Resolving to eat better in 2013

Eat Granny Smiths, but don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.  - Metro Creative Services photo
Eat Granny Smiths, but don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.
— image credit: Metro Creative Services photo

So this is the New Year and 2013 feels like it is going to be an exciting year with new opportunities to make healthier and more sustainable choices around food.

Not owning a television makes it sometimes difficult to be on top of the latest programs and fads. Thankfully, my parents have cable and as I was watching the first episode of the latest season of The Biggest Loser, it struck me that addressing obesity requires a complete overhaul of how we engage with food. The program participants spend weeks at a ranch with trainers, nutritionists, doctors and a support network all in an effort to lose weight and to learn how to make healthier food and lifestyle choices.

Well as we all know, sometimes making healthier food and lifestyle choices can be tough. However, the relationship of food to health continues to gain traction, with the topic of obesity gaining the most attention. In 2008, 51% of Canadian adults reported excess weight and between 2003 and 2008, obesity rates rose from 16% to 18% among men, and 15% to 16% among women. Results from the 2004 Canadian Community Health Survey demonstrate that decreasing income level leads to higher incidence of obesity. Often, the issue is that cheap, processed foods have higher caloric content and are more appealing in the face of a tight budget.

While many processed foods have higher calories, salt and lower fibre as well as questionable health claims, these foods often have hidden genetically engineered sources (unless they are organic or declared non-GMO). Here are some of the more commonly found genetically engineered ingredients at the supermarket that you may want to avoid: aspartame, canola oil (rapeseed oil), citric acid, fructose (any form) and glucose, isoflavones, maltodextrin, mono and diglycerides, monosodium glutamate (MSG), sorbitol, soy lecithin, soy sauce, sugar (unless specified as cane sugar), tocopherols (vitamin E), and xanthan gum.  If you have a smart phone, search ‘True Food’ for a helpful app to help navigate the supermarket shelves.

This year, take note and take charge of your eating habits and food choices. The popular author Michael Pollan, in his book In Defence of Food, provides some humourous, yet simple, rules to follow to help navigate the supermarket:

•Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food

•Avoid food products containing ingredients that are unfamiliar

•Avoid products that make health claims

•Shop the periphery of the supermarket (although new supermarkets are savvy to this trick) to avoid processed foods

•Shop at greengrocers and farmers markets

For many of us working on a budget and wanting to make healthy and sustainable food choices, there are many cost-effective tips to finding fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Eating seasonally is a great way to find fresh fruits and vegetables that are lower in price. Some products remain low-cost all year round (e.g. apples, oranges, potatoes, onions, carrots and cabbage) and can be bought in bulk. Pre-packaged, pre-washed and cut produce are usually more expensive and can be done at home with little effort. Look for ‘No Name’ or store brand products as they are less expensive and make sure to choose low salt, no sugar added products.

This year, the Richmond Food Security Society will be starting a Good Food Box program and will be helping people in Richmond initiate their own bulk-buying club for whole grains products. Buying in bulk is another great way to include whole grains, vegetables and fruits into your daily routine at a lower cost. It also provides an opportunity for folks to get together and engage in community activities while creating informal networks of people looking to make healthy and sustainable food choices.

The beginning of January is the time for resolutions and commitments. Start the year right by getting in shape and eating better. Getting connected with other people and making resolutions together has been a great source of motivation and support.

Colin Dring is the executive director of the Richmond Food Security Society.

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