Limitless Potential of Food: Why I am a dietitian

We all know food. Each day, we have millions of encounters, thoughts, talks, and tastes related food. It sustains us. But beyond that, it is so much more. It is culture, it is identity, it is social gatherings – it’s Christmas, New Years, Thanksgiving, Birthdays, celebrations of life. That is what this post is about. What food is, and the potential it harnesses.

We all know we cannot survive without food. In fact, food is what has shaped our society today. From a nomadic lifestyle of hunting and gathering, to the development of agriculture which allowed communities to settle down and hence began the creation of civilizations. The improvements in agricultural technologies allowed for more efficient farming and increase in yields which in turn gave people time to develop specialized trades and skills outside of agriculture, creating other jobs. But as deep-rooted as our civilization’s relationship with food is, we seem to have grown farther apart from these origins. Fewer people are aware of where our food comes from, how it grows and gets to our tables, and how to cook and prepare foods. In a world where food is so abundant, we’ve found ourselves in two dichotomies of the nutrition spectrum – over and undernutrition.

Nonetheless, it remains an integral part of all of our lives. As Dietitian’s of Canada‘s Nutrition Month theme this year describes, food has the potential to fuel, prevent, heal, discover and bring people together. 

We all know that food fuels us. It is sustenance and it provides us energy to do the things we desire. If dissected into it’s very building blocks, it is energy (or in more scientific terms, ‘calories’). It is protein, carbohydrate and fat, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals and so much more.

Those elements also provide a means to help us heal from injuries, diseases and conditions. According to the Canadian Malnutrition Task Force, one in two adult patients admitted to hospital arrive malnourished, and when left untreated increases length of stay, delaying the healing process.

Amongst the many function food plays, it is also a means to prevent chronic conditions. In many ways, as the Canadian Malnutrition Task Force describes ‘food is medicine’: It is the best kind of medicine, because when one is healing, food provides the building blocks for your body to regenerate and rebuild strength; but the foods you eat on a daily basis also has the potential to prevent a myriad of chronic diseases such as heart disease, or diabetes to name a few – an issue that is currently plaguing Canadians affecting more than 2.4 million people (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2018).

Food is a modality for discovery. Especially at young ages. We recognize that inspiring children to shop, cook and prepare food – building this ‘food literacy’ is creating the foundations for a lifetime of healthy eating. Discovery of new foods, new flavours, new cultures as well as the discovery of our why we make the food choices that we do.

“A recent IPsos survey found that 38 percent of parents rarely or never let their child prepare a meal or snack – it’s a missed opportunity, but it can easily be fixed!” – See Nutrition Month Fact Sheet for More Tips on Cooking With Kids 

Food has the potential to bring people together. Whether it be Birthdays, Weddings, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Lunar New Years or communal celebratory potlatches. Food is always there. It is embedded and defines culture. It is a sense of belonging when you’re in an unfamiliar place; a taste of home when you’re continents away. It is exploration of unfamiliar faces and places. It is the celebration of new beginnings and the end of a great chapter. In kitchens, workplaces, with friends and strangers, food is something we share.

The limitless potential of food is all but a few reasons why I chose this profession. Contrary to common belief, it is not just about nutrients and requirements or advising people what to eat. In fact, a lot of us already know what healthy eating entails in a broad sense – whole grains, lean protein, more vegetables and less processed foods. Yet more than half (60.3%, or 17.1 million) of Canadians aged 12 years and older consume fruits and vegetables less than five times per day (2014, CCHS). Food consumption is more complex than one may think. Food choices are influenced by the social, economic, and physical environment. As well as many internal factors including emotional and mental state of mind, and even illnesses. All of these factors affect what we eat, how much we eat, and why we eat. Despite using evidence-based guidelines, constantly critically appraising new research, nutrition is not an exact science. In fact, the more nutritional knowledge we gain, the more we realize we do not know enough. It is not as simple as calories in versus calories out. Nutrients interact with each other, and genes affect the way we access or utilize nutrients, nutrients also in turn affect the way our genes are coded… there are feedback loops and connections in more ways than we know. Back a couple decades ago, nobody would have fathomed the thought that little tiny microbes in our gut would have a role to play in mood or our immune system.

