Healthy Living in the North

Northern Table: Eating well when living alone

Amelia eating alone, takes a bite of food.

Canada’s Food Guide says to “Eat Meals with Others.” What about those who live, and eat, solo?

The newest edition of Canada’s Food Guide focuses on the “hows” of eating just as much as the “whats.” One of the recommendations is to eat meals with others – but what does that mean for those of us who live, and eat, solo?

Eating together is best for our health

Food is one of life’s great pleasures. When we share a meal with others, we share our joy, companionship, heritage, and life experiences. People typically eat more vegetables and fruit when eating with others, and the social connections that we create around food are so special (I personally love the message behind this video). There are good reasons that the Food Guide suggests this practice; however, many people experience loneliness and do not always have that privilege. It can be hard to be motivated to cook interesting, healthy, and enjoyable meals for one person – especially when you know you’re doing all the clean up as well!

The effects of loneliness

Loneliness can exist for people in many different ways. For instance, some people live in one-person households, while others live with family or friends, but have challenging work schedules. Feeling lonely, no matter the circumstances, can impact your ability to engage in health-supportive practices and can affect overall health. Some studies suggest that loneliness is more damaging to our health than other risky behaviors, such as smoking.

Staying connected when living alone

I live in a single-person household and am faced with loneliness at times. From keeping on top of household chores to taking time to prepare and eat healthy meals, loneliness can make day-to-day tasks more challenging. I’ve learned that living and eating alone doesn’t have to be all leftover leftovers, microwave meals, take-out, and eating over the sink. What has worked for me is finding ways to simply and quickly feed my “family of one” meals that are nutritious and enjoyable, and to plan to share food with others when possible.

Strategies I use for eating well when living alone

  • I batch cook, but keep meals simple so I can switch things up. Over the weekend, I batch cook simple proteins and whole grains that can be served in different ways throughout the week by changing up the spices, sauces, and presentation. Using frozen fruits and vegetables helps cut down on prep and cooking time, and allows for variety throughout the week. Batch cooking also helps me reduce cleanup time – a real bonus in my books!
  • I keep in mind “quickie” meals that I can make in a hurry. These fast meals more or less follow the “healthy plate” in Canada’s Food Guide, and can save time and money versus ordering in or relying on highly-processed convenience foods. Staples for me are:
    • Breakfast for dinner.
    • A taco salad of canned black beans and corn with other veggies and Tex-Mex spices.
    • A sandwich, piled high with my favourite ingredients like chicken, spinach, avocado, and sliced apples.
  • I plan to eat with others when I can. My friends and I get together a few times a month to share meals. It could be potluck-style or one person can host everyone, or we may choose to gather around a table of take-out pizza or sushi. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, but we all enjoy it! For me, eating with others also means carving out the time in my work day to eat meals with coworkers in the lunchroom, and occasionally planning potluck lunches or other special meals at work.
  • I set up the right environment for myself. When I’m eating alone at home, I find that I’m better able to enjoy my meal and eat mindfully (two other Canada’s Food Guide recommendations) when I’m at my dining room table and I’m listening to an audiobook or a podcast. Watching television can be too distracting, and eating in silence feels isolating to me. When the weather is nice, I might take my meal to eat outside.

Putting it all together

Canada’s Food Guide offers tips on how you can eat together with others more often. It even gives special considerations for families and seniors. We all experience variations in our eating habits. These day-to-day variations cause normal fluctuations in the amounts and types of foods that we choose and eat. The healthy eating habits, such as eating together, that we practise can also change from day to day.

We all experience “normal eating” a little differently. Your “normal” might be eating most meals alone or practising self-care by preparing nutritious foods you enjoy. If that’s the case, consider including others at your table. It could bring valuable benefits to your health!

Want to learn more about the Canada’s Food Guide? Here’s what Northern Health’s dietitians are saying about it.

Amelia Gallant

About Amelia Gallant

Amelia is a Primary Care Dietitian living and working in Fort St. John. Born and raised near St. John's, Newfoundland, she made her cross-country journey to northern BC in 2017 and is delighted to see comforts of home in the kindness of the people she meets and their love of the outdoors - even in the long and snowy winters. Forever a foodie, Amelia's the one at your dinner table trying to snap the perfect picture, or trying to replicate the latest food trends in her kitchen. As a dietitian, she hopes to simplify the mixed nutrition messaging and help people re-learn to enjoy their eating experience while supporting their healthy living goals.

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Mindful eating: 4 practical strategies you can do at work

A person holds a white plate of food. On the left of the plate is pasta noodles with spinach, on the right is a chicken breast covered in chunks of tomato.

Mindful eating focuses on paying attention to the eating experience.

Do you eat lunch at your desk? Eat until you are uncomfortably full? Inhale your meals?

If this sounds like you, keep reading — this blog post is all about how to incorporate mindful eating into your work day!

