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January 13, 2023 • read
10 tips for a healthy new year
Every year we make New Year’s resolutions to better ourselves. For many, their New Year’s resolution is to eat healthy and exercise, especially after indulging in all those delicious yet unhealthy foods over the holidays. But sticking to a healthy eating regimen doesn’t always last for long — about 64% of people give up on their resolution by the end of January.
If you’ve been struggling to follow a healthy eating plan or manage your weight, Maple can help. Maple is a virtual care platform with Canada’s largest online network of doctors and healthcare providers. Our registered dietitians are healthcare professionals who can create customized meal plans suited to your needs, while our weight management consultants are nurse practitioners trained in weight management who offer support and tools to help you reach your goals.
In the meantime, here’s how to start the new year off healthy.
1. Eat a variety of nutritious food
Variety is at the heart of a healthy, balanced diet and plays a big role in helping you reach your healthy eating goals. By introducing a diet full of whole grain foods, fruits, vegetables rich in fibre, proteins (both plant-based or animal sourced), and milk products, you can help satisfy your hunger and get the essential vitamins and minerals your body needs. You may also find that cravings for highly processed foods like french fries, frozen pizzas, and more subside.
To get the most out of your food, Canada’s Food Guide recommends you fill half your plate with vegetables, one-quarter with whole grains, and the other quarter with sources of protein. You should also replace sugary drinks with water.
Finally, adding variety to your diet is a great way to introduce different foods and prevent meal burnout. After all, who wants to eat the same thing all the time? Switch it up at the grocery store and check out healthy recipes online — there are tons of free ones available to keep your meals interesting and free of extra food additives.
2. Cut back on your salt intake
First, it’s important to understand the difference between salt and sodium. Salt is what you add to your food, and sodium is one of its mineral nutrients. You do need a certain amount of sodium each day to help regulate fluids in your body, but not that much.
For adults, the range is between 1200 to 1500mg a day. For reference, 1500 milligrams of sodium is found in half a teaspoon of salt. But most Canadians eat almost double this amount each day. Not only can this cause weight gain, but eating too much sodium or salt can raise your blood pressure, which could lead to a host of health problems like heart disease and stroke.
Unfortunately, many convenience foods, like frozen meals and canned soups, are packed with sodium. Eating them once in a while is fine, but too often isn’t healthy for you. If you’re in a pinch and need one of these quick meals, opt for one without added salt. And, if you’re cooking your own meal, try using other seasonings instead of salt, like fresh herbs and spices, garlic, or lemon juice.
As for dining at restaurants, it’s a good idea to check the nutritional guide on their website first. If you don’t have this option though, try going for foods with less salt like a salad with dressing on the side or topping your pizzas with vegetables or chicken rather than pepperoni or bacon. You can also ask if the kitchen is willing to prepare your food without added salt.
3. Limit your consumption of saturated fats and trans fats
There are foods high in good fats, called monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. They include omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon and avocados and oleic acid found in peanut butter and dark chocolate. And then, there are bad fats, like saturated fats and trans fats.
Saturated fats are found in animal products like meat and dairy, most fried foods, and certain packaged foods. Trans fats are liquid oils that turn into solid fats during food processing, which in turn produce trans fats.
Both of these raise your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — also known as the “bad cholesterol”— and increase your risk of heart disease. Trans fats also decrease high-density lipoprotein (HDL) — the “healthy cholesterol” in your body.
Saturated fats are listed on food labels, while trans fats are often listed as partially hydrogenated oils or shortening. They may, however, also be listed as trans fats.
For optimal health, keep your intake of saturated fats between 5% to 6% of your calories per day. As for trans fats, once in a while won’t harm you, but they offer no benefit to your body. So if you can avoid them, you definitely should.
4. Reduce your sugar intake
Eating too much sugar has a ripple effect on your health. Sugar is a simple carbohydrate, and your body needs carbohydrates like these from fruits, vegetables, and certain dairy products. But foods with added sugar provide no benefit to your health and can even cause you harm. Eating too much added sugar can lead to weight gain, which increases your risk of chronic health problems like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even certain cancers.
On food labels, added sugar may be listed as corn syrup, fructose, raw sugar, amongst many other names. Some of the biggest culprits with hidden added sugars include:
- Energy drinks
- Flavoured coffee drinks from coffee houses
- White bread
- Flavoured or low-fat yogurt
It’s best to eat foods throughout the day with nutritional benefits, and that are lower in calories. If you crave sweetness, there are many foods with naturally occurring sugars or with much less added sugar that are better for you, such as:
- Dried fruits with no added sugar
- Dark chocolate (a square or two of 80% cocoa)
5. Limit your alcohol intake
Any amount of alcohol you drink, from heavy alcohol consumption to just a few drinks a week, can take a toll on your health. Alcohol in alcoholic beverages is called ethanol — a chemical substance made by the fermentation of certain sugars and yeast. When you drink alcohol, it interferes with the brain’s communication pathways, hence why you get a little (or big) buzz, depending on how much you drink.
On top of that, many alcoholic beverages contain sugars and are high in calories. One 6oz glass of red wine is roughly 150 calories and 1.12 grams of sugar, while a 12oz bottle of beer also has about 150 calories. This might not sound like too much on its own, but when you’re drinking alcoholic beverages in addition to eating a full meal, the calories add up — especially if you’re having two or three.
The Canadian guideline for consumption limits doesn’t recommend drinking if you haven’t started already. But if you do drink, the maximum for men should be no more than three a day, and for women, it’s two a day.
