How Does NL Culture Influence our Eating Habits and Health?


Imagine the influence that our distinct culture has on our eating patterns and overall health.  Newfoundland & Labrador is known as one of the unhealthiest provinces in Canada, especially in terms of Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes and Cancer.  Statistics Canada indicates that St. John’s is the most obese city in our country. Genetics may be an uncontrollable risk factor to the state of our health.  There are also controllable factors that impact our health, such as stress levels, activity levels and our eating habits.
newfoundland food culture tara antleWe have choice’s to make…we can’t control the uncontrollable; however we can control our lifestyle!  For me
personally, I could put a target on my head when it comes to my family history of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.  My family history is my family history…there’s nothing I can do to change it….I view it as a pre-existing fire that’s burning.  There’s choices I can make that would add fuel to the fire and rev it up.  While there’s other choices I can make that would smoulder it down.  Personally, I’m taking the latter!  By following a healthy lifestyle that includes healthy eating, regular fitness and keeping a positive attitude, I am in the driver’s seat…in control.  Making my life a healthy balance guides me with preventative measures to slow things down, decrease the severity or avoid the health conditions in my family’s history altogether!  It’s all about perspective!
Our eating patterns trickle down through the generations.  For the most part, we learn our eating habits from our parents who learned from their parents and so forth.  Typically, in our province, salt, fat and sugar are used on a regular basis to add taste to our foods.  We’ve used them for years…initially as a food preservative.
Studies have shown that consuming a diet high in salt and unhealthy fat may contribute towards Cardiovascular Disease.  Underneath that umbrella, encompasses an increased risk for heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.  Fat back pork, butter, lard and bacon fat have been used in recipes and as a cooking medium on a daily basis in our province for a long time.  By switching to healthy fats for cooking, such as olive, canola or macadamia nut oil, we can actually help to combat Cardiovascular Disease.  Remember, each different type of oil has a different cooking temperature range…for example; olive oil should only be used to a max of medium high heat on the stove top.  Any higher than that and we can turn a healthy fat into an unhealthy fat and make the food taste rancid.
Reducing the sodium in our diets can also help improve our health status.  Go back to the basics, keep it fresh, keep it simple …choose fresh natural foods regularly as opposed to processed, boxed or take out foods.  By making your own frozen entrees, you can help reduce the amount of preservatives, sodium, fat, and sugar while increasing the amount of fiber and protein.
When I ask clients what comes to mind in terms of types of foods that are classed as carbohydrates, they typically respond…bread and potato!  Ideally, no less than 55 % of our total daily caloric intake should be from a carbohydrate source. Although, I haven’t seen a study indicating the amount we consume in this province, I’m guessing it’s higher than that.  I can remember growing up, a typical breakfast would be a bowl of cereal with two slices of toast; spaghetti dinner was a huge plate of pasta with lots of garlic bread on the side, and for a bed time lunch, it was usually tea and toast!  Even the typical NL cold plate was/is carb heavy…potato salad, beet salad, mustard salad, macaroni salad, a dinner roll, some ham or turkey and a small piece of lettuce topped off with a sliver of tomato.  Some homes still have a bread plate on the dinner table to help make up the meal.
Years ago, times were financially difficult in our province and families were really large.  Bread was homemade and the vegetables were grown which were economical ways to help sustain the needs of the family.  Salt, fat and sugar were used as preservatives and refrigeration was not like it is today.
Growing up, I spent a fair amount of time during the summers with my great grandparents in Carmanville, Notre Dame Bay.  I can remember their stories about years gone by…everything was done by hand.  Grandfather fished during the summer months and cut tree’s during the winter months.  Gram was at home, where everything was done by hand…no such thing as running water, clothes were washed with a scrubbing board and they walked everywhere they had to go.  They worked really hard and persevered through long hours of physical labor from dawn till dusk.
Our activity level has certainly changed since then.  We are more sedentary yet some of the time, still eating the way they did years ago, coupled with the mass marketing influences of fast food/convenience processed foods.  Something has to give!!
Over the past couple of years, I have travelled around Newfoundland and Labrador to check out restaurants and food availability across our province.  Seems that sometimes natural, healthy foods are not readily available or sometimes the quality was not up to par.  When speaking to managers of business, they said that foods are ordered based on demand.
Change starts from within…start making a change today…ask your local stores for fresher fruits and vegetables.  Remember, if you remove fat, salt and sugar from foods, you’ll be left with a bland tasting product.  Replace the flavor with spice…cayenne pepper; red pepper flakes, basil, thyme, oregano and cinnamon are just a few examples of ways to jazz up your food!
Lets change the stats…make your life a healthy balance by including regular physical activity into your routine, and keeping a positive attitude….patience, persistence and positive attitude will help you reach your goals!  Make sure your plate a healthy balance which includes fresh or frozen fruits and veggies, high fibre grain products, healthy protein sources and sources of dairy and alternatives.
Have a Happy & Healthy Day!
Tara K. Antle, BSc.AHN, RHN, RNCP
Nutritionist in Private Practice
Healthy Balance
47 Leslie Street (Heritage Health Care)
St. John’s, NL A1E 2V7
Tel: 709 722- 1157