating well is essential for good health for your tomorrows but don’t forget, it also provides the fuel for feeling good for your day to day living today. Canada’s Food Guide offers the guidelines on how to make these smart food choices. For one, it suggests eating a variety of healthy foods each day as selecting an assortment of choices can help you to meet your nutrient requirements. It’s also key to select those wholesome options in a balanced manner in order to meet those needs.
Canada’s Food Guide
This plate concept shows us just how to do it:
- 1/2 the plate – fruits and vegetables
- 1/4 the plate – protein foods
- 1/4 the plate – whole grains
Balance Your Plate
While it may seem simple, there is confusion about these healthy eating recommendations. Though vegetables and fruits offer a range of nutritional perks, they don’t replace the need for the other foods, such as whole grains or protein foods. The same goes for protein foods not replacing whole grains and so on.
In fact, eating these foods together can offer an assortment of advantages. For example, when you consume whole grains, containing the mineral iron, on their own, the iron is not well absorbed by your body. Eat them together with iron-containing meat or vitamin C-rich fruits or vegetables and the iron absorption increases. Another example is eating produce rich in the colourful pigments called carotenoids, such as beta carotene, together with a food containing fats. As the beta carotene needs fat to be absorbed, eating a green salad with an oil-containing dressing or carrots in a beef stew will boost the beta carotene absorption. This concept of reaping more nutrition when you eat foods together, rather than on their own, is called food synergy.
What is Plant-Based Eating?
When the Food Guide was first released, many people misunderstood the recommendation to choose protein foods more often that come from plants. The suggestion to eat a plant-based diet is not new. While many assume this means a vegetarian or vegan eating pattern, plant-based eating actually means filling your plate with an abundance of plant foods. This includes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds and pulses, like lentils and chickpeas. But having a plant-based diet certainly doesn’t mean banishing foods such as meat, dairy products, eggs and fish.
As the Food Guide also recommends limiting highly processed foods, don’t be fooled by terms like “plant-based” on the labels of these highly processed, or what’s often called ultra-processed foods. Many of these choices supply an excess of sodium and less than healthy fats while providing fewer nutrients.
Instead, go for more whole foods from the following categories.
Vegetables and Fruit
Enjoy an assortment of canned, frozen and fresh produce. These foods are top -notch offerings which supply a range of vital nutrients, such as vitamins C and A, fibre, potassium and antioxidants. Go for a variety of colourful choices as they are packed with pigments which help defend against a variety of diseases.
Choose whole grains over refined ones to obtain the most nutrition as they’re naturally packed with nutrients, such as B vitamins, antioxidants and fibre. Be adventurous and try new grains as each offers different nutrients.
For example, barley supplies more blood cholesterol lowering soluble fibre than whole wheat with its regularity promoting properties. As well, research shows whole grains over fibre supplements may offer more protection against diseases, such as colon cancer, than do the supplements.
Though selections, like meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, eggs, soyfoods, nuts and seeds and pulses (dried peas and beans, such as lentils and chickpeas) are known as protein foods, they actually offer a bounty of other nutrients,- unlike the trendy protein powders which offer only protein. Along with protein, these protein foods provide valuable nutrients, such as B vitamins, iron, zinc and more depending on what you select. Meat such as beef and pork, poultry, dairy products, eggs and fish also supply essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein while dairy foods offer calcium. For meatless meals, enjoy pulses and nuts and seeds which contain fibre. But as Health Canada recommends, go for a variety of healthy choices when selecting your protein foods.
Myths do abound about these foods, especially when it comes to beef and the environment. Beef cattle in Canada, unlike in some other countries, are raised in a sustainable way. Cattle grazing on grassland in Canada actually supports the habitats of various wildlife.
Keep in mind that Canada’s Food Guide also promotes developing health eating habits. It’s more than just what you eat. It suggests the following:
- Be mindful of your eating habits
- Take time to eat
- Notice when you are hungry and when you are full
- Cook more often
- Plan what you eat
- involve others in planning and preparing meals
- Enjoy your food
- Culture and food traditions can ba a part of healthy eating
- Eat meals with others
Here are a couple recipes that balance grain, vegetables and protein.
Marinated Flank Steak and Summer Peach & Quinoa Salad
Flank steak marinated in a honey/balsamic blend creates a delicious sweet-savoury flavour to compliment the hearty summer salad. Creamy burrata cheese adds a touch of dairy calcium to the protein portion of the plate. A 100 g serving of beef provides 79% of your daily needs for the zinc you need to boost your immune system.