What is mindful eating?

Mindful eating focuses on paying attention to the eating experience. The focus is more on how to eat, and less on what to eat. In practising mindful eating, the goal is to be present, use all of the senses (seeing, tasting, hearing, smelling, and feeling) without judgment, and to notice the emotional and physical responses that take place before, during, and after eating.

Why is mindful eating important?

Becoming more mindful while eating can bring awareness to your own unique habits, thoughts, and feelings around food. I know I fall victim to eating at my desk and working through lunch to try to “catch up” with a never-ending to-do list, or parking myself on the couch to watch Netflix and eat a bowl full of snacks. I know I’m not the only one!

Eating in these moments becomes mindless, not enjoyable, and provides a sense that eating is not important. But, eating is important! Not only does it nourish our bodies with the vital nutrients we need to survive, it provides us with enjoyment and an opportunity to appreciate food and regain food freedom.

Making time to eat helps productivity

Making time to just eat instead of also working during your breaks can help you be more productive at work. Taking a break and focusing on something else while you eat nourishing food can help you recharge your brain, reduce stress, and get you ready for the next item on your daily to-do list.

How to eat mindfully at work

Practising mindful eating at work can be challenging, but the routine of our job provides an opportunity to incorporate mindful eating as part of your own daily routine. Here are four strategies that you can do to practise mindful eating in the workplace:

  1. Be present – Put your phone down and step away from your computer. Most things can wait 15-30 minutes while you eat your snacks or lunch. Your breaks are built into your day, so use them to recharge! Eat with friends or find a quiet place to enjoy your own company while focusing on your eating.
  2. Listen to your hunger and fullness cues – Once you get to work, pay attention to when you start to feel hungry. If your breaks are flexible, try eating when you are truly hungry. Then try to eat until you’re satisfied, but not stuffed. Do you have food left over? Are you still hungry and looking for more to eat? Adjust what you bring in your lunch box tomorrow to meet your hunger needs.
  3. Eat slowly – Give your body time to recognize that you’re feeding it. This can take up to 20 minutes — whoa! Taking your time can help you eat until you’re satisfied, instead of hungry or uncomfortably full. Try eating your lunch slowly by chewing thoroughly and noticing how the food is making you feel.
  4. Engage your senses – For the first five bites of your meal, notice how the food tastes, feels in your mouth, smells, sounds, and looks. What do you think? Are you enjoying what you’re eating? You may be surprised with your thoughts!

Take action!

Pick one strategy from above that resonates with you. Write it down on a piece of paper, your note app, or set it as a daily reminder on your phone or in your Outlook or Google calendar.

Every day for the next week practice this one strategy. Remember, mindful eating is a practice, and it may be something that is completely different than your norm. Don’t fret! If you lose track, or get distracted, acknowledge it and then try again. It will get easier!

Have you tried these strategies and are looking to build a better relationship with food? Talk to a dietitian who can help you with your individual needs!

  • There are dietitians in various communities across Northern Health. A referral may be required. Talk to your health care provider to learn more.
  • BC residents can also access Dietitian Services at HealthLink BC, by calling 8-1-1 (or 604-215-8110 in some areas) and asking to speak with a dietitian.
Erin Branco

About Erin Branco

Erin is a dietitian who works with residents in long term care homes in Prince George. She is passionate about supporting residents’ quality of life as well as fostering their reconnection to food. In her spare time, you can find her with her family and friends, enjoying a meal, playing in the garden, camping or supporting clients in her private practice. She loves being a part of making positive change in healthcare, and is an advocate for providing best practice nutrition support to our northern communities.

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Northern Table: An Elder’s impact on community food security

Elder Semiguul sits on a boat, smiling at the camera.

Metlakalta Elder Semiguul (Fanny Nelson).

Not having enough food to eat affects one in six children living in Canada. This can impact a child’s physical, mental, and social health.

The effects of food insecurity on health

Household food insecurity” means not having access to food because of inadequate income, and it’s connected to negative health and well-being. Those who experience food insecurity are at an increased risk for health conditions such as diabetes, asthma, depression, and suicidal thoughts [1]. However, amidst these challenges, there are people who are making a difference in building community and household food security.

One Elder making a difference

Elder Semiguul (Fanny Nelson) is from Metlakatla, a First Nations community near Prince Rupert. Metlakatla’s population is about 80 people and it’s only accessible by boat or plane. Semiguul’s parents taught her how to harvest traditional foods (gathering seaweed, digging clams, and picking berries) as well as how to prepare them.

Today, Semiguul regularly takes family and community members with her when she goes harvesting. Back at home, she prepares these foods and teaches others how to prepare them too.

“I teach them to gather and put away enough food to last, so that they don’t have a tough time in the winter months,” says Semiguul.

Semiguul and another person are on a rock shore, looking for food. Semiguul is handing down a bucket.

