Healthy eating seems to be an ambiguous term these days. Read on to find out what healthy eating means to me, and how to define this term for yourself.
In my previous post, I talked about finding out that I have prediabetes. Since my diagnosis, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the concept of healthy eating, because that’s one of the recommended ways to manage this condition.
But what does “healthy” eating mean?
When I asked my doctor about what I should and shouldn’t be eating, she basically told me to stop eating Wonder Bread and ice cream. When I pushed for a more detailed answer, she said that I need to make lifestyle changes like exercising more, eating better (less saturated fats, less sugar, less fried foods etc.), and losing weight.
When I asked her if she had any resources that she could recommend to me, so I could learn more on my own, she basically told me to look up information online. So I did, and while there are some great sources of information out there, there’s also a whole lot of conflicting advice too.
What Does Healthy Eating Mean to You?
Talking about what defines healthy eating can be as controversial as talking about politics these days. Everyone has an opinion! Which is fine, except when people start to judge others for not agreeing with their definition.
For example, the other day I posted a question in a food blogger forum asking for “a reliable source of information about how much sugar is too much sugar in a person’s diet.” While I did get the information that I was looking for (which I’ll share below), I also elicited responses from people who brought up how government standardized information is outdated and we should look for products that are “pro science”, while someone else criticized one of the resources that I was given for not taking natural sugars in fruits and vegetables into account.
Clearly, there are many different schools of thought on what should and should not be considered healthy. Some people follow a vegan or vegetarian diet in the pursuit of better health, while others prefer paleolithic or ketogenic diets. Is one better than the other? Scientifically, maybe… But everyone has their reasons behind their personal food philosophy, and I think it’s important to respect that.
Personally, I don’t feel the need to follow a specific diet but I can see the appeal. Trying to keep your eating habits on track can be difficult! These diets provide a set of parameters for eating, which is easier to stick to than just having a vague goal of trying to eat better.
Figuring Out What Healthy Eating Means to Me
I’ve been struggling to evaluate my healthy eating habits over the past few months. I’m the kind of person who needs something tangible to help me stay focused on achieve my goals, so I started looking for resources that could support me on this journey to better health.
I already shared a magazine/workbook in my previous blog post that I’ve found very helpful. In addition to that, I’m also testing out some iPhone apps to see if any of them are useful (I’ll report back on my findings later). But in order to create an eating plan for myself, I needed concrete numbers. Luckily, my friends and peers have been really great about helping me find the information that I need.
Healthy Eating Recommendations:
According to Diabetes Canada (formerly called The Canadian Diabetes Association), “you may be able to reduce blood glucose (sugar) levels with simple lifestyle changes, such as increasing your physical activity and enjoying a healthy, low-fat meal plan.”
This is in line with what my doctor told me, more or less.
Also, the one source of information that my doctor did mention to me was Dr. Mike Evan’s channel on YouTube. Dr. Evans was a staff physician at St. Michael’s Hospital before moving to California in 2016 to work with Apple Inc. to help lead health innovation. In this video, he discusses a formula for diabetes prevention which includes eating more fibre, less saturated fats and being active for 30 minutes a day.
How Much Sugar Should I Eat?
I initially found it odd that both of the resources I mentioned above did not specifically say to eat less sugar in order to manage diabetes. Instead, they put an emphasis on reducing fats and increasing exercise. My first instinct was to reduce my sugar intake, and I didn’t realize that saturated fats even affected how your body regulates blood sugar!
I needed to find out how much sugar is too much sugar in a person’s diet though, in order to help me make better food choices.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Diabetes Canada, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, we should limit our intake of free sugars to “less than 10% of total daily calorie (energy) intake.”
So what does that mean?
First, let’s figure out what “free sugars” means. According to the WHO:
“Free sugars refer to monosaccharides (such as glucose, fructose) and disaccharides (such as sucrose or table sugar) added to foods and drinks by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.”
So we’re not talking about the naturally occurring sugars in whole fruits, vegetables and milk. While these foods do add to your total sugar intake when you’re diabetic, all three organizations agree that they have healthy benefits that outweigh the sugar content, making them healthy when eaten in moderation. And remember, these recommendations are for the general public, not for diabetics in particular.
Since I’m prediabetic (not full diabetic), I’m choosing to use these guidelines and continue eating fruits, vegetables and milk without worrying about their sugar content.
It’s also important to note that all three organizations use an average 2000 calorie-a-day diet as the standard. If you’re on a calorie-reduced diet, your number will be different, but for most of us this means that we should limit our consumption of free sugars to no more than 12 teaspoons a day. This is 48-50 grams of sugar, depending on the organization.
Both the WHO and the Heart and Stroke Foundation also recommend a further reduction of consuming less than 5% (25g/6 teaspoons) daily for better health.
Now, honestly, I thought that 12 teaspoons of sugar sounded like a LOT of sugar for one person to eat in a day. And it kind of it. But it’s nothing compared to how much sugar I’ve actually been eating in a day. It’s amazing to see how much sugar is hiding in foods that I never even thought of before… but I’ll save that discussion for another day.
How Much Saturated Fat Should I Eat?
I could not find any resources that give an upper limit of how much saturated fat a person should consume in a day. Basically, the overall message is that saturated fats can have a negative impact on our overall health, and should be reduced. You can learn more about the different kinds of fats in our diets in this article from the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
What about Salt?
Since prediabetes can lead to heart disease, I’m looking at how much salt (or sodium) I’m eating as well. Health Canada has a handy chart that you can take a look at if you want to know how much sodium you should be including in your diet. For my age (in my 30’s), I’m looking at ideally consuming 1500 mg, but no more than 2300 mg, daily.
Summary of My Food Philosophy
After taking all of these recommendations into consideration, I’ve come up with a definition of “healthy eating” that works for my current health situation.
Healthy eating means eating more whole fruits and vegetables, whole grains and protein. It means eating more freshly cooked food that I make at home, and less convenience/pre-packaged meals (since they tend to be high in sugars, fats and sodium). It also means being mindful of what I’m putting into my body, and finding balance between the nutritious foods and the fun foods that are not so good for me.
Obviously, my definition of healthy eating might not be the right fit for you. I would encourage you to speak with your doctor if you have concerns about your health, or make an appointment with a registered dietician to help you figure out what works best for you.
I know you already know, but I have to remind you that I’m not a doctor and I’m not giving medical advice. I’m just an average person trying to make sense of healthy eating recommendations that are already in existence, as I’m sure most of us are. The only thing I can tell you is that you know your body best, so be sure to make decisions that are right for you, and aren’t just based on what somebody said on their blog 😉
In terms of what this means for the recipes on my website, I don’t think it’s going to be an issue. I won’t be making any big changes to the recipes that are currently on the website, and I’m not transitioning into 100% sugar free meals or anything like that. So if you’re enjoying the content on the site right now, I think you’ll be happy with whatever I continue to come up with.
This is not a sponsored post.
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