However, the newly proposed Canadian guidelines for alcohol consumption recommend no more than two drinks per week for both men and women. Additionally, a recent report showed increased health risks if you consume six or more drinks a week — one of those health risks being cancer. For women specifically, having three or more a week raises the risk of health issues more than men. Long-term health risks include:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Liver disease
- Mental health problems
- Certain cancers
If you want to turn over a new leaf with your health this year, try replacing alcoholic beverages with low-sugar mocktails (there are lots of recipes online) or good old-fashioned water. Or, if you don’t want to remove alcohol entirely from your life, be sure to at least follow the guidelines.
6. Reap the benefits of regular exercise
If working out is part of your New Year’s resolution, you’re in luck — there are tons of health benefits, and you can exercise in many different ways. Exercise helps to strengthen and improve blood flow to your heart and lungs. It’s also a great way to stave off diseases, whether at the gym, participating in a sport, or going for a stroll around your neighbourhood. Exercise also has an important role in improving your mental health.
Eating too many unhealthy foods and not exercising regularly can put you at risk of obesity. One report even showed that doing anywhere between 30 to 60 minutes a week of muscle-strengthening physical activity can help you live longer. So make sure you maintain a healthy lifestyle that incorporates at least 30 minutes of exercise a day.
7. Get enough sleep
Everyone has felt the effects of being tired after a bad night’s sleep. But what you might not know is that sleep is one of the building blocks of good health. Sleep helps your mind and body stay rested and even contributes to repairing cells in your body. Not getting enough sleep puts you at an increased risk of many health conditions, including:
- Cardiovascular disease
- High blood pressure
- Lowered immune system functioning
- Mental health issues
You should aim to get between seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Keeping a regular sleep schedule is one of the best ways to accomplish this since it helps get your mind and body into a routine. This means going to bed and waking up at the same time every day — even on weekends. It’s also helpful to avoid drinking caffeinated beverages at least four hours before you hit the lights.
8. Practice mindful eating
If you’ve ever sat down to eat a meal and finished it so quickly that you didn’t fully get to enjoy it or didn’t feel full afterwards, you might want to try mindful eating. Mindful eating focuses on appreciating your experience with food rather than restricting how much you eat.
Oftentimes, it can result in eating less since you’re doing it at a slower pace, and you’re more aware of what you’re eating. It can even encourage you to make healthier food choices.
Another option you might try is intuitive eating. While it incorporates aspects of mindful eating, intuitive eating encourages you to think differently about the judgments you attach to food as well as your body.
If you’d like to get started with mindful eating, however, here are a few easy steps.
- Before reaching for something to eat, ask yourself if you’re really hungry or if you’re feeling something else — bored, stressed, sad, etc.
- If you’re feeling anything other than hungry, try another activity to address that emotion.
- Remove all distractions when you eat and pay attention to your meal.
- Savour each bite.
After each bite, be aware of your body and how you’re feeling. Are you full? Do you need more? And move forward accordingly.
9. Plan your meals in advance
Meal planning is beneficial for your physical and mental health and even your pocketbook. When you take the time to plan out your meals, you can incorporate more variety and healthier options. It also helps relieve the stress of trying to figure out what to eat each day — especially if you’re in charge of making meals for the little ones in your family. And, you’re less likely to make impulse purchases at the grocery store when you walk in with a list for the week.
Here are a few ways to start meal planning:
- Set aside time each week to make your meal plan
- Look at online flyers for meal inspiration and deals to help you save money in the process
- Check your pantry to see if you can use up any ingredients at home
- Be sure to store your meal plans so you can cycle back to them
10. Don’t skip meals or snacks
Your body needs food as fuel and nourishment. Once you start skipping meals, it can be a slippery slope in both departments. Eating a healthy, well-balanced meal three times a day with low-calorie snacks in between can provide you with energy and nutrients and helps to boost your metabolism.
Skipping meals or snacks can have the opposite effect. Sure, doing so lowers the amount of calories you take in during the day, but it isn’t healthy for you. One study showed that skipping either breakfast, lunch, or dinner decreased diet quality since respondents were missing out on key nutrients from vegetables and proteins. Skipping meals can also make your body go into starvation mode, leading you to want to eat even more potentially unhealthy foods.
If you’re not great at eating regular meals each day because life gets in the way, try tracking what you eat in the notes section or an app on your phone. Sticking to the meal planning mentioned above can also help you eat healthy, consistent meals.
How Maple can help you stay healthy in the new year
Setting realistic goals for the new year — or what feels realistic — doesn’t always turn out if you don’t have the right tools. While exercise, diet, and sleep add to a healthy life, it’s also important to check in with a healthcare provider to ensure you’re doing everything in the healthiest way based on your body.
If your endgame is to achieve a healthy weight, our weight management consultants can help. As nurse practitioners trained in weight management, they provide you with support in exploring your regular habits and goals, addressing obstacles, guiding you in your weight loss journey, and assessing your eligibility for weight loss prescription therapy.
If you’d like help planning your meals, that’s where a registered dietitian comes in. Our registered dietitians are healthcare professionals capable of assessing, diagnosing, and treating nutritional concerns. They can help with chronic disease management, digestive concerns, and more, and create a custom meal plan based on your needs.
Make this the year that sticks when it comes to your health goals. See a Canadian-licensed healthcare provider on Maple today from your phone, tablet, or computer at a time that works for you, no referral needed.
This blog was developed by our team and reviewed by a medical professional.