Semiguul regularly takes family and community members with her when she harvests traditional foods.

Learning from our Elders

Elders have a lot to teach us about how to live off the land and waters, and about values such as generosity and caring for the environment. Reigniting harvesting strategies that have worked for millennia is called Indigenous food sovereignty. It’s an important part of ensuring community members have access to healthy foods that are sustainable and build community self-reliance (community food security).

First Nations traditional foods

First Nations traditional foods are nutritious and some have been used by Elders for generations.

“My mom told me that black currants would reduce a fever,” shares Semiguul. “I have put a spoon of black currant jam in water and it works. The fever goes down. I also gave seaweed daily to someone who had low iron and it helped.”

Respecting traditional territory and teachings

If you want to gather foods from the land, it’s important to speak with Elders or the local First Nation on whose traditional territory you are on, to learn about respectful food gathering practices. For example, Semiguul shares with children, “only take want you need to last from season to season. Break off the ends of the seaweed and leave it there as it is the seed for next year.”

More food security information

Here are some other programs that are building community food security in the region:

If you’d like to learn more about household food insecurity, take a look this three-part blog series on household food insecurity:

  1. What is household food insecurity?
  2. Food costing in BC
  3. A call to action

[1] PROOF food insecurity policy research.

Victoria Carter

About Victoria Carter

Victoria works in Northern Health's Aboriginal health program as the lead for engagement and integration. She is an adopted member of the Nisga’a nation and was given the name “Nox Aama Goot” which means “mother of good heart.” In her work she sees herself as an ally working together with Aboriginal people across the north to improve access to quality health care. She keeps herself well by honouring the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of her life through spending time with her friends and family, being in nature and working on her own personal growth.

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The Northern Table: Farm to School BC blossoms in the Northwest

People creating a garden.

Students working the school garden at Smithers Secondary School.

How do you get students excited about healthy, local food? According to Farm to School BC, the winning formula is simple: get students involved by providing opportunities to grow, prepare, taste, and explore healthy, local food!

Established in 2007, Farm to School BC (F2SBC) is a diverse and expanding provincial program that works to support healthy eating and sustainable regional food systems. This is done by working to have local food in schools, providing hands-on learning activities, and building school-community connections. Farm to School BC programs are tailored to the interests and needs of each school and community.

To date, F2SBC has supported 33 Farm to School initiatives across Northern BC, and is committed to supporting and inspiring even more programs across the region. Recognizing the need to provide on-the-ground support, the Northwest Regional Hub was launched, with Margo Peill as the Hub’s Community Animator.

A tray of sprouting plants.

A classroom project at Ecole Mountainview in Terrace, BC.

The Northwest Hub includes the geographic areas of the Coast Mountains School District (#82) and the Bulkley Valley School District (#54). Margo will be working with schools, farmers, and community partners to strengthen local partnerships and networks that will support sustainable F2SBC programs in the years to come.

I caught up with Margo to learn more about Farm to School BC in the Northwest, and some of the exciting opportunities she is supporting! Here’s what Margo had to say!

What are some examples of current Farm to School initiatives in the region?

We have some fantastic projects happening in the Northwest region! Each school develops their own unique projects that work within their school and community. Some projects include:

  • Cultivating bountiful school gardens
  • Experimenting with tower gardening and microgreens in the classroom
  • Incubating and hatching chicks
  • Dehydrating fruit gathered from their community for school snacks
  • Salad bar programs
  • Field trips to forage traditional and wild foods

The projects really do look different in each school, and so far, that is something we’ve seen the Northwest Hub really excelling at — coming up with creative solutions to incorporate Farm to School BC projects into the curriculum and classroom!

Can you tell me more about your role and the role of the F2SBC Northwest Regional Hub?

We’re really excited to take a community development approach to growing Farm to School BC programs in the Northwest region. Through the Northwest Regional Hub, we’ll be building networks, growing strong relationships with community partners, supporting their initiatives, and working to secure additional funding and support for the Northwest Hub.

One of our core values is to support school and community connectedness, so we really want to ensure that teachers and school champions have a strong network around them to help support the sustainability and growth of their projects. We’ll be hosting learning circles, professional development days, networking events, and an annual spring celebration to highlight and share the inspiring work that is happening here in the Northwest region.

How can local community members and groups get involved in Farm to School activities?

We are always looking for collaborations, even unlikely ones! On May 22, we’ll be hosting an official Northwest Hub launch and networking event at Cassie Hall Elementary (2620 Eby St., Terrace). Everyone is welcome to attend, share, and learn more about Farm to School BC programs while making community connections. The event will take place from 4:30 pm to 6 pm and some light refreshments will be provided. We look forward to seeing you there!

 

Note: Farm to School BC is administered by the Public Health Association of BC and supported by the Province of British Columbia and the Provincial Health Services Authority.

