Healthy Living in the North

Northern Table: Canada’s food guide and plant-based proteins

A cauliflower and bean taco is shown.

The new Canada’s food guide suggests eating more plant-based proteins (like this cauliflower-bean taco), and less meat.

There’s been a lot of buzz about plant-based proteins lately! The new Canada’s food guide encourages Canadians to enjoy a variety of foods, and to choose proteins that come from plants more often. This includes foods such as:

  • Beans
  • Chickpeas
  • Lentils
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Peanuts
  • Products made from these foods, like hummus, tofu, nut butters, and fortified soy beverages

In a previous blog post, Amelia Gallant shared some great tips and recipes, and discussed the benefits of eating more plant-based proteins. She also pointed out that plant-based eating means different things to different people, and that it doesn’t mean having to forgo all meat or dairy products. For most people, taking small steps to include more of these foods will be a more enjoyable and sustainable approach.

What might this might look like in real life? I asked a few Northern Health colleagues to share what eating plant-based proteins means for them. Here’s what they had to say:

Partial or full substitutes for meat

“For our family, it means adding lentils with our rice in the rice cooker (only split lentils, otherwise it won’t cook in time!), using tofu in saucy dishes, and adding beans and lentils in soups, stews, or pasta to partially or fully substitute for meat. We’ve found that by using plant-based proteins, you can have meat more for flavouring rather than bulk, which helps expenses and the environment.” – Scott Christie, Environmental Health Officer

Not what I grew up with

“I’ve started to use more beans – black bean brownies, mashed black beans with ground meats to add volume, black eyed peas in stews. Most of these were not served when I was growing up in southern Ontario. I remember … meat and potatoes kind of meals.” – Valerie Preston, Regional Administration Support

Not just for vegetarians

“I’m certainly not a vegetarian, but I do enjoy plant-based proteins and serve them for my daughters as well. I started doing this originally for economic reasons, but found that I enjoy the taste and texture differences. I particularly enjoy hummus, natural peanut butter, tofu, chickpea and lentil soups, chia seeds, and hemp hearts.” – Nathan Hoffart, Speech Language Pathologist

An opportunity to try new things

“For me, it means tasty opportunities to be creative and try new things, as well as enjoy some old favourites. One of our current favourites is roasted cauliflower and lentil tacos. We also like modifying family favourites (e.g., lentil shepherd’s pie), making small modifications (e.g., red lentils to spaghetti sauce, beans or nuts on top of salad), and enjoying old favourites (e.g., peanut butter smeared on apple slices, baked beans, pea soup, etc.)” – Flo Sheppard, Registered Dietitian

Learning as a family

“For my family, it involves meal planning and finding inspiration in cookbooks and websites, and asking others for recipe ideas. I like to involve my two children in different ways … as I find this increases the chance that they will try and enjoy a variety of plant-based foods.” – Dana Vigneault, Regional Nursing Lead, Injury Prevention

What strikes me most about these quotes is that people value plant-based proteins for much more than just their nutritional benefits. We heard:

  • Taste
  • Texture
  • Environmental impact
  • Budget
  • The opportunity to try new things and teach new skills

Now, it’s your turn! Tell us what eating plant-based proteins means to you?

For more blog posts that explore the new Canada’s Food guide, see:

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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Northern Table: Plant-based sources of iron

A hand holds a plate of Moroccan lentils on rice and broccoli.

Many health organizations are suggesting that you should eat more plant-based proteins, like this dish of Moroccan Lentils, brown rice, and broccoli.

Do you pay attention to how much iron you consume? Most people don’t, but many health organizations are urging people to choose plant-based proteins more often, and this could mean taking a closer look at where your iron comes from.

Iron is a very important mineral that carries oxygen throughout the body. Symptoms of iron deficiency can include fatigue, a weakened immune system, and difficulty regulating body temperature.

There are two types of iron:

  • Heme iron, which is found in animal products like meat and seafood.
  • Non-heme iron, which is from plants.

Non-heme iron doesn’t get absorbed as well, so people who eat a vegetarian or vegan diets need to consume almost twice the recommended amount of iron as people who eat meat. Also, women need more than twice the amount of iron than men, and pregnant women need even more!

