Agri-foodies push Canada's berries and flax
Published Sunday, August 23, 2009 10:11AM EDT
Move over Mediterranean diet. The Canucks are coming for you.
Many health-conscious foodies have been following the Mediterranean diet for years. And why not? There's plenty of research to suggest sun-soaked fruits, vegetables, olive oil and a bit of red wine are a good way to keep a heart healthy.
But a recent report suggests that fresh, nutritious foods grown in northern climes could also be good for you -- and help the struggling agriculture sector to boot.
The homegrown concept is being raised by the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute that studies ways to bring together agriculture and health.
"When people are asked about, say, the Mediterranean diet, what may come to mind is olive oil and fish and tomatoes, among other things," says David McInnes, the institute's president.
"I think what Canadians should start to consider is what is here at home."
He admits that poutine and maple syrup may spring to mind when traditional Canadian culinary fare is suggested, but says the country is actually bulging with healthy, delicious options for a "Canadian diet."
"Certainly maple syrup is very Canadian, but look at the berries we have access to -- the cranberries, the blueberries. Look at the various seed crops that we have, and grains that are available."
The country's lakes and oceans teem with heart-healthy fish. Flax, canola and pulses sprout across the Prairies. We also have lots of opportunity to buy low-fat meat and there's a strong dairy industry, McInnes points out.
A Canadian diet could also boast food grown with fewer pesticides -- colder climates mean fewer pests -- as well as a strong record of food safety, he suggests.
"When Canadians walk down the (supermarket) aisles, they should be thinking about not only good-for-you foods that are available from other regions, but we should be thinking about good-for-you foods from here in Canada."
Tristaca Caldwell, a dietician who owns the company Fueling with Food in Nova Scotia, says consumers are becoming more aware of how what they eat can affect their health.
That's reflected in a growing trend towards "eating local." People want foods that are grown nearby for health, economic and environmental reasons.
But she pointed out there's still a long way to go for that to be entirely feasible. Many farmers markets are open only limited hours and the price of fresh produce and meats is sometimes much higher.
"I think people are starting to actually believe that living off canned foods and processed, fast food is not going to make you either look good or feel good," Caldwell says.
"But getting that behaviour change to occur -- we live in an environment where we are bombarded with food decisions on a daily basis. And the ones that we see most frequently in the run of a day aren't your whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables."
McInnes said the Canadian diet is just an idea for the moment, a starting point to look at the report's bigger issues of how promoting homegrown food could help improve the health of consumers but also aid the country's farmers.
"The Canadian diet concept is really a means to try to explain that we have tremendous advantage in Canada, and are we doing enough as a country to (capitalize on) those advantages?"