March is National Nutrition Month and this year’s focus is celebrating food from field to table. It couldn’t come at a better time as we are surrounded by messages in the media encouraging us to be more aware of where our food comes from. As well, I am sure you have heard many conversations about local or organic food as well as the 100 mile diet so here’s my perspective as a Registered Dietitian.
Canada has so much to celebrate in terms of our contributions to agriculture. Did you know that Canada’s largest fruit crop in terms of weight of food produced is apples? Lucky for us in BC, many of these apples are grown right here. Also, our smallest province produces most of Canada’s potatoes. Yay for PEI (and my friend Jenn who lives close to Charlottetown who makes the best oven baked potatoe wedges)!
I have written about organic food in the past (see Topic of the Month – June 2009). Whether you choose organic or not is a personal choice which I leave up to you but I encourage everyone to make sure they are eating enough vegetables and fruit. A study that I read this morning looks at fruit and vegetable intake in ethnic populations and found that Southeast Asian and Chinese groups had significantly lower consumption than the average Canadian (Quadir & Akthar-Danesh, 2010). This made me think about many of our students here at SFU, so make sure you check out the Nutrition Month contest.
And while we are talking about fruits and vegetables I have to let you know that frozen and canned vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh. Just make sure your canned choices have minimal added salt and sugar. “Fresh” fruits and vegetables are often picked before their nutrient content has peaked while canned fruits/vegetables are harvested at their peak ripeness.
Evidence shows that locally grown vegetables and fruits can be more nutritious than those transported from longer distances but there is only limited evidence for meat and grains. Keep in mind there are numerous other factors which influence nutritional quality of produce such as the ripeness when harvested, handling post harvest and storage before it reaches the market.
If you are choosing only to eat local foods or foods within a 100 mile radius you can be missing out on key nutrients. Certain foods such as spices and olive oil are not produced in Canada or in the case of grains, cannot be produced locally. Limiting to foods produced within 100 miles of where we live can make it hard to follow advice from Canada’s Food Guide. One advantage though is if you are choosing local foods, you are more likely to be preparing meals from scratch which is a good way to control amounts of added salt and fat.
Thanks to Dietitians of Canada, I have the following resources to share to help you celebrate food from field to table.
Dietitians of Canada. Nutrition Month Campaign Reference Manual for Dietitians. 2010.
Quadir, T and Akhtar-Danesh N. Fruit and Vegetable Intake in Canadian Ethic Populations. Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research, 2010;71:11-17.