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The goodness of vegetables and fruit

Aim for 4 to 10 servings a day

You know that vegetables and fruit are good for you, but have you ever wondered just how good? Research shows that eating vegetables and fruit, especially dark green and orange ones, can help reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. along with their great taste and versatility, vegetables and fruit provide nutrients that are important for health. Here are a few great reasons to eat veggies and fruit often.

  • They are packed with important vitamins and minerals, especially antioxidants like vitamin C and Beta-carotene (a form of vitamin A).
  • Virtually all vegetables and fruit are low in fat and low in calories. Olives and avocados are the exceptions, so enjoy them in moderation.
  • Vegetables and fruit are a delicious way to get dietary fibre. Soluble fibre, found in apples, strawberries and citrus fruit, helps to reduce the “bad” LdL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol, especially if it is high. It is recommended an adult should consume between 21 g to 38 g of fibre a day from a variety of sources.

It really doesn’t matter whether you eat fresh, frozen or canned vegetables or fruit, or whether they are organic or not. They all have about the same nutritional value. What is important is that you eat a variety of colourful vegetables and fruit at every meal and snack. When using canned vegetables, rinse them with water or buy ones with no added salt.

Fats and healthy eating

There are different types of fat in food. Some raise LDL-cholesterol, while others help to keep blood cholesterol levels healthy. For healthy eating, choose lower-fat foods more often and choose your fats wisely. Aim for more poly- and monounsaturated fat, and less trans and saturated fat.

How much fat should I eat each day?

  • A healthy eating pattern includes between 20% to 35% of your day’s calories from fat:
  • For a woman this means about 45 to 75 grams of fat a day
  • For a man this means about 60 to 105 grams of fat a day
  • Use these numbers as a guideline to compare how much fat is in a food or recipe with how much fat you should eat each day. Include a small amount – 2 to 3 tablespoons (25 to 45 mL) – of unsaturated fat each day. This includes oil used for cooking, salad dressings, margarine and mayonnaise.

Know your fats

Choose healthy fats more often (such as monounsaturate and polyunsaturated fats)

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The scoop on sodium

Salt is made up of about 40% sodium and 60% chloride. When we talk about salt, we usually mean sodium. Processed foods make up about half of the sodium in our diets. Since the average north american diet contains too much sodium, it’s wise to cut back on the amount of salt you eat.

  • Limit your daily intake of sodium to 2,300 mg (1 tsp/5 mL of salt) total from processed foods, cooking and at the table. When you see “ sodium-free” on a food label, it means that the food has less than 5 mg of sodium in the serving.
  • Choose unsalted or lower-salt versions of foods when possible.
  • Add less salt when cooking; use herbs and spices to flavour foods instead.

Increase fibre

Fibre is a vital part of a healthy diet, but most of us are getting less than half the recommended amount. A healthy adult needs 38 grams a day, but surveys show that the average daily Canadian intake is about 14 grams. A heart-healthy diet includes foods that are higher in fibre. Good sources of fibre can be found in two of Canada’s Food Guide Food Groups containing complex carbohydrates: whole-grain products such as wild and brown rice and oatmeal; and vegetables and fruit.

There are two kinds of fibre: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre may help lower cholesterol and control blood sugar. The best sources are oatmeal and oat bran, legumes such as dried beans, peas and lentils, and pectin-rich foods such as apples, strawberries and citrus fruit. You will also see cereals and over-the-counter products that contain psyllium, a soluble fibre.

When shopping, check food product labels carefully. Look for 100% whole grain or 100% whole wheat with the germ at the beginning of the ingredient list, and check the fibre content in the Nutrition Facts table. Products with 2 grams of fibre or more are a healthy choice.

What are plant sterols?

Health Canada has approved the addition of plant sterols to certain foods. Research has shown that plant sterols (also known as phytosterols and plant stanols) can help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. In order to achieve a sustained drop in unhealthy cholesterol, you need to eat 2 to 2.5 g of plant sterols a day and must continue to use them to maintain the benefit.

Plant sterols occur naturally in small amounts in vegetable oils, nuts, whole grains, vegetables and fruit. For example, to get 2 g of naturally occurring plant sterols per day, you would need to eat approximately 210 carrots, 83 oranges or 20 tbsp of sesame seeds. Foods in Canada are now allowed to have up to 1 g of added plant sterols per serving. You may see plant sterols being added to such foods as mayonnaise, margarine, salad dressing, yogurt and yogurt drinks, vegetable and fruit juices.

Plant sterols can reduce LDL cholesterol levels up to approximately 10%, but have no impact on HDL (“good”) cholesterol or triglycerides. So it is important to follow a healthy diet and physical activity routine to attain a healthy overall cholesterol profile.

Consult your healthcare provider before including daily consumption of foods with added plant sterols, especially if you are currently taking any medications to manage your cholesterol. Health Canada has assessed plant sterols to be safe up to 3 g per day for adults. Plant sterol enriched foods are not recommended for children, breast-feeding or pregnant women as these individuals have specific nutritional and dietary needs and lowering blood cholesterol is not normally a priority for them. These products are intended for persons diagnosed with high cholesterol.

For more information on plant sterols, go to Health Canada’s website.

(Source: Heart & Stroke Source 1, Source 2)