How can you take small steps to make big strides in your health?

Humans can be walking contrasts, especially when it comes to our health. On the one hand, the majority of Canadians consider themselves to be in “good to excellent health,” and yet 71% answered that they “are concerned they may not be getting all the nutrients they need from their diet” according to the 2015 Centrum National Supplements Survey. As I wrote in my book, Ace Your Health, 52 Ways to Stack Your Deck, even with the best of intentions, we often have nutritional gaps. This can be especially true when on vacation – in the 2016 Centrum ‘Small Steps’ Survey, 40% of Canadians said they fall out of step with their healthy routine when travelling.

Here are some other stats that Centrum has shared with me. Some of these make me chuckle, others scare the daylights out of me.

Canadians consume as many servings of caffeine as they do vegetables: two servings per day. And they consume more caffeine than fruit! Interesting to note that Health Canada says we should have a maximum of three caffeinated items per day and a minimum of eight fruit and vegetable servings. Oops!

Only 30% of Canadians say they spend a lot of time reviewing food labels. To be fair, there is often a lot of data on these. I wonder if we don’t value the information or we just don’t know how to use it? Did you know that our government launched a multimillion dollar program to teach Canadians how to better read and understand this data?

Most Canadians know ‘how’ to be healthy, with only 12% of Canadians agreeing that knowledge is a barrier to living a healthier lifestyle.

I guess that sometimes, ‘life just gets in the way.’ For almost one third (31%) of Canadians, it’s hard to find time in the day for a workout or to cook healthy meals. But motivation is actually the biggest barrier Canadians face when it comes to implementing healthy habits, with 44% agreeing that, while they know they should exercise or take the time to cook a healthy meal, sometimes they’d “rather do something else.”

Stress is another factor to contend with, and depending on your stress levels, your body may need more nutrients than the government recommended intake (these are amounts that most health practitioners consider low to begin with). Let’s assume you are enjoying the recommended eight fruits and vegetables daily — there are still many things that could affect the nutritive value of those foods: the soil that your food was grown in could have been depleted, the pesticides used could reduce the nutrients, the amount of time your precious produce was out of the soil, off the tree or in transit could impact its quality, and then how your fruits and veggies are stored at the grocer and then cooked by you also affects the nutrition you can extract. Combined with the fact that your own body may not be able to absorb or assimilate the fuel optimally, you may not be getting what you need. It isn’t true that you are what you eat – you are what your body can absorb from what you eat.

Here are some small steps that you can take to close nutritive gaps in your diet:

Change your mind:

Think nutrient density rather than calorie count per forkful. A forkful of spinach has almost no calories but loads of nutrients. In contrast, a forkful of mac and cheese has 30 or so calories of mostly low nutrient fat and white carbohydrates. Kinda makes you go “hmmmm.”

Take a multivitamin:

While you may see conflicting news reports on the topic of supplements, my opinion lands on the pro side when it comes to taking a multivitamin. Given the likelihood of nutritional gaps and the 71% of us who aren’t sure we are getting enough from our diet, I believe taking a multivitamin is a positive choice and an example of a small step that can help on the journey to better health. Be sure to choose a multivitamin that has lots of research and a good reputation and history behind it. I often hear feedback that taking a multivitamin is easily forgotten during rushed morning routines and the simple solution is to keep an extra bottle with you to take at lunch. Many find that the support of key nutrients helps get them through the afternoon. The key is to take it on a full stomach to enhance absorption.

Start at breakfast:

A smoothie can provide four servings of fruits and vegetables in a few mouthfuls (a couple of spinach or kale leaves go a long way). Then, any veg that you eat for lunch and dinner puts you ahead of the average! Now all you have to do is cut back one cup of caffeine and you are out front of the guy sitting next to you on the bus. Woohoo!

When you travel:

Take along these high-nutrient additions to add to whatever the road has to offer: chia seeds for fibre, hemp seeds for protein, pumpkin seeds for magnesium to support muscle function and dried cherries for the natural melatonin you need to sleep.

Prepare your meals:

Planning ahead means you can have healthy foods at the ready. Try this nutrient-dense recipe that can be made on a weekend and become the foundation for lunch for a few days. Top it up with a different protein each day and you are golden!

Try this high nutrient lunch that is versatile and delicious!

Quinoa Jewel Salad

quinoa pomegranate salad

Recipe By: Theresa Albert

Makes: 6 servings Takes: 15 minutes

1 1/2 cups  red quinoa

3 1/2 cups  water

1/4 cup  sun-dried tomato halves

1  clove  garlic, minced

1/2 cup  vinaigrette

1/4 cup  chives, minced

¼ cup chopped mixed spicy pickled vegetables (or jalapenos)

1/2 fresh lime juice

1 cup  mixed nuts, toasted

Centrum has supported the time spent in reading their survey and sharing the news but my love is never for sale. The opinions and advice shared here are my own.