Health Canada estimates that the annual cost to Canadians of unhealthy eating is $6.3 billion. Statistics Canada tells us the number of annual deaths in Canada due to heart disease, stroke and diabetes is over 72,000.
It gets worse: a Canadian Community Health Survey found it is the lower income groups who have and suffer higher rates of these diet-related illnesses.
Recently, I attended a community kitchens program coordinated and maintained by Community Food Centres Canada (CFCC) at The Stop in Toronto. During my day at The Stop, we cut, peeled, sliced and cooked a broad variety of healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables. Working with renowned chef Lynn Crawford and Nick Saul, President and CEO of the CFCC, we made delicious salads, main courses and desserts. As I learned, the program is simple; the participants plan a meal, pitch in for the cost of groceries, prepare and cook together and leave with portions of fresh, healthy foods for themselves and their families.
However, it is what lies beneath the surface of this program that makes it truly inspirational. It is an education on healthy food purchasing and preparation from scratch. It's also an exposure to new foods and spices, camaraderie among the participants and the creation of a social network within their communities. The result is improved health, a greater understanding of the benefits and effects of the foods we consume, improved personal confidence and, for some, an end to personal isolation.
It is these deeper benefits of the CFCC's program that inspired Ultima Foods to create the "iögo, supporting goodness" initiative to bring attention to the mission and involvement of community kitchens in Canada. Our goal is simple: to help people discover, or become more familiar with, the essential role community kitchens play across the country.
The statistics I listed off the top are the only some of the issues that drive CFCC. Additionally they strive to put an end to food insecurity, poverty and encourage its beneficiaries to have a voice in their community and increase their civic engagement.
The CFCC provides ideas, resources and a proven approach to partner with community organizations across Canada to help them establish responsive, financially stable community food centres. These centres strive to meet the most basic food needs of low-income Canadians while combating diet-related illness, reducing social isolation, and supporting local agriculture.
As a Canadian company, we are supporting a Canadian solution. Ultima Foods is contributing financially to the activities of CFCC's work through The Stop in Toronto and two other community kitchens in Quebec. We are also committed to support the start-up of community kitchens in other markets, soon to be announced. Among other initiatives we are bringing greater attention to CFCC on a national level with awareness campaigns on television and online.
This is a call to action to Canadians and all levels of the food industry to contribute to making a change that makes a difference. To learn more about the CFCC, its mission and successes I urge you to visit cfccanada.ca. To view videos and testimonials from community kitchen participants visit foodnetwork.ca/iögo. Together, we can create healthy communities that thrive and grow. That's real change.
"Buying legumes dry and cooking them yourself is economical and very nutritious," says Colleen McGuire, registered dietitian of <a href="http://www.atthetablenutrition.com/" target="_blank">At the Table Nutrition in Vancouver.</a> Legumes also make a nutritious alternative to meat and are packed with protein, iron and B vitamins. But unlike meats, they're a very high source of fibre and are extremely low in fat.
"Sprouted grain breads contain no flour, making them higher in fibre and more nutritional than other breads," McGuire says. And because this type of bread is low on the glycemic index, it can help you manage your blood sugar levels and weight. But often, this bread can get pricey, so make sure you check out local markets for a cheaper price.
"Natural peanut butter has a high level of healthy fats (monounsaturated) and provides good quality protein," McGuire says. Peanut butter also has B vitamins, magnesium, folate, and dietary fibre in every scoop. "Have it on sprouted grain toast with a banana for a balanced, economical meal."
Eggs are a good source of high-quality protein and B12, and won't hurt your pockets, McGuire says. The egg yolk itself also contains iron and vitamin E.
"A steaming bowl of fresh cooked oatmeal is the perfect way to start off your day, especially if you are trying to prevent or are currently dealing with heart disease or diabetes," McGuire says. Fibre in oats is known to lower cholesterol and to help to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. To save money, buy your oats in bulk and try to stay away from packages high in sugar.
Plain yogurt is an excellent source of protein, calcium, magnesium and other nutrients — and it's cheap. "It does not contain all the sugar or artificial sweeteners contained in 'no added sugar' fruited yogurts," McGuire says. Greek yogurt, however, has the added benefit of additional protein. If you like sweetened yogurt but not the excessive sugar, try adding a drizzle of honey or maple syrup to your cup.
Feta cheese contains protein and calcium, but it's also high in saturated fats. "The benefit of feta over other cheeses is that it is very flavourful and, therefore, the tendency is to use a small amount to add flavour to salads and pastas," McGuire says.
Kale is one of the healthiest and cheapest vegetables around. "Researchers can now identify over 45 different flavonoids in kale, giving it both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits in a way that gives kale a leading dietary role," McGuire says.
It can get expensive to buy all your vegetables fresh and ripe. "Off-season frozen vegetables will give you a high concentration of nutrients," McGuire says. However, if you are buying frozen veggies, make sure you eat them right away. "Over many months, nutrients in frozen vegetables do inevitably degrade. Steam rather than boil your produce to minimize the loss of water-soluble vitamins. Use the water from your steamed vegetables when making rice to reabsorb the nutrients."
"Because they are one of the best sources of potassium, an essential mineral for maintaining normal blood pressure and heart function, bananas can help to prevent heart disease," McGuire says.