Emilia Moulechkova

About Emilia Moulechkova

Originally from the Lower Mainland, Emilia started her career with Northern Health as a dietetic intern in 2013. Since then, she has worked in a variety of roles as a Registered Dietitian with the population health team. In her current role, she supports schools across the north in their efforts to promote healthy eating. Emilia is passionate about food’s role in bringing people and communities together, and all the ways it can support physical, mental, and social health. Her overall philosophy on healthy eating can be summarized by this Ellyn Satter quote: “When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.” In her spare time, she loves exploring the beautiful northern outdoors by foot, skis, bike, or canoe!

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The Northern Table: It sat on my kitchen counter for a year – and then I ate it

An opened spaghetti squash and the inside 'noodles' in a dish.

Spaghetti squash will keep on the counter for a lot longer than you might think!

I love vegetables that keep. I’m thinking of things like cabbages, onions, carrots, potatoes, beets, and other root vegetables. These hearty vegetables can live in our kitchens for a long time without spoiling, giving us more chances to fit them into recipes and our busy lives.

Last year I discovered that spaghetti squash can be added to the list of foods that last a REALLY long time. We had gotten quite a few squashes from our local community supported agriculture project, but I’ll admit it: I was not well versed in how to use these foods. Therefore, they sat on my counter, tucked away behind the fruit bowl, and were neglected for quite some time. Some got eaten, some spoiled, and some continued to patiently wait for their fate to be decided.

Then fall rolled around again, and with that came more freshly harvested squashes. It was then that I realized that some of the previous year’s spaghetti squashes were STILL sitting on my counter! Embarrassing, I know. So one day I thought, “Well, these can’t possibly be good anymore,” but I sliced one open just to be sure.

To my great surprise, it was… pristine. So I put it upside down in a baking dish with about an inch of water, and baked it in the oven for about 40 minutes. When I sampled it, it had a lovely texture and tasted great! I used a fork to pull the “meat” out of the shell, breaking it apart into its tell-tale “spaghetti” strings. I served it with dinner, simply dressed with a little butter, salt, and pepper. Yum!

What a forgiving, hearty vegetable! You can bet that I’ll be keeping an eye out for more spaghetti squash in the future. In the meantime, there are still two left on my counter from last fall, one of which will likely be used for a spaghetti squash “pasta” dish.

How do YOU like to eat spaghetti squash?

Read more about squash in past posts:

Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health team, where her work focuses on nutrition in the early years. She is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. Her passion for food extends beyond her work, and her young family enjoys cooking, local foods, and lazy gardening. In her free time, you might also find her exploring beautiful northwest BC by foot, ski, kayak or kite.

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Milk and young children: what you need to know

A child with a cup of milk.In a recent post, I explored how milk and fortified soy beverages fit into the new food guide. Did you know that Canada’s food guide is intended for Canadians two years of age and older? Guidance for feeding infants and toddlers is more specific. Today, let’s take a closer look at feeding advice related to milk and young children.

Breastfeeding is recommended to two years and beyond

For as long as children continue to receive breast milk, they don’t need milk from cows (or goats) or other alternatives. Moms can be assured that their own milk is the best choice for their child, for as long as they and their child wish to continue breastfeeding.

Formula? When to switch to cow’s milk

Older babies who do not receive breast milk can usually switch from a store-bought infant formula to cow’s milk between 9-12 months of age (if you have questions about infant formula, speak with your healthcare provider).

Introducing animal milk

Do you want to offer your child cow’s or goat’s milk? Consider these tips:

  • Wait until your baby is 9-12 months of age and eating iron-rich foods
  • Choose a pasteurized, full-fat (homogenized or 3.25% M.F.) milk that is not flavoured or sweetened. Goat’s milk should be fortified with vitamin D.
  • Offer milk in an open cup, at meal or snack times.

Beverages to avoid for children less than two years old

Lower fat milks (i.e. 2%, 1%, and skim milk) are too low in fat and calories for young children. Plant-based beverages, such as soy, almond, rice, coconut, and hemp drinks, are also low in calories and other important nutrients. The Canadian Pediatric Society and Dietitians of Canada released a statement advising parents against providing these drinks to young children.

Fortified soy beverages are an option for older children

For children two years and older, fortified soy beverage is the only plant-based drink that is nutritious enough to be an alternative to milk. If your child doesn’t drink milk, consider offering about two cups per day of an unsweetened, fortified soy beverage.

Be cautious with other plant-based beverages

Beverages made from rice, almond, coconut, oat, hemp, cashew, etc. are low in protein and many other nutrients, though some store-bought products have vitamins and minerals added into them. If you choose to provide these drinks to children two years and older, make sure that they are eating a variety of nutritious foods and are growing well. Also, choose products that are unsweetened and fortified.

