Chapter 1: Nutrition

There is a reason that nutrition is covered in the first chapter to this guide. Eating a balanced diet is essential to your health and wellbeing. It’s the fuel that powers all aspects of your body and mind.

You’ve likely heard the phrase, “You are what you eat.” While eating a pear won’t turn you into one, what you put into your body has big implications. A balanced diet can help you maintain good health and can reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.1

What a balanced diet looks like

A balanced diet includes a variety of foods, according to Canada's Food Guide.

Fruits and vegetables are an important part of your diet. Including a variety may lower your risk of heart disease.2 Those that are particularly good for you include dark green (e.g., kale, broccoli, and bok choy) and orange (e.g., carrots, sweet potato, peppers) fruit and vegetables.3

Whole grain foods such as whole grain bread or pasta, brown rice, and quinoa have more fibre than foods with refined grains. Eating foods high in fiber can also lower your risk of several chronic conditions such as heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.3

Protein is important for building and repairing tissues in the body, but in most cases, you don’t need large amounts to meet your nutritional needs. Try to eat some plant-based protein-rich foods (e.g., tofu, nuts) every day to improve your heart health.3 Lean meats, such as poultry and fish, are also great sources of protein.3

Lower fat dairy such as low fat milk or yogurt has less saturated fat and tends to be healthier. Also look for dairy products with less sodium and sugars.3

Use your plate to show you the way

You can also use your plate to guide your portion sizes:

  • Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables,
  • Take up a quarter of your plate with plant-based or lean proteins, and
  • Use the last quarter of your plate for whole grains.3

Tips for healthy snacking

The key to healthy snacking is to choose snacks that won't derail your daily nutrition. Here are some tips, developed with Cleveland Clinic Canada, for making healthy choices:

  • Choose whole foods: Instead of processed snacks like chips or candy, reach for whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
  • Combine food types. For example, pairing protein with carbohydrates can help you feel more satisfied and give you more energy. Try whole grain crackers with hummus or Greek yogurt with whole grain granola.
  • Plan ahead: Having healthy snacks on hand at home and at work could help you to avoid reaching for other options when hunger strikes.
  • Watch portion sizes: It can be helpful to portion your snacks ahead of time or choose healthy pre-packaged options for convenience (e.g., pre-packaged unsalted nuts).

Big Question: How do I stick to a healthy diet?

Sticking to a healthy diet can be challenging, especially when faced with cravings or social situations that make it difficult to make healthy choices. Here are some tactics that can help:

  • Set realistic goals: Start with small changes and build on them over time. For example, try adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet or swapping out sugary drinks for water.
  • Find motivation: Identify your reasons for wanting to eat a healthy diet, whether it's to feel better, improve your workouts, manage weight, or reduce your risk of illness. Use these reasons to motivate yourself when faced with temptation.
  • Plan ahead: Plan your meals and snacks in advance to avoid making choices on impulse. Make a grocery list and stick to it to avoid buying less healthy foods.
  • Practice mindful eating: Pay attention to your hunger and fullness cues and eat slowly and without distractions. This can help you eat the right amount for your body, and enjoy your food more.
  • Find healthy alternatives: When faced with cravings for less healthy foods, try to find healthier alternatives. For example, if you're craving something sweet, try having some fruits or a small piece of dark chocolate instead of sugary candy, for example.
  • Don't deprive yourself: Remind yourself that it’s okay to enjoy other favorite foods occasionally, being mindful of portion sizes and frequency.
  • Seek support: Enlist the help of friends or family members who support your healthy eating goals. Consider joining a support group or working with a registered dietitian for additional guidance.

“Eating healthy is not an all-or-nothing practice,” says Maarika Arget, a Workplace Well-being Consultant with Manulife. “I encourage people to keep it simple and start with small changes. Sticking to the basics is a great place to start. Focus on the addition of new, healthy foods instead of what you’re subtracting.”

Importance of Staying Hydrated

Water plays a crucial role in many bodily functions. It helps regulate body temperature, transport nutrients to cells, and remove waste from the body. Consider the following tips to ensure you stay hydrated:

  • Adjust your water intake: Increase your water if you are exercising or in hot weather.
  • Choose water over sweetened drinks: Make water your default drink, rather than beverages with sugars or artificial sweeteners.
  • Carry a water bottle: Keep a refillable water bottle with you throughout the day to make it easy to stay hydrated.
  • Choose hydrating foods: Many fruits and vegetables have a high-water content and can help keep you hydrated. Some examples include watermelon, cucumber, and celery.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol: These beverages may have dehydrating effects. Consider drinking water with these beverages to stay hydrated.

Getting support – Manulife benefits coverage

Dietitians are healthcare professionals who specialize in nutrition and dietetics and can work with you to create a healthy eating plan. They provide evidence-based advice and support on a range of nutrition-related topics, including food allergies, digestive disorders, and chronic diseases.

Check if your employee benefits cover paramedical services like dietitians.

Woman in the kitchen preparing a meal

“To help achieve a balanced diet, aim to make 50% of your plate fruits and vegetables at your mealtimes. If you’re currently eating few fruits and vegetables, aim to increase your daily intake by 1 or 2 servings, working in some dark greens and orange whenever possible. Incremental improvements can be the path to a heathier lifestyle.”

Jaclyn Pritchard, Dietitian,  Cleveland Clinic Canada