Restore and recharge this spring by getting enough sleep and eating right – they go together. An adequate amount of sleep, seven to nine hours a night, allows us to feel refreshed and alert for the next day – that’s no secret. But will getting more sleep help us live longer? The research still isn’t clear, but we do know that lack of sleep can have surprising long-term consequences. Although many factors affect weight, people that don’t get enough sleep tend to carry more body fat and they may crave more snacks. A shorter sleep affects the hormones that stimulate hunger and appetite. And you can’t make up for poor sleep by chasing miracle diets.
Many news stories suggest there are “superfoods” – foods that can reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke or prolong life. While some foods or eating habits are great choices in a healthy lifestyle, one study doesn’t always tell the whole story. For example, a study showing that broccoli protects mice against diabetes doesn’t necessarily apply to people.
Some foods and eating habits are supported by research as beneficial to your health over the long term. Some can help you maintain and promote good health or, conversely, harm it. Here are five easy ways to incorporate healthy changes today.
1. Limit alcohol. The World Cancer Research Fund Global Report says that alcohol consumption is associated with increased risk of cancer. Even though there may be a link between moderate alcohol intake and reduced risk of heart disease, the report recommends limiting alcohol. The recommendation for alcohol is no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women. One drink means: 12 ounces (341 mL) of regular beer, five ounces (142 mL) of wine or one and a half ounces (43 mL) of spirits.
2. Eat your veggies. Vegetables reduce cancer risk, but only if you eat them, not let them rot in the fridge. Non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli, lettuce, kale, spinach, celery, cucumber, eggplant, carrots, turnip and brussels sprouts are associated with decreased risk. Try to include these vegetables as part of lunch and supper. For lunch, add lettuce to your sandwich or baby carrots on the side. At supper, steam some turnip, roast brussels sprouts or make a salad with a dark green lettuce or spinach.
3. Get fishy. Oily fish, such as sardines, anchovies, salmon and rainbow trout, have a fat that is healthy for the heart. Some research shows that oily fish may also reduce the risk of an eye disease called age-related macular degeneration. Canada’s Food Guide suggests two servings of fish each week. Canned fish is convenient and affordable. Try a salmon sandwich with some vegetables, fruit and a glass of low fat milk for a quick and healthy meal.
4. Eat the Mediterranean way. This is the style of eating from Southern Italy, Greece and Spain. There is evidence supporting that eating this way reduces the risk of heart disease and increases the chance of living to a healthy old age. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes vegetables and fruit, whole grain bread, pasta and brown rice and healthy fats, such as olive oil and nuts. Fish, eggs and chicken or turkey are emphasized for protein and red meat is kept to just a few times a month. Keep portions to sizes recommended in Canada’s Food Guide. Remember, even though a food is healthy, it doesn’t mean you can have unlimited portions of it. For example, even though leaner meats are emphasized, keep each of your two or three daily servings to two-and-a-half ounces or 75 grams per serving.
5. Find the fibre. Add more soluble fibre to your diet. This can help lower your cholesterol and protect against heart disease. Easy ways to do this would be to have oatmeal for breakfast or choose barley as a side dish or as a breakfast cereal. You can also buy breakfast cereals that have added psyllium which is a soluble fibre.
+ BONUS: Get enough sleep. Try to hit the hay and wake up at about the same time every day.
Karol Sekulic is a registered dietitian with Alberta Health Services who has expertise and interest in the areas of weight management, nutrition and communications.