Country food key to nutrition in Nunavut, dietitian says
Fruits from the sea your best bet for vitamin D
Feeling low on energy Numavummiut? Maybe you’re in need of some extra vitamin D or a boost to your iron levels?
If so, then filling up on country foods like caribou, char and maqtaq could help you out, Iqaluit Public Health dietitian Madonna Achkar said.
“Caribou is rich in iron which is a mineral important for blood health, and it prevents fatigue,” she said, adding that iron is especially important for new mothers and for babies, because it helps with healthy brain development.
As for seafood, it’s packed with vitamins D and C, and “fish is very rich in protein and healthy fats, which are key nutrients to helping us feel full and energetic,” she said.
For the month of March, the Government of Nunavut and Dietitians of Canada are using an annual nutrition month to promote the potential that food has for fuelling well-being and for bringing people together.
“For Nunavut I’m going to focus on country food. Traditional food not only nourishes, but it also fuels an active life,” Achkar said. “It inspires children, it helps to heal, and most importantly, it brings people together.”
If you’d like to set up a meeting with a dietitian, you just have to get a referral from your doctor or community health care professional, Achkar said. A dietitian will make scheduled visits to communities, or you can do consultations through telehealth sessions.
In her meetings, Achkar asks her clients about their eating habits and makes suggestions for how to supplements their diets and make healthy changes.
For example, she suggested making water your main daily drink, and adding fruit to make it taste fresh.
That’s because many beverages have more sugar in them than is recommended for daily intake. While six teaspoons is considered the maximum amount of sugar that a person should eat each day, one can of pop contains 10 teaspoons of sugar, she said.
The same goes for salt. Because a single teaspoon is the recommended limit, she said to avoid processed foods that are high in sodium.
“The more processed foods you eat, they can add to fat in your arteries and that can lead to stroke,” she said. Eating well and being smoke free can help to greatly reduce risks of stroke, heart disease and diabetes, Achkar said. “A nutritious diet, as part of a healthy lifestyle, is part of the key to managing diseases.”
In Nunavut, those kinds of packaged foods aren’t just unhealthy, they’re also expensive.
By making food at home, and eating simple proteins like eggs and beans when country foods aren’t available, people can save a lot of money, she said, adding that eggs can be prepared without bacon or sausages, which aren’t very good for you.
For breakfast, oatmeal is the most affordable cereal option, and it’s sugar free, she said.
If you are struggling with cholesterol levels, then foods high in healthy fats, like fish and whale, can reduce those levels, as can eating foods that are rich in fibre, like vegetables and whole grains.
And, if you fill up on food from the sea, you’re less likely to suffer from seasonal affective disorder, or the winter blues.
“We see a lot of vitamin D deficiency in Nunavut,” she said. “Great sources of vitamin D include seal liver, lake trout, white fish, Arctic char, beluga blubber and Arctic cod.”
For vitamin C, whale skin, fish eggs and cloudberries are good sources.
Anyone in Nunavut can get vitamin D for free through their health centres when it is prescribed by a health care professional. And children five years and under can get it for free without a prescription. At Iqaluit public health, vitamin D drops are free for anyone who stops in to pick them up.
Besides damaging long-term wellness, processed foods that are high in refined sugars and sodium can also contribute to feelings of anxiety, she said. Eating better food can help with overall mental health.
For more nutritional facts on country food, you can check out this information sheet.
This GN website has healthy recipes and a storybook to help children learn about healthy eating.
“Another health benefit of country food is the potential to discover through hunting and fishing,” Achkar said. “A great way to teach children about country food is to let them go hunting and fishing.”
This free “cookspiration” app made by Dieticians of Canada can help bring healthy inspiration when you’re writing your grocery list.