Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


9 Comments

A Food Policy for Canada Doesn’t Offer Much to Chew On

Screen Shot 2019-06-21 at 8.48.32 PM

You may have heard that Canada released a food policy last week. Which is great but it seems to be light on specifics and really just a bunch of food-related budget items grouped together and called a policy.

There were a few things in the policy that I was pleased to see: the government’s “intention” to work with the provinces and territories to develop a national school food program. This is long overdue and much needed. A universal  school food program would ensure that children had the nutrition that they need to learn and grow (at least during the school day) and would help alleviate some of the burden on parents who may not have sufficient income or resources to ensure their children have healthy breakfasts and lunches. Unfortunately, I don’t see any money marked for this item and as we head into an election, forgive me if I sound cynical in my “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude. I’m also concerned about who will be involved in developing such a program as we don’t want to fall into the trap of promoting brands or providing unappealing, less than nutritious meals – like we often hear about from our neighbours in the States.

I was happy to see money going toward promoting locally grown and produced foods as well as toward preventing food fraud. However, despite the budget lines devoted to these items sounding huge to me as a dietitian who works with a budget that’s a fraction of these amounts, in the big picture of the government, it’s not very much money at all. They’ve marked $25 million for a buy local produce campaign and $24.4 million to combat food fraud. Contrast this with the $12 million they gave to Loblaw to retrofit their fridges a few months ago.

The part that I’m most disappointed by is the first item mentioned in the policy introduction and that’s their so-called efforts to reduce food insecurity. The example they give is of providing a grant to a food bank so that they can buy more freezers. Are. You. Kidding. Me. Food insecurity is something that I would have loved to have seen this policy address more fulsomely. Unfortunately, they really missed the mark on this important issue. Yes, in some communities and some circumstances, access to sufficient nutritious food is absolutely an issue. However, in the vast majority of cases of Canadians who are experiencing food insecurity the root cause is insufficient income. There are people in every community across the country who cannot afford enough nutritious food for themselves and their families. Continuing to support the food charity model (i.e. food banks) is not the answer. Give the people of Canada a basic income. Empower people to be able to afford to make their own food decisions. Food banks provide an essential emergency service but they were never intended to be permanent solutions to hunger and poverty. Providing more money for food banks only further entrenches them in our food system and society and allows the government to get off easy without making any meaningful effort to end food insecurity.


4 Comments

Canada’s not-so-innovative strategy to achieve healthy weights

static1.squarespace

A few weeks ago, to little fanfare, the government of Canada announced an “Innovation Strategy” to achieve healthy weights in Canada. My coworker alerted me to it and got me going out on a rant on a Friday afternoon. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some good stuff in here: promoting active neighbourhoods to increase access to green spaces and encourage active transportation, promoting traditional foods, and early childhood interventions for priority populations. However, for the most part I was hugely underwhelmed by the strategy.

Most of the initiatives involved some form or other of food charity, such as expanding the community food centre model. While I appreciate the CFCs efforts to improve on the traditional food bank through the addition of cooking programs, gardens, and social inclusion, when it comes down to it, they’re still a charitable organization doing the work that our government should be doing. These programs also still put the onus on the individual to seek out and access the available services, rather than implementing programs that would be universally available. Also, I understand the desire to target people living on low incomes and experiencing food insecurity but I don’t believe that obesity and unhealthy lifestyles are something that only affect that population.

I know that it would be more complicated than throwing some money at some existing programs but I think that there are many things that the government could have chosen to do that would have a much greater impact on the health of Canadians. How about a national school lunch program? This would reach every child in school without stigma and would ensure that children had the nutrition needed to learn and grow. How about bringing back mandatory home economics or teaching food literacy in schools and supporting school gardens? Yes, I realize that the curriculum is under provincial jurisdiction but there must be some way to get this back in schools. That would ensure that all children learned food skills rather than just those attending limited classes. As we know, food skills are lacking across all income levels in Canada and are not just an issue for those living in poverty. How about subsidizing fresh vegetables and fruit making it easier for Canadians to afford these nutritious foods? I know that this one is working its way through government right now, but how about putting a ban on marketing to children? And not just “junk” food but all food as we know that children (and even teens, and let’s face it, adults) are ill-equipped to contend with the marketing abilities of the food industry (possibly more on this next week). How about increasing access to registered dietitians so that people who want to speak with a RD can do so? How about collaborating with doctors, farmers markets, and grocery stores to enable all physicians to “prescribe” vegetables and fruit? These initiatives would have far greater reach and impact than the ones selected by the government. It really makes me wonder who’s informing these decisions there and it enrages me that our governments continue to throw our money at piecemeal initiatives that are unlikely to make any significant long-term change in our health.


5 Comments

Why we need to stop with the meat and alternatives

Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 2.10.10 PM.png

Ever since the new Food Guide consultations began the dairy and beef industries have been pushing back hard. They’re afraid that if the traditional food groups are dismantled, and if the food guide encourages people to consume more plant-based sources of protein, as has been put forward in the consultation, that there will be decreased consumption of dairy and beef. It’s understandable that they would want to protect their interests. After all, going from being featured prominently in the current (and previous versions) of the Food Guide with food groups named: Milk and alternatives and Meat and alternatives, to receiving little-to-no mention is a bitter pill to swallow. On the other hand, it’s a hugely positive step for the health and wellness of Canadians.