The bottom line

That’s a lot of nitty-gritty details about milk and young children! The table below organizes information by age group.

Age Recommendations
0-9 months · Breastfeed your baby.

· If you do not exclusively provide breast milk to your baby, offer a store-bought infant formula.

9-24 months · Continue to breastfeed your toddler.

· At 9-12 months of age, non-breastfed toddlers can transition from formula to pasteurized whole cow’s milk (3.25% M.F.) if they are regularly eating iron-rich solid foods. Offer two cups per day (no more than three cups). Full fat goat’s milk fortified with vitamin D is also an option.

· Vegetarian babies who drink formula, who will not be receiving cow or goat’s milk, should continue to receive a follow-up soy formula until 24 months of age.

2+ years · Continue to breastfeed for as long as you and your child wish.

· Children that no longer breastfeed or who don’t breastfeed very often can be offered pasteurized cow’s milk (whole, 2%, 1% or skim) or goat’s milk (fortified with vitamin D). Offer two cups per day (no more than three cups).

· Fortified soy beverages (unsweetened) also become an option at this age.

 

A dietitian can help you find ways to support your child’s nutritional needs.

  • There are dietitians in various communities across Northern Health. A referral may be required. Talk to your health care provider to learn more.
  • BC residents can also access Dietitian Services at HealthLink BC, by calling 8-1-1 (or 604-215-8110 in some areas) and asking to speak with a dietitian.
Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health team, where her work focuses on nutrition in the early years. She is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. Her passion for food extends beyond her work, and her young family enjoys cooking, local foods, and lazy gardening. In her free time, you might also find her exploring beautiful northwest BC by foot, ski, kayak or kite.

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Something old is new again! Using an Instant Pot at 80

Adele's mom standing with her Instant Pot.

Food traditions are an important part of healthy eating. Here, Adele’s mom finds the joy in modernizing her traditional baked bean recipe with her new Instant Pot!

I remember, as a child, watching my mother make baked beans in an old brown bean pot that stayed in the oven from morning until suppertime. She would soak the navy beans overnight in water and baking soda, rinse them, and then add all the ingredients into the pot to cook “low and slow” for at least 8 hours. The smell permeating through the house was fabulous and she would usually have fresh baked buns or bread to accompany them. As kids, we could hardly wait for those beans to be ready! Today, with the busy lifestyles of working families and multiple commitments, it’s difficult to prepare foods using traditional methods that are so time consuming. But now, we can have the best of both worlds, using new technology in the kitchen!

New technology makes a great gift

I got my mom an Instant Pot for Christmas because I loved mine so much and she was quite curious about it. After a couple of lessons, she felt comfortable enough to cook with it on her own and she did remind me, “I might be 80 something years old, but I’m not stupid and I have used a pressure cooker all my life!” Uh…sorry Mom. But I digress. So after trying her hand at cooking a couple of roasts using the searing function, and following my instructions to deglaze the pot to avoid the dreaded burn message, she wanted to branch out in her repertoire of Instant Pot skills.

Traditional baked beans: the Instant Pot version

I told my mom that I had made baked beans in my own Instant Pot a couple of times and that they were as good as the original version, but she seemed very skeptical that you could get the same great results in so little time. She was willing to give it a go though! Mom still insisted on soaking the beans overnight, not actually necessary for the Instant Pot, but she believes adding the baking soda helps to “de-fart” them (disclaimer: this cannot be proven!).

Here’s how we made the beans:

  • Dump beans in the pot, add water to just cover.
  • Throw in whatever other ingredients you like best in your baked beans. For us that was ketchup, onions, a bit of cut up pork, salt, pepper, a couple tablespoons of brown sugar and a squirt of hot sauce (my mom didn’t see me do that and would probably not have allowed it otherwise!). We sometimes add molasses too.
  • Put the lid on and make sure your lever is pointed towards the back (non-venting) and hit the “bean/chili” button which sets your timer for 30 minutes. If your Instant Pot doesn’t have that function, hit “pressure cook” and set the timer for 30 minutes. It takes about 10 minutes to come up to pressure, 30 minutes cooking time, and another 10 minutes on natural release.
  • After cooking, quick release the rest of the pressure and voila!

We got yummy, fully cooked, but not mushy, home baked beans that are every bit as good as those that have been baked in the old fashioned way. My dad ate three helpings, so I guess they turned out pretty good!

Lifelong learning in the kitchen

Mom and I have such fun learning new things in the kitchen together, with Dad overseeing and then critiquing our work! They are quickly becoming Instant Pot aficionados, and look forward to learning new ways to make traditional family recipes, that will save time and energy.

FYI, she still packs my lunch in a brown paper bag when I stay in Prince George for work. Sheesh!