The best way to make sure you’re getting enough iron is to include a good source of iron at each meal and snack. Other than the small amount of iron in a multivitamin or prenatal vitamin, it’s important not to take an iron supplement unless you’ve received a diagnosis of iron deficiency and have spoken to your doctor.

You can find iron in a variety of plant foods. Some of the staples in my diet include:

  • Dried apricots, tomato paste, and greens (for instance: spinach, kale, and beet greens)
  • Oatmeal, bran, and iron-fortified cereal
  • Edamame, tofu, lentils, beans, chickpeas, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and tahini
  • Blackstrap molasses

If you’re trying to increase your iron intake, it’s important to squeeze in extra iron wherever you can:

  • Sprinkle savoury dishes with sesame seeds.
  • Use peanut butter and tahini to create a sauce or dressing.
  • Use blackstrap molasses in place of some of the maple syrup or honey in baking.
  • Include a variety of fruits and vegetables with each meal.
  • Use onions and garlic frequently in your cooking. Onions and garlic can increase absorption of iron.
  • Vitamin C also increases the absorption of iron.

There are many factors (other than intake of dietary iron) that can affect your iron levels. If you have questions about how much iron you should be consuming or if you think you might be iron deficient, speak with your doctor or a Registered Dietitian.

Sarah Anstey

About Sarah Anstey

Born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Sarah moved to Prince George in 2013 to pursue her career as a Registered Dietitian. Since then, she has enjoyed developing her skills as a Clinical Dietitian with Northern Health, doing her part to help the people of northern B.C. live healthy and happy lives. Sarah looks at her move to Prince George as an opportunity to travel and explore a part of Canada that is new to her, taking in all that B.C. has to offer.

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Northern Table: Getting my feet wet in the kitchen

This article first appeared in the Summer 2019 Northern Health: Health and Wellness in the North magazine.

A table, full of Vietnamese dishes.

Lan’s Mom’s cooking — complex and with many different ingredients.

What would you do if you were shooed out of the kitchen?

You might stay out.

Growing up, my place in the house was anywhere but the kitchen. I always seemed to be in the way or, as my mother put it, “doing things too slowly.”

My mom worked full time, but still managed the household and whipped up delicious meals in a jiffy.

My early childhood was spent in Vietnam, and food is an important part of my life; family meals and gatherings define the Vietnamese culture.

Vietnam is a tropical country with an abundance of vibrant, fresh produce that’s available year-round. One of my fondest memories is going to the outdoor markets every morning with my grandmother to pick out food for the day (in Vietnam, daily shopping is popular because it guarantees freshness and minimizes waste).

When we moved to Canada, daily shopping was no longer possible, as time was limited. As well, many of the foods and spices we ate in Vietnam weren’t available.

What did my mother do? She created her own mouth-watering dishes from the ingredients that were available. She called them “Vietnamese-inspired.”

Every time I asked her how she made a dish, she’d shrug and tell me she just threw it together. I assumed cooking came naturally to her, and that I’d never be a cook.

Fast forward to university: I was living away from home and missed Vietnamese food. Not having much experience, I was intimidated by the thought of cooking. I was overwhelmed by the steps and techniques, and by having to familiarize myself with an endless list of spices and seasonings that I couldn’t even pronounce.

However, I learned that if you want it badly enough, almost anything is possible.

It took some time for me to be more comfortable in the kitchen. I started out by stocking my little kitchen with salt, pepper, and fish sauce — the Holy Grail sauce of Vietnamese cooking.

A plate of cucumbers, a omelette dish, and a glass of water are pictured.

Lan’s simpler style of Vietnamese cooking.

Slowly but surely, my time in the kitchen yielded semi-edible foods and a growing confidence. Meals from my kitchen were simple: steamed rice, boiled veggies, and steamed chicken with fish sauce.

In the beginning, I often phoned my mom for help, which, as a by-product, also helped deepen our relationship.

Through many “learning opportunities,” I’m now at a point where I can navigate the kitchen without setting off the smoke detector!

Although my cooking is simple, I enjoy it. I’m still learning and excited to grow through this process.

My goal is to be able to re-create some authentic Vietnamese dishes, because food is such an important part of my identity, and I want to preserve that.

