Health & Wellness

Get a Healthier Diet—Without Really Trying

More life hacks for giving your diet a power boost

By Wendy Haaf                                                                                  Photo: iStock/Elena_Danileiko.


When it comes to eating a healthy diet, our actions often don’t match our good intentions, whether it’s because we lack the time or the know-how.

For example, Canada’s Food Guide calls for eating at least two servings of fish a week, but it’s unlikely that most of us are meeting that goal. In a 2011 survey of 2,000 Canadians prepared for the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance, respondents reported consuming finned fish an average of 3.7 times a month—less than once a week. This may be one of the reasons that, according to the 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey, many Canadian adults have inadequate intakes of vitamin D.

So how can you get more fish and more heart-healthy omega-3 fats into your diet? We asked the experts.

Stock your freezer with fillets.

“Fish is the ultimate fast food,” says Rosie Schwartz, a Toronto registered dietitian, food writer, and author of The Enlightened Eater’s Whole Foods Guide (Viking, 2003). “You just have to cook it for 10 minutes per inch of thickness.” Individually wrapped frozen salmon fillets are a great go-to when you’re pressed for time. “I’ll mix a little maple syrup, a bit of light mayo, and some Dijon mustard, put it on the fish, and roast it in the oven at 425˚F [220˚C] for 15 minutes.”

Other easy options for toppings include pesto, a dab of butter plus a splash of maple syrup, and a little soy sauce or miso. Cook an extra fillet or two to use in sandwiches, wraps, or salads.

Fillets of white fish such as haddock and sole can be used in tacos (serve with halved cherry tomatoes, avocado, and shredded cabbage) or added during the final hour or so of cooking to a spicy tomato sauce simmered in the slow cooker. You can also make an all-in-one aluminum foil packet containing a cup (250 mL) of cooked rice, a cup of sliced greens, and a fish fillet topped with a mixture of soy sauce, chili paste, dark sesame oil, and grated ginger or minced garlic (or both): bake at 450˚F (230˚C) for 20 minutes.

Keep some cans in your cupboard.

Tinned tuna and salmon are healthy convenience foods that can be quickly turned into tuna melts, sandwich filling, and homemade fish cakes.

Photo: iStock/princessdlaf.

“You can make a fish chowder with corn and canned salmon really quickly” using ingredients from the freezer and pantry, Schwartz says.

Sprinkle on some flaxseed.

Flaxseed is a good source of dietary fibre (one tablespoon contains 3 grams) and omega-3 fats, but it must be ground for the body to be able to absorb the nutrients from it. You can buy it that way or grind it yourself; either way, be sure to store it in the fridge or freezer.

Sprinkle a spoonful on your cereal, stir it into yogourt, or mix it into muffin batter. However, skip the processed flax that’s sold in shakers. “They take off the hulls, so you lose some of the omega-3s,” Schwartz explains.


Bonus: Tips for Trying New Things

Looking for ways to spice up your cooking routine? “Some of my clients find it helpful to designate one day a week to be their ‘new recipe’ day,” says Vincci Tsui, a registered dietitian in Calgary.

Other ways to inspire enthusiasm and motivation:

  • Add a social element. “You can turn it into a social thing, like a potluck that turns into a recipe swap where everyone brings his or her favourite vegetable dish,” Tsui says. Or take a community cooking class: you’ll meet new people while learning new skills.
  • Borrow a cookbook. “People forget that libraries are a good resource for cookbooks,” Tsui points out.
  • Sample a different cuisine. Many cultures around the world, such as Indian, Korean, and Moroccan, feature healthy delicious dishes that include legumes, fish, and whole grains. Ethiopian cuisine, for instance, has a tradition of flavourful stews made with lentils and vegetables that are eaten with bits of bread made of teff (a tiny African grain) in lieu of eating with cutlery.
  • Hunt for an unfamiliar vegetable. “Research a vegetable you haven’t tried and then go shopping,” suggests Patricia Chuey, a Vancouver-area registered dietitian. For instance, Asian grocery stores often have a selection of exotic greens.