By Kathryn McLean

In January’s issue I shared that a friend changed her household’s diet after a health scare and I wrote about achieving a healthy diet. This month the discussion will focus on healthy recommendations for whole grains and protein.

Canada’s Heart and Stroke website and Canada’s Food Guide recommendations point us towards a healthy diet for heart health and overall health. A healthy diet should include protein, but limit red meat. We are urged to add whole grains to our meals. Let me expand on this advice.

Protein foods include animal-based foods like meat, chicken, fish and shellfish, and eggs. But also vegetarian (plant-based) options such as tofu, nuts, dried beans and legumes.

But if you love beef, how do you replace it with more chicken, fish and vegetarian proteins?

Consider the flavourings you like to add to your beef, and try applying them to healthier options. Instead of beef shawarma or beef tacos, marinate fish in those same spice mixes. You won’t trick anyone into thinking halibut is beef, but you might enjoy the fish more if it tastes like a dish you already like.

Does your family love beef chili with veggies and beans? You don’t have to completely eliminate the beef and go straight to vegetarian chili. Reduce the beef in the recipe by half and replace it with additional veggies and beans.

Tofu is a plant-based protein; try adding cubes to a stir fry or stew in place of chicken.

What are dried beans and legumes? Dried beans are the bagged dry beans in packages, and the canned precooked beans at the grocery store. Examples include black, kidney and pinto beans. Not baked beans with added sugar, just beans packed in their cooking liquid. Not fresh or frozen green beans either.

Legumes include lentils, chickpeas and peanuts. If you’re not used to eating these vegetarian options, start small. Add some red lentils to a soup, stew or sauce you already know and like.

Maybe you like kidney beans, but only ever eat them in soup. Check your cookbooks (or the internet) and find a simple recipe for garlicky bean dip. Serve it with fresh crisp veggies or go ahead and spread it on a sandwich – preferably made with whole grain bread.

Experts advise choosing whole grains over processed ones. For example, brown or wild rice over white rice, and whole wheat breads in place of white.

Here are a few more whole grains you can try to include in your meals: oats, quinoa, rye, barley, corn and popcorn. Try making or buying multigrain and whole wheat breads.

Including whole grains in your diet can be as simple as adding some barley to your soup, or replacing rice with quinoa at dinner one night.

Examples of processed grains include commercially prepared muffins and baked goods, seasoned rice packets, and (white) pasta with powdered flavouring kits. Try to limit these products: replace the rice packets by adding spices and dry herbs to steamed rice; make your own muffins, using half whole wheat flour in place of all white flour.

Old habits die hard. That’s something my friend stressed when we spoke about how her changes were going. I understand that. We’re creatures of habit.

But new habits will stick, too. Start with a small change or two that you think will be easiest. Then build on it, experimenting as you go. My friend’s family is having success and you will, too.