My tips for budding cooks:

  • Start simple – try a recipe with less than seven ingredients.
  • Stock your kitchen with basic ingredients. For me, that included rice, veggies, a few key spices, and fish sauce. It might be different for you.
  • Recognize that things might not turn out the way you’d hoped. One way to get around this is to use recipes from trusted sources. And if you fail, just try again!
  • Ask for help – call your relatives or friends.
  • Make cooking social – cook with friends or family.

Becoming a confident and competent cook doesn’t happen overnight. Don’t be too harsh on yourself — you can always try again tomorrow. I know it sounds cheesy, but if I can do it, I really believe that you can too!

Lan Nguyen

About Lan Nguyen

Lan is a dietetic intern at the University of British Columbia who just completed a 10-month internship with Northern Health. She enjoys learning about food and what it means to others. Lan hopes a career in dietetics will allow her to support people to achieve their best health in a culturally respectful manner.

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Moving and eating well on road trips

Lasalle Lake is pictured. There's a floating dock in the lake, and forest and mountains in the background.

The view of Lasalle Lake — a beautiful way to break up the trip between Prince George and Valemount!

Even though it feels like summer is flying by, it’s only mid-August, and there’s still plenty of summer-road-trip time before the weather turns! I love me a road trip: the conversation that arises from being in a car with someone for hours; the tunes and the awful, off-key karaoke; and all of the stops along the way!

Those stops are generally for any combination of food, scenery, or a bio-break, but there’s also a great health benefit. After hours of sitting, it’s important to move! The same concerns that you hear around sedentary workplaces and lifestyles apply to long-distance travel. While it’s great to get to your destination ASAP, sitting less and moving more is always a good choice.

Admittedly, I’m not great at making the kinds of stops that make for positive heath impacts, but my wife loves to get out and enjoy the scenery. Recently, before heading home to Prince George from Valemount, she asked a local if there was a good lake to stop at on our route home. He told us to check out Lasalle Lake, and it was gorgeous! On top of enjoying a stunning view, stopping gave us a chance to get some steps in (time that we counted towards the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week), have a stretch, and take a swim before carrying on. That stop added a nice “bonus” memory to the trip too! And it was as easy as asking someone, followed by a quick search on Google Maps. Just remember to always choose a location that suits your fitness level.

I also find planning to stop at an outdoor location challenges us to pack a lunch in a cooler, which usually ends up being healthier than the fast food options on the side of the highway. We usually do sandwiches, but sometimes we treat ourselves to a little meat and cheese board (nom-nom-nom!). Regardless of how healthy we pack, we always feel less rushed and enjoy our food more when we’ve found a nice spot to relax. As the primary driver, I always feel more refreshed and in a better headspace for driving too.

Do you have a favourite place to stop between destinations? What’s in your picnic basket when you stop for lunch? Let me know in the comments below, and safe travels!

Mike Erickson

About Mike Erickson

Mike Erickson is the Communications Specialist, Content Development and Engagement at Northern Health, and has been with the organization since 2013. He grew up in the Lower Mainland and has called Prince George home since 2007. In his spare time, Mike enjoys spending time with friends and family, sports, reading, movies, and generally nerding out. He loves the slower pace of life and lack of traffic in the North.

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How’s your nutrition quality of life?

A picture of pureed foods, piped to look floral and more appetizing.

Improving the nutrition quality of life of people with swallowing problems, who have to eat pureed foods, can include making their restriction not feel like a restriction. Making eating pleasurable again. Creator of the meal and picture credit: Martina Kaut.

Canada is ranked as one of the best countries in the world to live because of the quality of life we enjoy (and yes, we still have problems to solve so that all Canadians enjoy the same quality life), but have you heard of “nutrition quality of life?”

Nutrition and chronic health conditions

Nutrition quality of life refers to how a person is affected (mentally, physically, spiritually, socially, and culturally) when they have to change their way of eating because of a chronic health condition like:

  • Celiac disease
  • Constipation
  • Diabetes
  • Food allergies
  • Gout
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Inflammatory bowel syndrome
  • Kidney disease
  • Pancreatitis
  • Swallowing problems
  • …the list goes on

Food can go from being a pleasure, to a source of worry and concern. As dietitians, we often have people come to us, asking in desperation, “what can I eat?!?”