Adele Bachand

About Adele Bachand

Adele has been in Operations Management for over 15 years. Prior to starting her career as a Long Term Care Manager, she was a Human Resources Management Professional in a variety of industries including retail, tourism, finance, and manufacturing. She is professionally educated and trained in the human resources field, and has a Bachelor of Administration and Management Certificates from Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology. She continues to improve her education and skills through a variety of methods including communications and team building through the BC Patient Safety Quality Council. Adele has completed the Core Linx Leadership program with Northern Health and the Patient Safety Officer training program through Healthcare Canada. Currently she has taken on a one-year relief position in Population and Preventive Public Health as the Regional Manager for Healthy Settings. This is providing her with a significant challenge learning about Healthy Communities, Healthy Schools and upstream thinking! One of Adele’s goals is to help provide our patients, residents, family, and community members with the safest care possible, while honouring their participation in person and family-centred care. She is also an advocate for mentoring and challenging staff to reach their full professional potential. Adele’s personal interests include gardening, her two dogs, and just about any kind of crafting where she can be creative! She has also become a fan of the adventures of side-by-side rides in the back woods of Quesnel.

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Canada’s new food guide: where did milk go?

The Canada's Food Guide and a jug of milk.In the lead up to the release of Canada’s new food guide, there was much chatter about milk, particularly around whether milk would be removed or not.

The food guide, which provides eating advice for healthy Canadians two years of age and older, was launched in January 2019 with a brand new look. The rainbow with the four food groups was replaced with a plate with three food categories: vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and protein foods. Something else appears to be different – a glass of water is shown with this plate. So, the question still remains: was milk wiped from the food guide?

Milk: still got it!

The new food guide features a section on the plate called protein foods, which combines foods from the older meat and alternatives, and milk and alternatives food groups. Protein foods include lentils, beans, chickpeas, tofu, nuts, seeds, meat, fish, and poultry. This is also where we now find milk and products like cheese, yogurt, and kefir (fermented milk), as well as unsweetened fortified soy beverages. As the name implies, these protein foods are all good sources of protein and various related nutrients.

Milk: a nutritious beverage

So, for those of you who enjoy milk, rest assured that this nutritious beverage can continue to have a place in your diet. There are good reasons that milk has stayed in our federal dietary guidance:

  • Milk is a great source of various nutrients, such as protein, vitamin B12, and calcium.
  • In Canada, cow’s milk is also fortified with vitamin D, a nutrient that is available in only a few foods.
  • Milk is also widely available and can be enjoyed with many other foods, making it an easy and versatile source of these key nutrients.

Unsweetened fortified soy beverages: also an option

What if you don’t drink milk? No worries – you can get similar nutrients from other sources. The most nutritious non-dairy drink is fortified soy beverage; in the older version of Canada’s food guide, soy beverage was listed in the milk and alternatives food group, along with milk. In the new food guide, soy beverage is the only plant-based drink that is nutritious enough to be grouped with the protein foods. Unsweetened fortified versions are recommended and these are an option for Canadians two years and older (note: soy beverages are not recommended for children under two years of age).

Other plant-based beverages: not so nutritious

You might be wondering, “what about other plant-based beverages?” These include drinks made from almonds, cashews, hemp, coconut, rice, potatoes, and others.

It’s important to know what these beverages offer in the way of nutrition – it varies! In general, these drinks are poor sources of protein, containing as little as 0 or 1 gram of protein per cup. Compare that to 9 grams of protein from cow’s milk and 7 grams of protein from soy beverages. Plant-based beverages are also naturally low in many other nutrients, though some vitamins and minerals are added into commercial products that are fortified (check the labels). For some nutrient comparisons, check out this related article: Understanding Non-Dairy Beverages.

Since even fortified versions of plant-based beverages are low in protein (except soy) and many other nutrients, these drinks are not recommended for infants and toddlers. If they are offered to children over two years, careful meal planning is required to ensure that they are meeting their nutrient needs through other sources. Are you wondering what is recommended for children? Stay tuned for another blog post, coming soon: Milk and young children: What you need to know.

The bottom line

Milk continues to be a hot topic! Hopefully this article has provided clarity on how milk, fortified soy beverages, and other plant-based beverages fit within the updated food guide. That said, our diets are deeply personal, and a lot affects how and what we eat. A dietitian is a great resource and can help you choose beverages to meet your family’s nutritional needs.

  • There are dietitians in various communities across Northern Health. A referral may be required. Talk to your health care provider to learn more.
  • BC residents can also access Dietitian Services at HealthLink BC, by calling 8-1-1 (or 604-215-8110 in some areas) and asking to speak with a dietitian.
Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health team, where her work focuses on nutrition in the early years. She is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. Her passion for food extends beyond her work, and her young family enjoys cooking, local foods, and lazy gardening. In her free time, you might also find her exploring beautiful northwest BC by foot, ski, kayak or kite.

