The updated Canada Food Guide was released in January and at first glance it may appear that following the new plant-heavy guidelines could be a challenge for residents of the north.
Not, however, according to Chantal Vinet-Lanouette, a nutritionist at Chishaayiyuu Miyupimaatisiiun, the Cree Public Health Department. She says the new guide has been eagerly anticipated for years, especially because they hoped it would confirm her team’s long-held diet recommendations.
“Eat a variety of healthy foods each day,” Vinet-Lanouette advised. “Be mindful of your eating habits. Cook more often. Enjoy your food. Eat meals with others. Make water your drink of choice. Eat protein foods, choose whole grain foods and have plenty of vegetables and fruits. Limit foods high in sodium, sugar and saturated fat.”
While the government advice is to avoid too much animal-based protein, Vinet-Lanouette said the message that Crees should take from this is to remember to include vegetables and fruits in daily meals.
“When berries and plants are in season in Eeyou Istchee, we should definitely include them in our meals,” she noted. “They are free and can be frozen for the winter months. As for other fruits and vegetables, some are much cheaper than others. For example, carrots, turnip, squash, sweet potatoes, cabbage, onions, apple, oranges and bananas are great options and you can often buy them in bulk. Frozen and canned vegetables and fruits are also great options for the family.”
While piling up a plate with salad and plant-based proteins may be easier and cheaper in the south, Vinet-Lanouette assured that the new guide did indeed take Canadians of all origins into account and that the proteins, whole grains and vegetables on the plates can be just what are available in any given region. At the same time, she said the government is working on more specific tools for Indigenous populations and that nutritionists working with Indigenous people will be consulted.
One of the most-talked-about issues in the new food guide is how portion size has been removed from the guide.
“Instead of talking about portions, we are now talking about proportions. The new food guide focuses on eating balanced meals rather than calculating the number of servings per day. That will simplify things a lot for consumers. It is easier to make sure we enjoy healthy balanced meals every day, than calculate portions,” said Vinet-Lanouette.
The Health Canada website still features the previous food guide update from 2007 for First Nations, Métis and Inuit. Vinet-Lanouette said that until new resources are available they would be using a combination of both guides. One of the differences concerns recommended beverages.
“As for milk versus water, we always recommend to drink more water than milk,” noted Vinet-Lanouette. “It is generally recommended to drink about two litres of water per day, and the Canadian Food Guide previously recommended two-to-four portions of dairy products – including milk, yogurt or cheese – per day. Make water your drink of choice.”
One of North America’s most popular food fads is the ketogenic diet. This diet involves swapping out all sugar and carbohydrates for moderate amounts of proteins and high amounts of fat. Rather than fueling a body with carbohydrates, they instead burn what are called “ketones” or fat either from the individual’s body fat or dietary fat. Vinet-Lanouette is not a fan, however.
The keto diet does not resemble the Cree traditional diet, she said. Crees traditionally ate all parts of wild animals and fish – including the organs, brain, stomach, intestines, meat and fat – along with wild berries and plants.
“They did eat fat for energy and survival, but did not have such emphasis on fat consumption and carbohydrate restriction,” said Vinet-Lanouette.
At that, she emphasized that Crees traditionally lived a nomadic lifestyle and were very active. They ate available wild food that was harvested on the land, which sometimes meant feast or famine. This lifestyle is drastically different from the way Crees live now.
The keto diet also poses possible health implications for people suffering from certain ailments, particularly high blood pressure and diabetes. For those whose health issues stem from or are affected by what they eat, a trip to the community nutritionist before drastically changing their menu choices could help avoid health problems.
“Please see your local health professional before starting this journey,” Vinet-Lanouette emphasized. “There are other ways to lose weight than dieting that are more efficient in the long run. Rather than focusing on diet, we should focus on healthy eating, and enjoy meals with our families.”
March is Nutrition Month, so look out for events and activities put on by Public Health throughout the communities. For more information on activities and health go to: www.creehealth.org