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) EACH canola oil and balsamic vinegar
- 1 Tbsp (15 mL) honey
- 2 tsp (10 mL) grainy Dijon mustard
- 1 lb (500 g) Flank Marinating Steak
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 3/4 tsp (4 mL) EACH salt and freshly ground black pepper, divided
- 2 peaches, cut into wedges
- 6 cups (1.5 L) mixed greens
- 2 cups (500 mL) baby heirloom or cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 cup (250 mL) thinly sliced cucumber
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) thinly sliced red onion
- 2 cups (500 mL) cooked red quinoa (approx. 1 cup raw)
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) torn basil leaves
- 5 oz (140 g) burrata cheese, drained (optional)
- 2 Tbsp (30 mL) sunflower seeds
- Whisk oil with vinegar, honey and mustard. Place half into a plastic re-sealable bag; reserving remaining portion. Pierce steak all over with a fork and add to bag along with crushed garlic; massage to coat. Marinate refrigerated for at least 30 minutes or up to 12 hours.
- Remove steak from marinade; pat dry with paper towel and discard excess marinade. Season steak all over with ½ tsp each salt and pepper.
- Grill, over medium-high heat, turning at least twice, for 8 to 10 minutes or until an instant read thermometer registers 145°F (63°C) for medium-rare when inserted sideways into steak. Transfer to a plate. Loosely tent with foil. Rest for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, lightly brush peaches with some of the oil. Place in grilling basket; grill for 2 minutes per side or until well-marked but still firm.
- Whisk remaining salt and pepper into reserved dressing. Toss with mixed greens, tomatoes, cucumber and onion until well coated. Add quinoa and basil; toss to combine.
- Arrange salad on a shallow serving platter. Top with grilled peaches, burrata and sunflower seeds. Carve steak, against the grain, into thin slices and serve with salad.
Serves: 4 servings.
Per serving: 654 calories, fat 32 g (12.2 g of which is saturated), sodium 654 mg, carbohydrate 43.7 g, fibre 8.1 g, sugars 16.8 g, protein 47 g. %DV: zinc 139%, iron 47%, vitamin B12 145%, calcium 20% DV
- Burrata can be found in the cheese or deli department of well-stocked grocers but can be substituted with ricotta, bocconcini or sliced fresh mozzarella.
Tuscan Short Ribs with Farro Pilaf
- 3 1/2 lb (1.75 kg) thick-cut Beef Simmering Short Ribs (about 8 ribs)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 Tbsp (30 mL) canola oil
- 2 carrots, scrubbed and finely chopped
- 2 ribs celery, chopped
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 Tbsp (15 mL) chopped fresh rosemary
- 1/2 tsp (2 mL) fennel seeds, crushed (optional)
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) dry red wine
- 1 cup (250 mL) canned no salt added crushed tomatoes
- 2 cups (500 mL) no salt added beef broth
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tsp (10 mL) red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) chopped parsley
- 2 Tbsp (30 mL) canola oil
- 8 oz (250 g) sliced mushrooms
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 Tbsp (15 ml) chopped fresh thyme
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) farro
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups (500 mL) no salt added chicken broth
- 4 cups (1 L) baby spinach
- 1 cup (250 mL) peas
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) grated Parmesan cheese
- Braised Ribs: Preheat oven to 325°F (160°C). Pat ribs dry; season all over with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or saucepan set over medium-high heat. Cook ribs, in batches, until browned all over. Transfer to a plate.
- Reduce heat to medium. Add carrots, celery, onion, rosemary and fennel seed (if using). Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until softened. Stir in wine, scraping up any cooked on browned bits; simmer until reduced by half. Stir in garlic. Add broth, tomatoes and bay leaves. Bring to a boil.
- Return ribs to the pot, along with any accumulated juices. Cover and transfer to oven. Cook, turning every 45 minutes, for about 2½ to 3 hours or until meat is very tender. Cook uncovered for the final 30 minutes. Discard bay leaves. Skim as much fat as possible off the top of sauce; discard.
- Pilaf: Meanwhile, heat oil in a large saucepan set over medium heat. Cook mushrooms, onion and thyme for 7 to 10 minutes or until softened and lightly browned. Stir in farro and garlic. Season with salt and pepper.
- Add broth; bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes or liquid is absorbed and farro is tender. Stir in spinach, peas and Parmesan. Let stand for 3 to 5 minutes or until wilted and heated through.
- Divide pilaf evenly among eight plates. Top each serving with a short rib. Stir vinegar into sauce; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Spoon sauce over each rib.
Serves: 8 servings.
Per serving: 580 calories, fat 31.5 g (7.9 g of which is saturated), sodium 623 mg, carbohydrate 38.7 g, fibre 5.7 g, sugars 6.2 g, protein 34.9 g. %DV: zinc 117%, iron 39%, vitamin B12 180%
- Serve with 1 lb (500 g) trimmed and steamed green beans tossed with fresh lemon juice.
- Farro can be replaced with 1 cup brown rice or barley.
- Use a variety of mushrooms in the risotto, such as cremini, shiitake and king oyster.