Changing my way of eating

I developed an intolerance to dairy foods later in life and had to start avoiding many foods I loved, like ice cream, cheese, and chocolate — need I say more!?! This affected my nutrition quality of life in a number of ways:

  • Missing my comfort foods — I love ice cream. I’ve got great memories of going to Dairy Queen as a kid and watching as they dispensed the soft ice cream from the machine and pilled it high on the flat-bottomed cones. Or stopping on a family road trip at a little ice cream shop with flavours like Tiger Tail – something I’d never had anywhere else. What a great licorice flavour! As I write this I am transported back to those moments and can still feel the excitement! I miss being able to spontaneously buy ice cream with my family and re-live some of those good memories.
  • Missing out socially — We gather around food, a lot! Food is a great way to connect, but when you have a food intolerance you have to decline a lot of the food people offer. It can feel uncomfortable because you don’t want to appear “fussy” or hard to please. Sometimes the discomfort may lead me to not participate in events that are centred around food.
  • I’m spending more of my time thinking about food — Because of my condition, I spend extra time meal planning, reading food labels, grocery shopping, and cooking and freezing meals. Having safe food to eat takes time, but this means I have less time to do other things I enjoy, like relaxing and being in nature.

I’ve developed a few strategies that have helped me improve my nutrition quality of life:

  • Finding the positives — I try not to think of my food intolerance as a restriction. As soon as my brain says, “you can’t eat that!” I get frustrated, angry even. Instead, I see it as a choice. I’m choosing foods that will help me feel better, that help me cope with the limitation. In the long run, I know cooking from scratch will likely be a good thing. I also find purpose in helping others with food intolerances by sharing recipe ideas, strategies on cooking ahead, and where to shop.
  • Practicing self-compassion — No one can do this like the textbook tells you to – I’m not always going to plan ahead, and cook and freeze meals. Sometimes I’ll eat very processed non-dairy foods, knowing it’s not the “best” food quality, but I don’t worry about it. I understand that my condition is difficult to manage at times. There is no “perfect” when it comes to eating and life!

Finding support — For me, support from others – my family, friends, and online communities – has been the biggest help for living well. Sharing the burden of the day-to-day challenges is helpful, but finding support is not always easy. If you feel alone and need extra support, why not ask your doctor for a referral to a dietitian? BC residents can also access Dietitian Services at HealthLink BC, or by calling 8-1-1 (or 604-215-8110 in some areas) and asking to speak with a dietitian.

Judy April

About Judy April

Judy works in Dawson Creek as a dietitian. A true northerner, she grew up just 75 km away in Fort St. John. She still wonders why the winters are so long but seems to forget when the long summer days arrive and she can go out in her garden at 10 o’clock at night without a flashlight! She’s a person who loves variety in life and at the table!

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Northern Table: About those “meaty” veggie burgers…

A hand holds a meaty-looking plant-based burger.

“Meaty” veggie burgers are offered at many popular restaurants and are made by a variety of food companies.

I’ve never really liked veggie burgers. You know the ones I’m talking about? They typically consist of a mixture of mashed vegetables and beans. They can be soggy, lacking in flavour, and leave you wanting more. That’s why I was excited and intrigued to see the recent rise in popularity of the “meaty” veggie burger. These patties are manufactured by a variety of food companies and offered at many popular restaurants. They’re meant to look and taste like meat and appeal to the masses, not just to vegans.

As a plant-based eater, I was very excited to see this trend gaining popularity. I was glad to have more appealing options to choose from when on a road trip or invited to a friend’s house for a BBQ. However, as a dietitian, I’m frequently asked what I think about these new burger options and if a processed veggie patty is really healthier than a less processed meat patty.

The answer can be complicated.

We know a whole food, plant-based diet is healthier for our bodies than a diet rich in animal products. No, this doesn’t mean you have to be vegan. Instead, the new Canada’s Food Guide emphasizes the importance of choosing plant-based protein sources more often.

So, does that mean these new veggie burgers are healthier than their beef counterparts? Not necessarily.

Most patties are heavily processed and contain added salt, oil, and other preservatives to keep them fresh and give them that meaty look and taste. They may contain peas, lentils, or soy, but they’re not considered “whole foods,” which is what Canada’s Food Guide recommends.

