Tracking Nutrition Trends survey shows Canadians making positive dietary changes

Lois Abraham, The Canadian Press
May 29, 2014
By Lois Abraham, The Canadian Press
May 29, 2014 - According to a new study, more Canadians think they're doing well when it comes to nutrition.
Tracking Nutrition Trends 2013, found that almost 80 per cent of Canadians consider their eating habits and health to be ranged as good to excellent, slightly higher than the results found in the previous survey in 2008. Despite this claim, less than two-thirds of Canadians report that they're eating breakfast, though it was slightly higher at 63 per cent in 2013, versus 58 per cent in 2008.

“I think we can take that and say there's room for improvement, there's room for action and there's a need to communicate what the simple solutions are that Canadians can put in place,” said Kate
Comeau, registered dietitian and a spokesperson for Dietitians of
Canada.

The survey, which provides insight into Canadians' self-perceived nutrition knowledge and their behaviours surrounding diet and food choice, was released Wednesday by the Canadian Foundation for Dietetic Research and Dietitians of Canada. It was conducted online last July and included 2,004 adults across Canada.

Canadians seem to be embracing the idea that adopting good eating habits and a healthy lifestyle can contribute to better health, Comeau said. The survey found that 92 per cent of Canadians had done something to improve or change their eating or drinking habits over the past year, with the top three adjustments including eating more fruits or vegetables, reducing salt/sodium and reducing sugar.

“I think that the message about sugar and sodium, those are two that have been coming out fairly often in the media and I think people are listening. They're simple things that people can be doing to continue on that path, things like satisfying your thirst with water to reduce your sugar intake,” she said in a phone interview from Montreal.

“Sometimes we feel as dietitians that that message is getting tired and people must be thinking we're broken records, always talking about vegetables and fruits, but it really is so important and such a great thing that people can do for their overall health and it doesn't need to be complicated,” Comeau added.

She suggests peeling and washing vegetables then chopping, roasting or grilling them on the weekend so they're ready to include in meals during the week. She also says to use up vegetables in a soup that can be heated in cold weather, a chilled soup like gazpacho in summer or even in pasta sauce.

A majority of Canadians (82 per cent), considered themselves very or somewhat knowledgeable about food and nutrition, yet the survey suggests their source of information might not always be the most credible. About half of survey respondents reported using the Internet, magazines, friends, relatives or colleagues for information and though they ranked their family physician (94 per cent) or dietitians (88 per cent) as the most credible sources, only 50 per cent and 21 per cent respectively said they received information from those sources.

“I think it's great that people are using those easy-to-access sources of information and maybe that's a sign that dietitians and doctors need to keep working on being accessible, but when I think about young Canadians using the Internet for nutrition information there's really three red flags that I would point out,'' said Comeau.

“I would look for whether or not recommendations are given for a quick or miracle solution to a health problem, if the recommendations are based on personal stories instead of scientific evidence and if claims sound too good to be true or a single solution that would cure multiple problems,” she said.

The survey, which has been done eight times since 1989, showed 91 per cent of Canadians said taste is the No. 1 influence for food. “I thought it was important to think about ways to boost flavour without necessarily adding in the sugar, salt and fat that makes food so delicious,'' said Comeau, who suggests using fresh herbs, spice blends, lemon or lime juice and balsamic vinegar instead.

Comeau said it was encouraging that two-thirds were getting information from food product labels, consistent with the 2008 study. But also consistent with the previous study, less than half of Canadians used the information on food packages to determine how much of the product they or their family should eat.

“It's a great source of information and is readily available, but there is a certain amount of education and understanding that needs to happen to be able to use that information,” she said. “Is it that the serving size didn't make sense to them because it was in grams? Are we doing enough with food labeling to help Canadians understand what's there?”

Canadians also looked at specific ingredients and nutrient levels when choosing products. “One of them was whether their food was a source of whole grains and I just thought it was important to point out that when we're choosing bread we're looking at the ingredient list as well, not just the front of the package. We want to look for whole-grain flour as the first ingredient because a source of whole grain doesn't always mean the product is 100 per cent whole grain,'' Comeau said.

The survey also showed two-thirds of Canadians use supplements, with vitamin D (32 per cent) and multi-vitamins (30 per cent) being the most popular choices.

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