Updated: Nov 22, 2020
A Healthier Food Environment at Home is important because:
On average, humans are expected to consume at least 5 servings or 400 grams of fruits and vegetables each day (WHO, 2003).
Obesity is one of the world’s leading cause of death due to nutritional deficiencies and physical inactivity, thereby causing 3 million global deaths in 2010 (WHO, 2003).
In 2014, 39% of the world’s population (1.9 billion people) were considered overweight and 13% (600 million people) were considered obese (WELL v1, 2014, pg. 74)
(Source: WELL v2, 2018)
Such data are important because it highlights the importance of nutrition, specifically our consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and the role they play in providing us with micronutrients, fiber, and satiety.
Moreover, a healthy diet high in the aforementioned improves our health and reduces our risk of obesity, “cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and [gastrointestinal] cancers” (WELL v2, 2018, pg. 53).
An environment that inhibits our exposure to healthy food is not ideal, especially when we are now mostly working from home due to COVID-19.
Here are therefore 16 DIY Hacks for a Healthier Food Environment at Home (in a checklist sequence) within a reasonable price range:
1) Identify Food Allergies & find Alternative Food Options
An allergic reaction occurs when our immune system sends antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE) to help us fight against potential threats from entering into our body, which leads us to develop “symptoms most often in the nose, lungs, throat, sinuses, ears, lining of the stomach or on the skin” (AAAAI, 2020).
Some common food allergens include Peanuts/Nuts; Gluten; and Lactose. To be on the safe side, ask your family doctor for a food allergy test, which is typically covered by a standard health insurance plan (in Ontario, Canada, it is the OHIP).
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2) Avoid purchasing Deep Fried Foods
Deep fried food is bad for you because this process of cooking changes the chemical composition of the food, resulting in the stripping away of natural nutrients. Furthermore, deep frying requires the use of oil, which adds additional calories and trans fats into the meal, thus increasing our risk to obesity, inflammation, and cardiovascular diseases.
Consider alternative cooking methods, such as air-frying or oven-frying and use healthier oils like coconut, olive or avocado when needed.
3) Avoid purchasing Food that do not have an Ingredient Label
Food ingredient labels ensure that the consumer knows exactly what they are putting into their body. Without knowing, a food product could potentially cause severe harm to a person’s health.
If a food product does contain an ingredient label, a general rule of thumb is to avoid food which contain names that sound overly complicated and/or ones that you cannot pronounce.
4) Avoid & Limit purchasing Food containing Artificial Ingredients
Artificial Ingredients are used for a variety of purposes, as flavor enhancers, liquid thickener or as a preservative.
Below are a list of common yet harmful artificial ingredients that should be avoided entirely, as well as ones that should be limited.
Harmful, avoid consuming entirely:
Sodium Nitrite (found in packaged meats; carcinogenic)
High-Fructose Corn Syrup (high carb; empty calories; causes weight gain & diabetes)
Carrageenan (thickener & preservative; spikes insulin & causes ulcers)
Sodium Benzoate (found in liquids; when consumed with Vitamin C, forms the carcinogenic Benzene in the body)
Trans Fats (found in most junk food; causes inflammation, diabetes & heart disease)
Artificial flavoring (chemically designed; effects to be studied)
Hydrogenated Oils (flavor enhancer in junk food; causes insulin spikes & heart disease)
Limit in consumption:
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) (flavor enhancer)
Artificial Food Coloring (can be an allergen)
Guar Gum (thickener for liquids; causes bloating)
Artificial Sweeteners. (causes bloating)
Xanthan Gum (thickener for liquids; causes digestive issues)
Yeast Extract (food additive; high in sodium and contains glutamate, which can cause headaches)
5) Avoid purchasing Food that do not have a Nutritional label
Knowing how many calories there are in food helps mitigate overeating and unwanted weight gain, which ultimately can affect many parts of our health and well-being.
