Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Be Happy...National Nutrition Month


Let me guess...you didn't know that March is National Nutrition Month? This year's theme is "Celebrate food...from field to table". Now that is a message we can all get behind and one that this dietitian is excited to promote. Let's celebrate all of the amazing foods available to us here in Canada and better yet, let's take a moment to give thanks to all of those farmers to work from sun up to sun down to put those foods on our table.

From sea to shining sea, our country's harvest is immense: from the potatoes on PEI to Manitoba's bison, Maritime lobster to BC's blueberries, we have the healthiest foods in the world at our fingertips. So why are we still feeding ourselves dehydrated, processed and lifeless "food"?

With the latest recall of products containing hydrolysed vegetable protein all over the news, we have to stop and ask ourselves, "what has happened to our food?". These recalls are not going to go away as long as we refuse to hold food manufacturers accountable for what they are feeding us. So much of the stuff we consume is barely even food - have you ever seen the ingredients on a container of Crystal Light? Or Doritos? Nutrition Action Newsletter had a great activity in last month's issue: you are given pictures of 10 processed foods and 10 ingredients labels and you had to match them to their food. It was a pretty tough exercise...and I am a dietitian! That is saying something, because these were common food like Ritz crackers and breakfast cereals.

As consumers, our strongest vote is with our food dollar. Manufacturers exist to sell us food - when they see increased demand for food with simple, natural ingredients they will change their products to suit our whims. Remember trans fats? Those horrendously bad-for-us things that were ubiquitous in our food supply until we started to demand change? Trans fats are all but history now in Canada. This is because we voted with our dollar and bought trans fat free foods. We can do the same thing again.

We should choose fresh unprocessed foods first: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy (or non!) and lean proteins like beans, poultry and fish. However, eating a completely unprocessed diet is not necessarily a reality for all of us. Ready made pasta sauce makes weeknight dinner quick and easy; snack bars ensure we always have an emergency meal in our purses. But it is possible to make these things without MSG, HVP or any other source of nutritional crack. It is also possible to make bread, snack foods and cereals without high fructose corn syrup or its "natural" alternative, agave syrup. And we can be trusted to purchase pasta sauce, soup and noodles without a week's supply of salt.

So how can you make a difference? Demand locally grown and produced food at your grocery store. And read ingredients. Not nutrition facts labels. Manufacturers can manipulate food ingredients to make sure foods are low in fat, calories or whatever they think you want but nutrition facts don't tell you a thing about the quality of the food you are about to eat. Ingredients, however, can't lie. If you don't understand what you are reading on the ingredients panel, move on. Yogurt should be milk and cultures. Salad dressing should be oil, vinegar and spices and maybe a bit of real sugar. Peanut butter should have peanuts and maybe a bit of salt. Choose brands that honour traditional recipes and simple ingredients and the rest will follow. Get to know your food....

To your health,
Desiree
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