A group of speakers gave a broad overview Thursday of how the eating habits of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians may affect their health.
The Café Scientifique event organized by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research was held at the YellowBelly Brewery in St. John’s. Many attendees were in the city for the Canadian Nutrition Society’s three-day conference which started Thursday.
Barbara Roebothan, a community health professor from Memorial University, said previous studies have shown approximately 3/4 of the province’s population fails to eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables per day. However, she noted there are indications that figure is improving thanks to improved access.
On the nutrient side, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians historically consume low amounts of fibre and Vitamin A-enriched foods.
The province’s calcium consumption has also been the lowest in the country, according to Roebothan. While the consumption of sodium-heavy foods that contribute to health problems is an issue, she also noted there are provinces experiencing higher levels of sodium intake per capita than Newfoundland and Labrador.
Residents of Newfoundland and Labrador get more energy from the food they eat than necessary, with many prepared foods containing too few nutrients, but lots of calories. People are less often working off that energy due to societal lifestyle changes, according to Roebothan.
On a positive note, Roebothan said Newfoundland and Labrador’s position as the least food insecure province in Canada is commendable. She highlighted hunting wild game, using backyard gardens, harvesting wild berries and looking out for others as factors contributing to this.
André Marette, a professor of medicine at Laval University in Montreal, discussed his work looking at how fish can help ward off diabetes through the properties of omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega 3 has been found to lower inflammation and increase glucose metabolism by mimicking some of the effects of exercise.
Marette also noted there are good proteins in fish that may help protect against Type II diabetes. He is now preparing to study the benefits of Vitamin D, which can be found in salmon.
St. John’s chef Todd Perrin from Mallard Cottage in Quidi Vidi Village said Newfoundlanders and Labradorians need to be more supportive of local farms and go back to the basics by growing food and learning to cook. That way, people will be less reliant on convenience foods that have next to no nutritional value.