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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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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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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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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Dietitian pro-tips: The 4th edition

A child and an adult man stirring food in a bowl together.

2019 has been a big year for dietitians, with the release of the new Canada’s Food Guide; we recently shared what Northern Health dietitians had to say about this new and improved guide.

During this Nutrition Month, the blog has featured the work of a few local dietitians, including Amelia and Allie. Others have been sharing their knowledge about food and nutrition.

For the last few years, on Dietitians Day, our amazing team has shared tips on food, nutrition, and healthy eating in a “pro-tips” blog post. This year, we are doing it again, but with a twist! Part of eating is done with our eyes, so why not share photos that bring our tips to life? “See” what our dietitian team members have to say!

Lise Luppens (Terrace)

Cook together with family or friends! Even toddlers and preschoolers can get involved. Learn more about building healthy relationships in the kitchen.

A jar of overnight oats.

Hannah Zmudzinski (Dietetic Student)

Mornings can be hectic! Planning meals ahead of time can help simplify your day. Try making breakfast the night before with these delicious overnight oats:

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup quick oats
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • 4-5 mint leaves, chopped
  • 1 cup chocolate soy beverage or milk
  • Top with fresh or frozen berries

Instructions:

  • Mix contents into container and chill in fridge overnight.
  • Next day, you can enjoy the oats at home, or wherever your morning takes you!
A woman holding a glass of green onions regrowing in water.

Hannah Wilkie (Fort St. John)

Re-grow veggies from veggie scraps! For example, you can re-use the bottoms of green onions by placing the roots in a glass with a small amount of water. Watch them re-grow before your eyes. Just be sure to change the water frequently!

 

Two children sitting on the counter with muffin tins.

 

Dena Ferretti (Terrace)

Dietitians also have picky eaters; even when both parents are dietitians! Shocking, I know. In our house both our children have very different palettes. My daughter loves black olive pizza and my son loves Thai sweet and spicy sauce with his rice. What helps us navigate the waters of “I don’t like that” or “I won’t eat that” is involving them in cooking. Remember, food is completely new to children and it may take 20 or more exposures to a new food before they adopt it. Those exposures can include something as simple as seeing the food, touching the food or smelling the food – we haven’t even begun to talk about bringing that food to their mouth. Be patient and try to have fun with your children around food.

Apple slices with peanut butter on one of them.

Robyn Turner (Vanderhoof)

Healthy eating doesn’t need to be complicated. Pair simple foods from two or three food groups from Canada’s Food Guide to make fast, portable, and tasty snacks. One of my favourites is a classic: apple with peanut butter!

 

A hand holding a button that says Dieting with a line through it.

 

Flo Sheppard (Terrace)

Ditch dieting. Instead, build a healthy relationship with food and your body. Feed yourself faithfully with foods you enjoy and that make you feel good. Listen to your body to know what and how much to eat to feel satisfied. Take care of, and appreciate, your body for all it can do.

A woman holding a pot of ingredients to make tortillas.

Emilia Moulechkova (Terrace)

A playful approach to food can go a long way to support healthy eating. Build variety into your diet by trying a new food, recipe, or method of cooking. Here I am on my 30th birthday having fun making homemade corn tortilla for the very first time. We served them family style and let everyone choose from a variety of toppings such as lettuce, onions, red pepper, refried beans, ground beef, and salsa. Yum!

 

People enjoying a workplace potluck.

Laurel Burton (Prince George)

Healthy eating is much more than food and nutrients; it’s also about fostering social connection and creating a sense of community. Looking for more ways to eat with others? Take a cooking class with a loved one, or plan a monthly dinner date with friends. At my workplace we try to come together every few months to share food. After all, nothing invites variety quite like a potluck!

Looking for more RD tips? Check out our previous posts!

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.

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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