Nutritional labels should therefore indicate the following four basic parameters:
Macronutrients (Protein, Carbohydrates and Fat)
Estimated Daily requirements
Total Sugar Content
6) Avoid purchasing Beverages or Food with more than 25g of Sugar, except from Fruits
The WHO recommends that 5% of our total daily intake of 2000 calories (the average for a typical adult) can contain 25 grams of sugar, excluding sugar from fruits. The reason for this exception is that food or beverages with sugar contain little to no micronutrients whereas fruit does.
This recommendation also protects adults and children from diabetes and obesity, which is often associated with the overconsumption of sugar.
7) Make use of SMART food tracking apps
Free apps such as MyFitnessPal not only allows you to track your total daily calories, but also your macronutrient goals right at the palm of your hands. Furthermore, food that have barcodes can be scanned using your phone’s camera, which can then be entered into your food diary in the app.
You may also create your own recipes and enter your ingredients via the app's internal database so that its macronutrient profile and total calories can be calculated.
8) Purchase and make use of Kitchen Essentials
Having the proper tools and equipment in a kitchen makes healthy eating easier to achieve. A well-equipped kitchen also makes a healthy lifestyle easier to maintain in the long run.
WELL v2 suggests the following checklist for a standard kitchen set-up:
Cold storage (fridges, cold room)
Sink for dishwashing
Microwave / Toaster Oven
Reusable utensils (spoons, forks, knives)
Microwave safe plates & cups
9) Designate an Eating Space that is comfortable to eat at
A designated eating space is important because it forces us to get up, to take a rest and to separate eating from working within the same space.
It also encourages us to socialize, which is important for our mental and emotional well-being as well.
10) Dedicate at least 30 minutes to eat per Meal
Dedicating time to eat is important because it allows us to take a break from working and sitting.
Aim for 30 minute meal breaks for at least three meals a day; for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
11) Purchase Food & Ingredients that encourage a Well-Balanced Meal
Having a well-balanced diet means incorporating each of the five food groups into our meals, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy.
This is important because it ensures that our bodies get all the essential macro and micronutrients in order for it to perform optimally.
For more information about each food group, refer to this article here.
12) Incorporate Whole Grains into your regular Diet
Cost: $5 (average price for whole grain items)
Whole grains such as quinoa, oats and buckwheat are healthier for us than refined grains because they digest more slowly in our body as a result of it containing the entire grain, which are the bran, germ and endosperm.
Not only does the extra fiber from the whole grains keep us more satiated than refined grains, but it will prevent us from eating more while also sustaining our blood sugar and energy levels.
13) Purchase Sustainably Sourced / Certified Organic Food when possible
Certified Organic are foods that meet the minimum production requirements set out by the Canadian Organic Standards and bear the Canada Organic Logo. Certification is delivered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
Similarly, foods that are Sustainably Sourced may be labelled as Fair Trade, Local Food Plus, Certified Biodynamic, Rainforest Alliance Certified, among many others. Check your local regulations for food and do your research on subsequent labels.
As a rule of thumb, WELL v2 suggests that we incorporate the following for the benefit of our well-being per grocery run:
"50% of all fruits and vegetables are Certified Organic or Sustainably Sourced
25% of meats are Certified Organic or Sustainably Sourced, and is Certified Humane" (WELL v2, 2018)
14) Place Fruits on Counters
When foods are placed in our visible range, we often gravitate towards them and want to eat them, especially when they are presented nicely.
By placing fruits on our countertops, it reminds us to reach for a healthy snack than for junk food in our cupboards.
15) Learn how to Cook using Meal Prep Services or Online Resources
Cost: $90 to $150 for 12 meals
If you are short on time in doing your groceries, consider subscribing to meal prep services like HelloFresh, GoodFood or LiveFitFoods. These services deliver all the ingredients right to your door and come with instructions on how to prepare your recipes, many of which are quick, easy and delicious to make.
Consider trying each at least once as there are typically discounts for first time purchasers.
16) Grow an Indoor Garden with Food- or Herb-bearing Plants
Cost: $20 (plants with a cheap pot) to $100 (fancier indoor garden planter)
Nothing is safer to consume than edible-bearing plants that are grown by yourself.
Consider getting a few for your kitchen space, especially herbs such as oregano, chives, mint, rosemary, and thyme as they are relatively easy to grow indoors year round.