Every year, October 16 marks World Food Day, an occasion when organizations around the globe highlight ways we can all contribute to ending world hunger. The event honours the date when the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization was first founded in 1945. But in the 74 years since our diets have changed dramatically.
Happily, concerns at the time such as wartime rationing are a thing of the past. But sadly so too is eating home cooked, local, seasonal, mainly plant-based meals, rich in the nutrients we need.
With less time to prepare meals at home and the high cost of choosing local, seasonal produce, many of us understandably surrender to fast food and takeouts. But combined with a much more sedentary lifestyle, these dietary changes have had a huge impact on our health.
In fact, around the world, more than 670 million adults and 120 million children are considered obese and an unhealthy diet is linked to one fifth of all deaths worldwide. That’s why this year, the theme of World Food Day is making healthy and sustainable diets affordable and accessible to everyone— and calling on all of us to think about what we eat.
So how can we make healthy changes to our diets? Here are some useful questions to ask yourself if you think that your diet needs a health check.
How varied is your diet?
Restricting yourself to only certain foods might seem healthy, but it will lead to boredom, and you’re more likely to binge eat or abandon your healthy eating plan altogether. Not only that, but our bodies need variety, or at least the nutrients we receive from a wide variety of foodstuffs.
If you need help diversifying your diet, check out the Canada Food Guide, which serves up tasty recipes, money-saving tips for eating healthy on a budget and life hacks for cooking at home.
Which fats are you eating?
Your body needs fat to keep your skin and hair healthy, protect your organs from shock, maintain your body temperature and buffer you against disease. But too much fat can cause high levels of cholesterol that lines the arteries, raising your blood pressure and putting you at risk of a heart attack.
So how can you keep your fat intake healthy?
Well, there are two types of cholesterol: Low Density Lipoproteins (LDLs), which deposit cholesterol in your arteries, and High Density Lipoproteins (HDLs) which take it away.
Foods like butter, cream, red or processed meats, ice cream, deep fried foods and cheese contain saturated fat, which can increase the bad LDLs. Likewise, processed foods like prepackaged meals, frozen pizza, cookies and crackers often contain artificial trans fat, which has the same effect.
But foods that contain unsaturated fats will increase the good HDLs instead. These foods include avocado, fish, lean meats, nuts, seeds, vegetable oils and soft margarine.
So, instead of giving up fat altogether, why not substitute one type for another?
How complex are your carbs?
Did you know that there are two types of carbohydrate, simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates?
Simple carbohydrates are, quite simply, sugar; like the processed sugars found in snack foods, fizzy drinks, white bread and white pasta. Meanwhile complex carbohydrates are a mix of sugar, starch and fibre, like the carbs found in fruit, pulses, vegetables and whole wheat pasta and bread.
Consume too much of either and your body will convert them into fat, raising your risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. But complex carbs are far better for your body, help keep our digestive systems running smoothly and deliver essential vitamins and minerals.
Some simple substitutions can make all the difference, so why not try swapping out your usual pasta for a whole grain alternative? And instead of getting your sugar hit from refined, sugary foods, try fruits like mangoes, berries, peaches, or bananas instead. You’ll be surprised how effective they are!
Are you falling for low-fat branding?
Nowadays, we’re surrounded by products claiming to be low in fat or diet friendly, but they are not all they seem.
Often these foods have simply replaced the fat with refined sugar, which can lead to obesity just like too much saturated or trans fats. Common foods in this category include anything that is branded “low fat” or “nonfat”, such as breakfast cereals, granola, flavoured coffees, yoghurt, peanut butter and salad dressing.
Of course, you can still choose to eat these foods, but simply be aware of their real ingredients and the true impact on your diet. As the saying goes, everything in moderation!
What supplements are you taking?
If you’re happy with your diet so far, you might also want to consider taking some herbal supplements to help give your body a boost.
For example, wasabi contains a type of phytonutrient called glucosinolates, which produces a substance called sulforaphane when broken down. Studies show sulforaphane could help protect against food poisoning, cancerous tumours, heart disease and joint inflammation, to name just a few of the benefits.
Usually, sulforaphane is locked away in the wasabi plant, only released through chewing or grating, which is how it is traditionally served with sushi in Japan. But at our family farm in British Columbia, Canada, we use modern technology to dry and powder our real, organic wasabi, so it can be made into easily consumable capsules.
As the motto of World Food Day goes, our actions are our future. So make sure you make the right choices today to safeguard your health for years to come.