Healthy Living in the North

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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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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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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Canada’s new food guide: What Northern Health dietitians have to say

Lise Luppens holding a copy of Canada's new food guide.
Lise Luppens, Population Health Dietitian, with Canada’s new food guide.

No doubt you’ve heard: Canada’s new food guide has finally been released. With a brand new look (bye-bye rainbow!) and recommendations going beyond food choices, it has already caused quite a bit of conversation!

Wondering about Northern Health’s (NH) take on all the excitement? We polled NH dietitians to hear what they like about the new resource. Read on for what they had to say:

“I like that the new food guide emphasizes the importance of how we eat. Our relationship with food and how we enjoy our meals is as important as the nutritional quality of the foods we’re eating.” -Courtenay Hopson, Prince George

“I appreciate the clear picture on the guide. The fruits and vegetables are easily recognizable and are available in Canada. It features canned and frozen options, in addition to fresh, as at certain times of the year these can be cheaper and easier to find.” -Rebecca Fraser, Vanderhoof

“Canada’s new food guide is simple, to the point, and leaves room for each of our own unique diets – how fresh! It promotes a more normalized way of thinking about food and nutrition, and helps reassure Canadians that if they’re cooking at home and enjoying food, then they are likely eating fairly well. My takeaway? Let’s make meal times important again!” -Olivia Newton, Quesnel

“I love that the new food guide emphasizes plant-based proteins. This will have positive results for personal health, but also supports eating patterns that are more environmentally sustainable.” -Danielle Billey, Terrace

“The new food guide is practical and focuses on HOW to eat by supporting a positive eating environment. It’s important to cook and eat with others, be mindful around your eating habits, and truly enjoy your food.” -Erin Branco, Prince George

Olivia Newton holding Canada's new food guide.
Olivia Newton, NH Dietitian, with Canada’s new food guide.

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

“The new food guide focuses on how we eat, more than how much we eat, supporting clients to tailor actions based on their preferences and lifestyle. It’s about implementing small changes to enjoy a variety of healthy foods in meaningful ways.” -Amelia Gallant, Fort St. John

“I like that the new food guide emphasizes food skills and ways to minimize food waste. It also considers other environmental impacts of the foods we choose and encourages more plant-based proteins, such as pulses [the family of plants that include dried peas, dry beans, lentils, and chickpeas].” -Hannah Orfald-Clarke, Fort St. John

“The new food guide supports people to start where they are at and to make small sustainable changes. For example, ‘cook more often’ will mean different things to different people – it might mean starting to cook, cooking on the weekend, cooking every day, or cooking with your kids or grandkids more often, depending on your current practices and available resources and opportunities.” -Flo Sheppard, Terrace

“The new food guide reflects that there is no one way to eat. Enjoying food with others is important, and a wide variety of foods fit within a healthy eating pattern.” -Laurel Burton, Prince George

Well, there you have it – Northern Health dietitians think there’s quite a bit to like about the new food guide! We might also take this opportunity to remind folks that it’s a guide, and that dietitians can be great support for individuals with unique nutritional needs who would benefit from tailored recommendations.

Are you looking for support from a dietitian?

  • There are dietitians in various communities across Northern Health. A referral may be required.
  • 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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Nutritious and delicious Easter traditions

Child picking up coloured eggs.

Include non-food items in your Easter baskets and egg hunts to add variety this year! Items like stickers, colouring books, or stuffed animals can make great gifts, or include items that will get you and your family physically active like skipping ropes, hula hoops, or passes to the local pool or skating rink.

As a registered dietitian, I get asked questions on a daily basis about food and nutrition. Easter – filled with celebrations, Easter egg hunts, family, and friends – is often a time of sharing traditions, which often involves food. Holiday meals have great potential to be both nutritious and delicious!

A meal of ham or turkey, vegetables, buns or stuffing, and dessert has a good chance of having 3-4 food groups from Canada’s Food Guide, making it a nutritionally balanced meal.

There many ways to make your Easter meal even more nutritious, such as:

  • offering sweet potatoes or yams, as well as potatoes;
  • including colourful veggies, like carrots, brussel sprouts, and beets;
  • serving up something green like asparagus or a simple green leafy salad;
  • choosing whole wheat bread for your stuffing, and adding cranberries or chopped apples, walnuts, and finely chopped carrots and celery; and
  • considering a dessert that includes fruit and/or dairy, such as a fruit crumble or a milk-based pudding.

Adults may worry about how much they eat at these celebrations. Healthy eating is not just about one meal or one day. Rather, it’s about your overall approach to eating. On the day of the celebrations, it can be helpful to continue with your regular meal and snack pattern, so that you can listen to your hunger and fullness cues. Buffet style meals can often leave you feeling overfull from wanting to try a little bit of everything. Instead, survey your options, and choose those things you really want to try. You can always come back for more if you are still hungry. Take your time during holiday meals – eat slowly, and enjoy the time with family and friends. Remember that the holidays are about the whole experience – enjoy the meal, the company, and the memories made.

What about the treats and chocolate?

Easter egg hunts for the kids often involve searching for chocolate and candy treats. And while treats are definitely a part of traditions and a healthy approach to eating, sometimes it can be easy for everyone to overindulge in those treats. Include non-food items in your Easter baskets and egg hunts to add variety – they are just as fun as the chocolates and candy. Things like stickers, colouring books, or stuffed animals can make great gifts, or include items that will get you and your family physically active like skipping ropes, hula hoops, or passes to the local pool or skating rink.

What are your nutritious, delicious, and healthy Easter traditions? Feel free to share in the comments below!

Rebecca Larson

About Rebecca Larson

Rebecca works in Vanderhoof and the surrounding communities as a dietitian. She was born in the north and returned after her schooling. Rebecca loves tobogganing with her daughter in the winter, gardening and camping in the summer and working on her parents cattle ranch in her spare time.

