New eating plan is a Mediterranean Diet for the Prairies, say developers

The Pure Prairie Eating Plan, developed at the University of Alberta is built around the traditions, foods and geographies of the Prairies

Researchers

Initially, it was named ‘the Alberta Diet,’ and focused on those with Type 2 diabetes, says co-creator Catherine Chan, a professor of human nutrition at the University of Alberta.

But as she and colleague Rhonda Bell worked on it, the vision became bigger, she says. A colleague suggested they call it the Mediterranean Diet for Alberta, she said.

“That evoked images of beaches and olive trees, nothing at all like the Prairies,” said Chan. “So then we started to think about what a dietary pattern with foods from the Prairies would look like.”

The Pure Prairie Eating Plan is a 28-day structured menu plan that includes recipes, menus, shopping guides and cooking tips that sets out food choices for three meals and three snacks per day in portion sizes meeting the recommendations of Canada’s Food Guide.

“It’s a way of following the Food Guide without having to interpret the Food Guide yourself,” Chan said.

It’s also a way to eat local — mostly.

She and Bell began working on the plan in 2009. As work progressed human studies showed evidence a pattern of eating incorporating foods like whole grains, heart-healthy canola oil and cold-hardy berries into a daily diet had “statistically significant” improvements on health. Two studies were conducted on a total of 88 participants and showed improvements in their blood levels of glucose, cholesterol, lipids, as well as weight loss and waist shrinkage.

That’s when they saw something beneficial for everyone emerging, says Chan.

When they eventually took their work before experts in diabetes, as well as commodity organizations behind the ingredients of the diet, the consensus was to move forward with something from a more ‘pan Prairie’ perspective, said Chan.

What they’ve come up with is an eating plan they think most Prairie folk should find acceptable, with foods that are familiar and readily available. You don’t have to be trying to lose weight to start eating the Pure Prairie way either.

“It’s not a diet in that sense,” said Chan. “It’s not meant for weight loss. It’s meant to be a pattern of eating that people can sustain over years and decades. That’s how the Mediterranean Diet is perceived. It’s a way of life as much as anything.”

Weight loss, health improvements

It’s also much like the Mediterranean Diet, but with a Prairie twist.

The Mediterranean Diet is an ancient dietary pattern inspired by traditional foodways of Greece, southern Italy, and Spain, that includes large amounts of olive oil, legumes, unrefined cereals, fruits, and vegetables, as well as moderate consumption of fish, cheese and yogurt, wine and small amounts of meat.

The Pure Prairie Eating Plan also recommends those foods, but emphasizes the ingredients of western Canadian farms — heart-healthy canola oil, wheat and barley, pulses, fruit and berries, potatoes, dairy foods, eggs, and meats.

“We wanted to have something that would resonate with people who live here,” said Chan. “And these are foods acceptable to most people. We created menus that people could look at and say, ‘I can see myself eating this way.’”

From the Country Guide website: Ont. study casts doubt on some veg oils’ heart-healthiness

Structured eating

The Pure Prairie Eating Plan meets the recommendations of the Canadian Diabetes Association. In the two separate human trials completed, participants with Type 2 diabetes said the diet gave structure to how they ate, increased their awareness of food choices and helped them control their portions. They were also found to have “small but statistically significant” improvements in their weight and waist size, and blood levels of glucose, cholesterol and lipids, Chan said, adding they are still analyzing data and will have more to report shortly.

The Pure Prairie plan should also meet the expectations of those who’d like the idea of a local food but aren’t strict about it. They wanted the plan to be a way of eating that’s accessible and acceptable to the widest number of people, and local-only diets are often difficult and even more costly to follow, Chan said.

“The idea of a 100-mile diet we don’t think is all that practical, especially here on the Prairies. But we did still want to highlight all the great food grown here,” she said.

Meal plan

A typical meal plan for a day on the Pure Prairie might include a breakfast parfait, a fresh raspberry muffin for a mid-morning snack, a tuna sandwich for lunch, hummus on crackers for a midday snack, roast pork and potatoes for supper, and an evening snack would be cinnamon raisin toast.

The Mediterranean Diet recommends very small amounts of meat and tends to favour fish and pulses. The Pure Prairie plan encourages consumption of both too, but respects the desire of most Prairie people to eat meat too, Chan said. It recommends leaner cuts cooked in healthier ways, and much smaller portions than many currently consume. You can still enjoy a steak on the Pure Prairie plan, says Chan. It just shouldn’t hang over the edge of your plate anymore.

“We’re not talking 16 oz’ers here,” she said. “It (a recommended serving size) would maybe be three to four oz.”

Taken together what the Pure Prairie lays out is a way of eating that fits all foods into a healthier, balanced way, she added.

The plan’s menus average approximately 2,000 kcal per day, with a macronutrient distribution consistent with health recommendations.

There are about 100 recipes in it selected from various commodity groups across the country. A dozen Alberta agricultural groups provided financial support for the project. The Pure Prairie Eating Plan should be for sale in bookstores across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba shortly. It is available on Amazon.com selling for about $20. All proceeds from the sales which cost about $20 will be put toward future health and lifestyle research.

For more information log on to http://pureprairie.ca/

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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