From an environmental standpoint, veggie burgers are likely a better choice. Recent studies show that veggie burgers use less land and water, and produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions during their production.

It’s always difficult to say if a particular food item is healthy or not. If you ask a dietitian, they’ll often answer: “it depends.” Keep these points in mind when choosing the right option for you:

  • Are you looking to make changes in your diet to reduce your environmental impact or are you making changes in other areas of your life?
  • What tastes best to you? What will you enjoy most?
  • What options are available to you in your area?
  • How frequently are you choosing processed foods, prepared outside of the home?

Remember, cooking at home with whole foods is always a healthy choice! So, I’ll wrap up by challenging you to learn how to cook and prepare a plant-based protein for you and your family this week. And feel free to tell me how it went in the comments!

Whichever patty you choose, enjoy it!

Sarah Anstey

About Sarah Anstey

Born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Sarah moved to Prince George in 2013 to pursue her career as a Registered Dietitian. Since then, she has enjoyed developing her skills as a Clinical Dietitian with Northern Health, doing her part to help the people of northern B.C. live healthy and happy lives. Sarah looks at her move to Prince George as an opportunity to travel and explore a part of Canada that is new to her, taking in all that B.C. has to offer.

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Canada’s Food Guide: How was it created?

An image of the updated "healthy plate" from the new Canada's Food Guide.

The new Canada’s Food Guide includes updates to how we approach food, including this revised healthy plate.

The new Canada’s food guide has been out for six months. Registered dietitians across Northern BC have shared what they like about the new edition, such as:

  • The emphasis on our relationship with food.
  • The change in the food groupings.
  • The emphasis on plant-based foods.
  • The message that there is no one “right” way to eat.

Dietitians also appreciate the process by which the food guide was revised.

“I like that industry-funded research did not inform the development of the guide,” said Judy April, clinical dietitian from Dawson Creek. “This goes a long way to increase the trust the public has in the recommendations.”

Let’s take a closer look at the process of updating the food guide.

Establishing the need

Prior to the current version, the guide was last updated in 2007. The science around healthy eating is ever-changing; new information is always becoming available. It’s important that Canadians have up-to-date guidelines that they can trust. For example, the old food groups were no longer supported by science as strongly as the new groupings are.

Updating Canada’s food guide

Updating the food guide was no small feat! The process was long and involved a combination of research, and public and professional consultation. The goal of Canada’s food guide is to support Canadians to live healthy lives, and to create environments that support health. Therefore, the process to update the guide was detailed, unbiased, inclusive, and thorough.

How did scientific evidence inform the update?

The first step was to look at the evidence on healthy eating. Many sources of information, and only the best, most up-to-date evidence, was used to update the guide.

Did Canadians have a say in updating the guide?

It was important for Health Canada to hear from Canadians. Their consultation process included using online discussion forums and focus groups to reach the public, health professionals, Indigenous organizations, and health charities.

What input did food industry have on the guide?

In order for Canadians to be confident in the new guide, Health Canada committed to putting the health of Canadians first. In other words, it was important that those who hold a financial interest in the healthy eating guidelines did not significantly influence the guide. Yoni Freedhoff, a physician and Associate Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Ottawa has said: “I can’t think of anyone with greater conflicts of interest in the creation of a food guide than the folks who sell and promote the food.” (Originally quoted in this CBC article.)

As such, the food industry did not inform the updates to the food guide.

More is needed to support healthy eating

The goal of the food guide is to support the health of Canadians over the age of two years. Importantly, the food guide is only one part of creating an environment that supports healthy eating. Additional initiatives to support Canadians in healthy eating include: a food policy for Canada, healthy eating strategy, and a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy.

Learn more about the food guide

Want to learn more about processed foods? Dietitian Flo is here to help!

Laurel Burton

About Laurel Burton

Laurel works with Northern Health as a population health dietitian, with a focus on food security. She is a big proponent of taking a multi-dimensional approach to health and she is interested in the social determinants of health and how they affect overall well-being, both at the individual and population level. Laurel is experienced in working with groups across the lifecycle, within BC and internationally, to support evidence-informed nutrition practice for the aim of optimizing health. When she is not working, Laurel enjoys cooking, hiking, and travelling. She loves exploring the North!

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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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