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Healthy holiday eating

Brussels sprouts on a baking sheet.

Make your holiday meal even more nutritious this year! Include lots of colourful veggies like Brussels sprouts, carrots, and beets!

Christmas is an exciting time, often filled with celebrations, parties, family, and friends. It’s also a time to share traditions, which often involve food. Holiday meals offer the opportunity for family members and friends to prepare and share a special meal together, and to learn from each other in the process. Even young children can help by doing things like washing vegetables, making paper place mats, setting the table, pouring water, and helping to clean up.

Looking at most holiday movies or commercials these days, we are made to think of holiday meals as always being rich and heavy. Think again! They actually have great potential to be nutritious and delicious! A meal of ham or turkey, vegetables, buns or stuffing, and dessert has a good chance of having 3-4 food groups from Canada’s Food Guide, making it a balanced meal.

Here are a few suggestions to make your holiday meal even more nutritious:

  • Offer sweet potatoes instead of, or alongside, white potatoes.
  • Include other colourful veggies like carrots, Brussels sprouts, and beets.
  • Boost up the stuffing by using whole wheat bread and adding cranberries or chopped apple, walnuts, and finely chopped carrots and celery.
  • Consider a dessert that includes fruit or dairy, such as a fruit crumble or milk-based pudding.

Some people worry about how much they eat at these special meals. Remember, healthy eating is not just about one meal or one day – it’s about your overall approach to eating. Give yourself permission to eat foods that you enjoy!

On the day of the holiday celebration, it can be helpful to continue with your regular meal and snack patterns that incorporate healthy choices so that you can listen to your hunger and fullness cues. Buffet-style meals can often leave you feeling overfull from wanting to try a little bit of everything. Instead, survey your options and choose those things you really want to try. You can always come back for more if you are still hungry.

Remember to take your time during holiday meals – eat slowly and enjoy the time with family and friends. The holidays are about the whole experience – building a snowman, admiring light displays with your family, playing a favourite board game – not just what’s on your plate!

Marianne Bloudoff

About Marianne Bloudoff

Born and raised in BC, Marianne moved from Vancouver to Prince George in January 2014. She is a Registered Dietitian with Northern Health's population health team. Her passion for food and nutrition lured her away from her previous career in Fisheries Management. Now, instead of counting fish, she finds herself educating people on their health benefits. In her spare time, Marianne can be found experimenting in the kitchen and writing about it on her food blog, as well as exploring everything northern B.C. has to offer.

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Making Christmas food hampers healthier: You can make a difference!

Cans of non-perishable food items

Are you donating food to an organization in your community this season? Choosing healthier food options is very important for households living with food insecurity as they have a greater risk of poorer health and increased chronic conditions.

December is a month we look forward to for all the wonderful holiday celebrations, sharing with our families and friends, and for giving. Sadly, not all families are financially stable enough to have the basic necessities they need, such as food. In communities across northern B.C., hard-working organizations are gearing up for food drives. This year, I want to challenge you to make an even bigger difference in the lives of families across our region by donating healthier foods to these initiatives.

If you, your family or an organization you belong to are donating to food banks this year, I encourage you to focus your donations on healthier foods for families. Food banks really need healthier food donations so they can make healthier Christmas food hampers for the groups they serve.

What do I suggest? Use Canada’s Food Guide! Here’s the shopping list I came up with:

  • Non-perishable and nutritious food suggestions for meat and alternatives (which provide essential protein, vitamins, and minerals) include: canned salmon, tuna, sardines, chicken, beef chillies, ham, corned beef, a variety of beans (brown beans in tomato sauce, kidney, garbanzo, mixed beans), and peanut butter.
  • Non-perishable and nutritious food suggestions for vegetables and fruit (which provide essential vitamins, minerals, and complex carbohydrates as well as fiber) include: canned tomatoes, mixed veggies, peas, green or yellow beans, corn, beets, and fruit such as peaches, pears, mixed fruits (with no added syrup or pear juice) and apple sauce.

Highly processed foods are often high in fat, salt, and sugar so choose the more nutritious items if you can.

Why are healthier food donations so important?

Choosing healthier food options is very important for households living with food insecurity as they have a greater risk of poorer health and increased chronic conditions. This concept – food insecurity – is an important one to think about this holiday season.

For many of us, financial stability is something we enjoy and may even take for granted. This is not the case for many families and they can become food insecure. Food insecurity exists:

Whenever the availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or the ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways is limited or uncertain.” (Hamelin, A., et. al., 2002)

This is the case for 1 in 8 households in Canada. This rate is even higher in homes that receive their income from minimum wages, part-time jobs, workers compensation, employment insurance or social assistance; are First Nation, Métis or Inuit; have children (especially with a lone mother); are homeless; are new immigrants; or have chronic health problems. Food insecurity is caused by financial constraints when income is too low or unsteady and there is not enough money left over to pay for enough healthy food after paying for necessities such as housing, utilities, transportation, and health expenses.

Look up your local food bank to find out where and when to drop off your healthy food donations for this season of giving. The Prince George Citizen recently profiled four local Christmas Food Hamper programs in Prince George.

Loraina Stephen

About Loraina Stephen

Loraina is a population health dietitian working in a regional lead role for external food policy, which supports initiatives to develop healthy eating, community food security and food policy for the north. Loraina was born and raised in the north, and has a busy lifestyle. Having grown up enjoying food grown from family gardens, hunting, and gathering, and enjoying northern outdoor activities, she draws on those experiences to keep traditions strong for her family, in her work and at play. (Loraina no longer works with Northern Health, we wish her all the best.)

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