You see, words matter. “Alternative” is generally different than the norm. According to the dictionary, the definition of alternative is, “one of two or more available possibilities.” By naming food groups “Meat and Alternatives” and “Milk and Alternatives” we’ve positioned animal products as the norm and plant-based sources of similar nutrients as differing from the norm or abnormal. This positioning makes it sound like meat and milk are the front-runners and the “alternatives” runners up. This does a disservice to the health and budgets of many Canadians, particularly those living on low incomes, as meat is positioned as something to aspire to and the “alternatives” (which are often more affordable options such as beans, lentils, and tofu) as inferior.

I think that the standard Canadian home-cooked meal is often some variation on meat and potatoes. Having taught cooking classes for people living on low incomes for the past few years I have found that even if participants are open to trying new foods and recipes they are often unable to sell their family members on beans and lentils and other more affordable sources of protein. One of the few negative pieces of feedback we receive is that participants would like more meat in the meals we prepare. For many reasons we emphasize vegetables and “alternative” sources of protein in our classes. Among those reasons are: nutrition, food safety, variety, and affordability. Meat is generally one of the more expensive foods at the grocery store. By creating the impression that meals centred around meat are something to aspire to we’ve really done a disservice to Canadians. The majority of us don’t consume even the minimum recommended servings of vegetables and fruit each day and don’t consume enough fibre.

Milk is widely encouraged as a beverage with meals, on cereal, with snacks, and for sports recovery. It’s been positioned as the beverage for growing children and for seniors for bone health. While not quite as costly as meat, serving for serving, it’s still a pricey beverage in comparison to water and many other drinks. Setting aside vitamin D, which milk is fortified with, there are many other sources of the nutrients we commonly consume milk to obtain. Calcium is found in many leafy green vegetables, tofu, beans, nuts, and seeds. Protein is found in beans, lentils, eggs, nuts, seeds, and tofu.

All this to say, that despite the push-back, I think that (if Canadians pay attention to the new Food Guide when it’s released) ditching the current configuration of food groups, or even just the current naming of food groups, will be beneficial to the health and pocketbooks of most of us. If we stop seeing plant-based sources of protein as “alternative” and start recognizing them for their delicious value then maybe we can get out of that meat and potatoes mentality and start enjoying a wider variety of nutritious meals.


3 Comments

An open letter to police departments

To Whom it May Concern,

I see that the Ontario Provincial Police, and I’m sure many other police departments across North America, are offering “positive tickets” to youth this summer. These tickets are coupons for free “frosters” a slushie/slurpee beverage from a convenience store chain.

I applaud the police for endeavouring to create positive relationships with children and youth. Police provide an essential service to our communities that is often overshadowed by newsworthy acts of violence, aggression, and intimidation. By fostering positive connections to young people it is more likely that these youth will continue to maintain good relationships with police into adulthood. A good relationship between the police and the community better serves everyone.

A 12oz Mac’s froster contains approximately 222 calories all of which come from its 52 grams (13 teaspoons) of sugar. There are no other nutrients in this beverage. The World Health Organization recommends that consumption of “free sugars” (i.e. added sugars and those found in beverages like fruit juice) be limited to 5% of total calorie consumption per day. This equates to about 5-8 teaspoons of sugar per day for preteens and teenagers. As you can see, just that one froster alone contains about twice the daily recommended limit for free sugars. Excess free sugar can contribute to dental caries. Inadequate consumption of nutrients, due to displacement by nutrient lacking sugary foods and beverages, or excessive consumption of calories resulting from frequent consumption of sugary beverages may result in malnutrition, including obesity, and contribute to the development of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

In addition, using food as a reward can lead to a life-long unhealthy relationship with food. Tying behaviour and emotion to food can result in children using food as a maladaptive coping mechanism as they get older.

I urge you to consider offering a healthier (non-food) alternative to these “positive tickets”. Why not partner with a local community centre to offer free swimming passes? Or a local park to offer free entry? Other options include: movie tickets, tickets to see a local sports team. I’m sure that with a little promotion that many local businesses would be happy to offer rewards in the region(s) you serve. This initiative provides both positive publicity for the police and for the organization donating the “prizes”. Do the health of the youth a favour and support local businesses while you’re at it. This would truly be a positive direction for the police and the community.

Thank you for your consideration.

A concerned dietitian


Leave a comment

Follow Friday: Bay of Quinte Art & Wine @BoQ_Art_Wine

LeqxvNDb_400x400.jpg

If you’re in the Belleville area on June 10th you should probably check out the Bay of Quinte Art & Wine Festival happening downtown. There will be local artists showing and selling their works. While perusing the art, you can sample local wine (or beer) and have a snack from a local food vendor, and enjoy the sounds of the Quinte Symphony.

The festival is taking place from 10 am to 8 pm to suit morning and evening people alike. For the latest info about this event, follow them on twitter at @BoQ_Art_Wine. If you’re an artist, food vendor, or beverage producer and would like to get involved, I believe that they still have spaces available so get in touch with them via their website or social media.

The lovely image used on the banner of the BOQ Art& Wine website is of a painting by my talented neighbour (and cat sitter extraordinaire) Claudette Belanger.