“It is a concept that would enable people to start to think about Canadian foods as providing an incredible array of healthy foods right across the food spectrum.”
– CAPI PRESIDENT AND CEO DAVID MCINNES
Those paying attention to a message from Canadian dietitians this month are getting a small taste of the “Canadian diet” in action.
DOC, representing 6,000 registered dietitians across the country, adopted Celebrating Food.. from Field to Table for their national March Nutrition Month theme.
Through special events and promotions, the campaign urges Canadians to start learning about where their food comes from, and to select healthier food choices from a Canadian-grown menu whenever possible.
The campaign offers a glimpse of what ordinary Canadians might shift their food habits and consumption patterns if Canada could successfully integrate public policy around health, food and agriculture.
A report released by the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute (CAPI) titled Building Convergence: Toward an Integrated Health and Agri-food Strategy for Canada urged a move in that direction.
The 120-page CAPI report made the case for simultaneously reviving this country’s agriculture and improving Canadians’ health with a new focus put on eating the health-giving foods and ingredients grown and raised by Canadian farmers.
Among that report’s recommendations was a proposal for advancing the concept of a Canadian diet, much like the Mediterranean diet, only built around the diverse feast produced here.
The “Canadian diet” would not be a list of specific foods or dishes, which would be impossible to create in a country as culturally and culinarily diverse as Canada, says David McInnes, president and CEO of CAPI. Rather, a Canadian diet would emphasize the nutritional quality of all domestically produced foods and food ingredients.
“This isn’t a defined menu,” said McInnes. “It’s about encouraging behaviour. It is a concept that would enable people to start to think about Canadian foods as providing an incredible array of healthy foods right across the food spectrum.”
More than 60 health and agri-food leaders meeting in Montreal last month for an event billed as the CAPI Summit, agree a policy shift that ties agriculture together with health policy in Canada is the direction Canada should be moving.
The connection between agriculture and health, and the potential for positive outcomes, could hardly be more obvious, said Grant Pierce, executive director of research at St. Boniface General Hospital Research Centre, who attended that meeting to speak about research underway at the Winnipeg-based Canadian Centre for Agri-Food Research in Health and Medicine (CCARM). Pierce is also assistant dean of the faculty of medicine for the University of Manitoba.
Canada faces a huge public health crisis, with high rates of obesity, heart disease and other diet-and lifestyle-related chronic diseases that’s costing the system billions for treatments and interventions.
“There’s simply got to be a recognition on the part of government that this is a way that has to be supported and brought to the forefront… and start to devote funds toward supporting this area.”
On the agriculture side, Pierce said it’s equally self-evident health benefits of a given commodity must become more and more a priority. Health benefits will drive demand, said Pierce. “Why is canola one of the biggest crops in Western Canada now? It’s because of its health benefits.”
Eggs are another example. As research dispelled their cholesterol myth, at the same time revealing their exceptionally high-quality protein, consumption and production has been on the rebound.
This month the Manitoba Agri-Health Health Research Network (MARHN) is expected to release a major report looking at the strong or emerging scientifically substantiated health benefits of other Canadian crops. (Please see sidebar on page 40.)
“One of the main reasons this whole concept of the Canadian diet has arisen is due to the efforts mostly Western Canada has undertaken in order to promote agriculture as a solution provider to health,” says Kelley Fitzpatrick of Nutritech Consulting who prepared the MAHRN report.
McInnes said the Montreal summit “generated a sense of purpose and a genuine desire to work collaboratively to realize the potential of better linking the health and agri-food sectors,” but it also raised many questions on how such a strategy will work.
Among issues that need resolution, a CAPI press release following the summit noted, are how to make it easier for consumers to choose nutritious foods, how the entire value chain can realize the economic benefits from new opportunities that arise, and how to speed the process to develop and introduce new food products. Close collaboration will also be needed between federal and provincial levels of government for policy convergence to succeed, the release stated.