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The Northern Table: A balancing act with processed foods

A selection of canned foodsWhen you hear the term “processed foods,” what’s your first thought? Does it bring to mind memories of canning salmon or making jam? What about a childhood comfort food (like that bowl of mac and cheese with hot dog wiener slices) or visiting the carnival? Does it evoke positive or negative feelings? My guess is that “processed foods” is more likely to be seen in a negative way.

What are processed foods? 

A simple definition is that processed foods are foods that are purposefully changed before eating. This broadly includes three different types of processing:

  • Primary processing, which changes raw materials into food products. For example, when tomatoes are cleaned, sorted, and packaged into cartons.
  • Secondary processing, which turns ingredients into food products. For example, when tomatoes become tomato sauce.
  • Tertiary processing, which includes commercial production of ready-to-eat and heat-and-serve foods. Often extra sodium, sugar, fat and additives like colour and flavour are added in this step. An example of tertiary processing is when tomatoes become ketchup. The food products that result from tertiary processing are often called highly processed or ultra-processed.

A selection of processed foods.What does the new Canada’s food guide say about processed foods?

Given these different types of food processing, we can see that “processed foods” represent a wide variety of foods. How do we determine if and how we should include processed foods in our diet? The new Canada’s food guide makes two relevant statements:

  • Nutritious foods to consume regularly include fresh, frozen, canned, or dried.” Examples include apple slices, frozen broccoli, canned chickpeas, or dried pasta.
  • Limit highly processed foods.” Note that Health Canada doesn’t say “avoid” or “never.” I think this reflects an effort to balance the benefits that Canadians may experience by including processed foods in their diets with the potential drawbacks. For example, processed foods may be lower in nutrition quality, and there is an association between eating frequent amounts of highly processed foods and risk for disease. That said, processed foods, especially in the broadest sense, may have a place in your diet.

What are some advantages associated with processed foods?

  • Convenience: Pre-cut vegetables, a pack of tofu, a ready-to-serve sauce, and ramen noodles help a stir-fry come together quickly for a weeknight dinner.
  • Variety: Grocery store shelves and freezers are filled with a tremendous amount and range of tastes and types of foods. Some of this variety is perceived versus real; for example, whether it’s all dressed, buffalo wings, loaded baked potato, or black pepper and lime, they’re all potato chips, which is one type of food.
  • Access: Locally grown and seasonal foods can be put away to enjoy later in the year. Our ancestors used dried oolichan, moose jerky, canned peaches, dehydrated cherries, pickles, and many other foods before the time of full-service grocery stores, refrigerators, and freezers.
  • Cost: Processed foods may appear to be lower in cost. For example, a frozen lasagna that is on sale for $6.99 is economical, compared to the cost of the individual ingredients, including noodles, vegetables, sauce, cheese, and ground beef.
  • Shelf life: Processing can extend the life of a fresh food, through canning and/or the use of salt, sugar, or vinegar.
  • Portability: Commercial or home dried meals may make sense on a longer hike or canoe trip.
  • Traditions: Celebrate traditions and connections to our environment by making sausage, smoking fish, pasteurizing juice, and canning pie filling, or participating in a multitude of other food traditions.

How do you balance the risks and benefits associated with processed foods?

If you’re considering whether and how to include processed foods in your meal planning, here are a few things to think about:

  • Consider your personal definition of healthy eating. How much and how often do processed foods fit within that definition?
  • Which processed foods offer you the most value and enjoyment? Make room for these.
  • Use food labels to compare processed foods and make informed choices.
  • Does your grocery store offer nutrition tours? These are led by a registered dietitian and can be a great support.
  • Experiment with traditional recipes to modify the salt, sugar, and fat. Be sure to keep it food safe!

Healthy eating isn’t “one size fits all.” YOU get to decide if and how best to incorporate processed foods into your usual way of eating. For me, that means having a few ready-to-eat meals and pizza in the freezer, a jar or two of ready-made sauce to pull together spaghetti or butter paneer, and a box of KD, for those nights when there is no time or energy to cook. It also means enjoying cultural foods like blood pudding and salt beef when I visit family in Newfoundland. What does healthy eating look like for you?

 

Editor’s Note: We have transitioned our old “Foodie Friday” series to the new “Northern Table” series. We hope you’ll be as excited as we are to read this series, which will feature stories on nutrition, recipes, food & lifestyle, and more!

Flo Sheppard

About Flo Sheppard

Flo has worked in northern BC for over 20 years in a variety of roles. Currently, she is the Chief Population Health Dietitian and Team Lead for the Population Health Nutrition Team. She takes a realistic, supportive, and non-judgemental approach to healthy eating in recognition that there are many things that influence how we care for ourselves. In her spare time, you are likely to find Flo cooking, reading, volunteering, or enjoying the outdoors.