“Dietitians empower patients, clients and communities to embrace, understand and enjoy food. We consider a client’s ethnic background, personal needs (including taste and accessibility) and translate the science of nutrition into terms they can understand! We unlock food’s potential and support healthy living for all Canadians.”

– Gina Sunderland, MSc, RD

This is where dietitian’s come into play. We understand the complexities of food choices from access to decision making, and from the challenges of behaviour change to the drivers of motivation for change. We are here to listen to your needs, to guide you to the best-evidenced science so that you can make informed choices, to empower you with tools to help you succeed in your health goals, to re-engage you with food and to help foster a healthy relationship with eating as a foundation for promoting health. You can find us in primary health care helping people heal faster, prevent malnutrition and reduce health care costs; in clinics providing education and to assist in building tangible lifestyle interventions that reduce one’s risk of developing chronic diseases; working with employers to improve productivity in the workplace, or in interprofessional homecare teams that helps to improve quality of life, reduce hospital and long term care admissions. You can also find dietitians working in the food industry consulting food companies on new product development, with politicians to build policies and at the community level doing education outreach.

“Like all regulated health professionals, dietitians undergo comprehensive and rigorous training, both on the job and in universities. Dietitians are held accountable to the highest standards of education and ethics, which means they look beyond fads and gimmicks to deliver reliable, lifechanging food-related advice that supports prevention and healing.”

– Mandy Megan Conyers-Smith, RD

We all know food quite well – In some sense, we are all experts. I recall a mentor once said: “There are always two experts in the room”. There’s the client or patient, who is the expert of themselves, and if we’re lucky enough – they’ll share some of that with us; and then there’s the dietitian: We are nutrition experts. We love food. It unites us all. We believe in its power to enhance lives and improve health and our curiosity to understand the science behind it drives us; it is our passion and our calling. We are dietitians. (Learn more about dietitians).

Happy Nutrition Month – from a passionate dietitian. 

My blessings to you this month to: Unlock the Potential of Food to….

  • Fuel: Choose wholesome foods that will fuel and satisfy you throughout the day.
  • Heal: Learn how food can promote healing and how dietitians work in health care teams to make a difference.
  • Prevent: Understand how food can help prevent chronic diseases and choose one health goal to work on this month. Start by brainstorm concrete actions you could do to achieve that goal.
  • Discover: Embrace food and discover new flavours, textures and cultures. Visit a local farm, be curious about where your food comes from and stay adventurous to try new dishes.
  • Bring Us Together: Close the screens; get your family, friends and colleagues in the kitchen together and share meals in good company.

For more information on what’s happening near you: Visit the Canada Activity Map . For BC resident’s, follow us on Facebook  or Instagram to learn more about how to unlock the potential of food and to tune into contest/challenges and events near you this month. #NutritionMonth #NutritionMonthBC

References: 

  1. Public Health Agency of Canada. (2018, February 01). Minister’s Message – Heart Month – February 2018. Retrieved February 26, 2018, from https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/news/2018/02/minister_s_message-heartmonth-february2018.html
  2. Public Health Agency of Canada. (2011, December 15). Chapter 1: Diabetes in Canada: Facts and figures from a public health perspective – Burden. Retrieved March 01, 2018, from https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/chronic-diseases/reports-publications/diabetes/diabetes-canada-facts-figures-a-public-health-perspective/chapter-1.html#DIA
  3. Public Health Agency of Canada. Canadians Living Longer, Healthier Lives: Healthy Canadians 2010 Report. (2017, December). PsycEXTRA Dataset. doi:10.1037/e622902012-001
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