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The words ‘healthy diet’ conjure images of deprivation and denial, but it really isn’t that way! Creating a healthy menu starts with stocking your kitchen to fill up on nutritious choices.
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You won’t find a healthier reward than the benefits of including a rainbow of fruits and vegetables in your refrigerator. Pigments that colour fruits and vegetables indicate nutrients that confer irreplaceable health benefits: the brighter or deeper the colour, the higher the concentration of nutrients.
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Tomatoes: lycopene may inhibit cancers of prostate, breast, cervix. Found in pink grapefruit and watermelon too!
Sweet potatoes: beta carotene converts to Vitamin A; necessary for immune system; sun protection. Blueberries, bilberries: anthocyanin improves circulation to eyes; crucial for night vision
Broccoli: chlorophyll creates healthy blood; circulatory system; growth and repair of tissue. Also chelates heavy metals. Look for it in kale and romaine lettuce as well.
These colourful foods offer an abundance of nutrients, including calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and Vitamins A, C, E and K1. Canada’s Food Guide recommends 7-10 servings of fruit and vegetables every day; most Canadians fall short of this goal.
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What’s a serving?
125 ml (1/2 cup) fresh, frozen or canned (unsweetened) vegetable or fruit juice
250 ml (1 cup) leafy raw vegetables or salad
1 piece of fruit
The word protein comes from the Greek protos, meaning ‘taking first place’ and suggests how important protein is. The amino acids that make up protein provide the building blocks for bone and connective tissue. Without adequate protein, you can experience weak muscles, thin and fragile hair and reduced immune system function. While vegetables and grains offer some protein, excellent sources of this vital nutrient include dairy, eggs, fish, legumes, meats and nuts. Aim for approximately one gram of protein for each kilogram of body weight. A 130 pound woman (59 kg) would require about 59 grams.
Fill up on fibre
Fibre not only helps to keep hunger pangs from reappearing too quickly, but by slowing digestion it also helps to keep blood sugar levels even so you don’t hit the mid-afternoon sugar-craving slump. Fibre keeps things moving, leading to healthy elimination and a happy colon (see article GI Health page 26). Stock up with whole grains, and plenty of fruits and vegetables (with skin) in the kitchen to hit your daily fibre target: aim for one gram of fibre for every 100 calories, roughly 25 grams of fibre daily for adults.
Sources of fibre include:
•sunflower seeds (2 tbsp) 1 g
•apple with skin ( medium) 3.7 g
•oatmeal (1 cup cooked) 4 g
•brown rice (1 cup cooked) 2.5 g
•whole wheat bread (1 slice) 1.9 g
•chickpeas (1/2 cup) 6 g
•black beans (1 cup) 13 g
•popcorn – air popped (3 cups) 3.2 g
•banana (1 medium) 3 g
•broccoli (1/2 cup) 3 g
•Fill the cupboard with healthy monounsaturated fats, linked to reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Use olive, sunflower and walnut oils for salads; also in avocados, almonds, hazelnuts and pecans.
•For essential fatty acids EPA and DHA, keep canned salmon and sardines on hand for sandwiches and walnuts and seeds for snacks. These polyunsaturated fats are linked to heart, brain, and eye health, and play a role in promoting positive mood and preventing dementia.
•Limit your intake of saturated fats from red meat and whole fat dairy
•Hydrogenated fats (trans fats) have been chemically altered to improve shelf life; linked to heart disease
We need sugar, but not the kind you normally crave. The brain runs on a sugar called glucose, naturally present in grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables. The refined sugar used in desserts and prepared foods not only contributes to weight gain, but too much can actually starve your brain of glucose, leading to problems with concentration and memory. Processing refined sugar depletes your body of precious stored minerals and enzymes, while depressing your immune system.
Read product labels for hidden sugar in baked goods, soups, condiments and other canned goods – even vegetables and fruits! Bake from scratch whenever possible to reduce refined sugar; try natural, lower glycemic sweeteners like stevia, agave, honey, molasses or maple syrup in recipes. Satisfy your sweet tooth with fruit and sweet vegetables like beets, carrots, corn, onions and sweet potatoes. Instead of pop (a 12 ounce can contains a whopping 10 teaspoons of sugar), enjoy a splash of lemon or other natural fruit juice in pure, filtered water.
Kids need snacks during the day; they simply don’t have the stomach room for the day’s required nutrients at meal-times alone. Adults often need an afternoon snack to keep blood sugar levels stabilized until dinner. Avoid sugar snacks that send blood sugar levels through the roof, then crashing back down. Opt for protein in yogourt, trail mix or hummus with veggies to tide you over until your next meal. Aren’t we running out of word count? Please tell me what you want as I think it’s covered here.
When you give your body what it needs to function properly, you’ll experience fewer cravings that can throw your health goals off-track. A well-stocked kitchen is a great place to start.
By Lisa Petty
First published in Canadian Health and Lifestyle