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In focus: Robyn Turner, Clinical Dietitian, Vanderhoof

Robyn Turner standing on a hill above a valley and river.Robyn Turner never thought she would have the career she’s had working as a clinical dietitian in Vanderhoof. Learn what it’s like to work in a rural Northern BC community and what kind of work she’s most passionate about.

Tell me about your career as a dietitian.

I never really anticipated coming to the North, let alone a rural community. My career turned out different than what I first had in mind. Nonetheless, it’s been very exciting!

By taking the opportunity to come North, I’ve been able to be myself as a dietitian and get my feet wet in a lot of areas – including working with individuals admitted to hospital through one-on-one nutrition counselling, and those living in complex care.

I’ve been able to use creativity and initiative to improve nutrition in my area, and because it’s not as congested here in Vanderhoof, I can do more things than I could in a bigger centre. When I was just starting as a dietitian, I thought I would be working casual for a few years, filling temporary roles, and then naturally work in a specific area. That’s definitely not the case with my work now, which I enjoy. I like being able to do a little bit of everything.

What’s your take on what dietitians do?

A dietitian supports individuals where they’re at in reaching their health goals. Doesn’t matter if they’re told to go see a dietitian or are self-motivated to change something about their health. Wherever they’re at, a dietitian is there to help support them and achieve their goals to improve their overall health.

Could you describe a day in your life as a dietitian?

There is no “regular” day. Generally my day starts with rounds, or I might go to another community. In a day I may see someone for a diabetes consultation, or modify a tube feed or do a swallow assessment. Sometimes I see children who are having challenges with eating or chronic constipation. My day always varies!

I pull a lot of areas of nutrition together when I’m working. I never know if I’m going to be doing acute care, or focusing on quality and enjoyment of life in complex care, or advocating for someone. I have to be ready to use all my nutrition knowledge. Sometimes I’m pulled into community practice meetings, quality improvement initiative meetings with the hospital kitchen staff, or community projects with schools or local First Nations.

For example, I was working on a family food skills project at the Men’s Shed in Vanderhoof. The Shed is a space for men in the community with a kitchen and a place to hang out. I was part of a food skills program there for men who were living alone for the first time or had partners with a change in health. These men were all of a sudden having to cook for themselves for the first time and didn’t know where to start. If people don’t have food skills, it’s something they need to build. Building those food skills is something I’m really passionate about.

Basically in my job you never know what hat you’re going to be wearing – it could be a counselor or advocate hat or a clinical dietitian hat. It’s always different, which keeps it exciting.

What’s one thing someone might not know about your role?

People often don’t realize that advocacy is a big part of my job. I’m not always seeing individuals one-on-one. I spend a lot of time helping people understand nutrition issues. My role involves a lot of nutrition awareness and advocacy. There’s a lot of collaboration and quality improvement involved in the different health improvement projects I’m a part of. If there’s a primary care community project focused on health and I don’t go – that’s a big part of health that’s not present. I represent nutrition and health and can provide education to other people on my health care team.

What part of your role is the most rewarding?

When you have those moments of success – those clients who are dedicated to change, who come to all their appointments with you, and take your recommendations and apply them to their life and see positive results in their health – that’s rewarding. It might take six months or a year for them to see those results. When you have clients who can get off medications or see their numbers come down – that’s when you know the stuff you’re saying and the recommendations you’re giving are working.

It’s nice too, when there are people in the community that show appreciation for my work, especially in a small town. I’ve had people recognize and draw on the importance of my role. There’s also a lot of doctors I work with who are appreciative and will advocate for me. When I came to the North I didn’t expect to have as much interaction with doctors as I do. They’re present and invested and actually want to hear my opinion. Overall, it’s been great being in Vanderhoof. Three years later and I’m excited to see where else I can go in this job!

 

How to see a registered dietitian

Do you think you, your patients, or someone you know could benefit from talking to a dietitian?

  • There are dietitians in various communities across Northern Health – you might need a referral. Talk to your health care provider to learn more.
  • BC residents can also access Dietitian Services at HealthLink BC, by calling 8-1-1 (or 604-215-8110 in some areas) and asking to talk to a dietitian.

 

Nutrition Month Eating Together contest

During Nutrition Month throughout March, we want to see how you eat together! Organize a date to eat together, show us, and be entered to win an Instant Pot! This could mean grabbing a coffee and scone with a colleague, organizing a lunch date with a friend, having a potluck with family – whatever this means to you! Set a date, eat together, and show us to win! See our Eating Together contest page for complete details.

Haylee Seiter

About Haylee Seiter

Haylee is a communications advisor for Public and Population Health. She grew up in Prince George and is proud to call Northern BC home. During university she found her passion for health promotions by volunteering with the Canadian Cancer Society and became interested in marketing through the UNBC JDC West team. When she's not dreaming up communications strategies, she can be found cycling with the Wheelin Warriors or spending time with family and friends. (NH Blog Admin)

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