Is Eliminating World Hunger Possible?

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In honor of World Food Day, I felt inspired to write about something near and dear to my heart – World Hunger.

World Food Day promotes awareness and action for eliminating world hunger, ensuring food security and access to nutritious diets for everyone.  The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) actually has a goal of achieving “zero hunger” by 2030.

Some people may believe that eradicating world hunger is an unreachable or unattainable goal but hear this:

Reaching #ZeroHunger is possible: out of the 129 countries monitored by FAO, 72 have already achieved the target of halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015; over the past 20 years, the likelihood of a child dying before age five has been nearly cut in half, with about 17,000 children saved every day; extreme poverty rates have been cut in half since 1990.(fao.org)

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In the Spring of May 2000 I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to The Gambia, West Africa.  The group of University students that I went with lived and worked with The Sisters of the Presentation of Mary.  As an aspiring dietitian and nutrition student at the time, I was particularly interested in the nutritional aspect of feeding the hungry and sick.  We were able to help out in the schools, church and the hospital.  Never did I realize how life-changing this experience would be.

One of the most memorable days was working with The Sisters of Charity (Then Mother Teresa’s order of nuns and now Saint Teresa of Calcutta) at a malnourished children’s center.   The day we were there 28 children were present ranging from ~2-4 years old.  Some of the children had protruding stomachs (Kwashiorkor or bacterial infection?), some had severe stunting of growth and some also had disabilities.  We helped feed the children but also just held them or played with them as many were just seeking some love and attention (they would cry until you picked them up).

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Working at the hospital definitely took me out of my comfort zone and I experienced a very different reality than healthcare in Canada.  Another young woman and I were tasked to help in the kitchen and then help deliver the food to the hospital patients.  Tasks included peeling potatoes and carrots or helping out wherever needed.  We were sent with baskets of hard-boiled eggs to wards with beds with at least 2 children per bed (on either end).  One day by surprise they put a towel on my head, placed a very large pan of hot millet porridge with peanut butter mixed in (for protein) on my head and asked me to deliver it.  We walked across the street and into the hospital to several other wards this way. (I was so nervous I was going to spill!)  They had a 1 Week Cycle Menu at the hospital (this is not inclusive – only what I helped with and documented in my journal):

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My experience in Africa changed me forever and I (like many others doing this type of work) claim that “you always seem to gain more from it than you give”.  Experiencing a country with extreme poverty and starvation puts into perspective how much we have to be grateful for and definitely strengthened my faith.

Not everyone has the opportunity to volunteer in another country nor is it necessary.  However, whether you are helping to fight hunger in your own community or supporting an international organization, both are equally important.  Just know that ending World Hunger is possible!

3 International Organizations working on World Hunger: (that I have learned about recently)

  1. Mary’s Meals: www.marysmeals.ca 

Provides one good meal every school day to some of the world’s poorest children (where hunger and poverty prevent children from gaining an education).  Impressive: Focus on sustainability as Mary’s Meals buys locally sourced food to boost local economies.  By focusing on the education of children they are helping break the poverty cycle and aim for eventual self-sufficiency in the communities they are supporting.  Also, Mary’s Meals are very committed to keeping their running costs low.  For every $1.00 donated the organization spends a minimum of $0.93 on their charitable activities. (only 7 cents spent on governance and fundraising)

2. MANA: (Mother Administered Nutritive Aid) www.mananutrition.org

Develops and provides solutions to address severe cases of malnutrition in children. They produce a ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) made of a fortified peanut paste.  Impressive: MANA directly empowers mothers (most often in a village setting) to feed their children and prevent suffering or death from severe acute malnutrition.  It’s great to see a non-profit innovating therapeutic nutrition products and supporting groups to help local communities make their own RUTF.

3. Chalice: www.chalice.ca

Uses a direct family funding model to dispense sponsorship funds for a child’s education, nutrition and medical care.  Impressive: Each parent/guardian receives training in basic financial literacy (they are educated, supported and held accountable for funds spent) to help them manage their child’s sponsorship funds.  This encourages self-reliance and greater participation in their children’s education.  Over 90% of funds go directly to programs.  (Chalice received an “A” in Money Sense Charity rating.)

Are your meals a time of Connection or Dysfunction?

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Connection:

Food is much more than nourishment.  Sharing food is also about human connection. Some of my favourite memories are sharing meals with friends and family.

Like many families we have a very busy schedule with my husband’s irregular working hours and my boy’s swimming schedule so mealtimes are not always shared.  However, knowing the importance of family mealtime I take advantage of every opportunity we can to sit down and eat together.  While eating, I have my children’s attention and can ask them about their school day or activities.  Sometimes it’s a slow start but funny thing once one son starts sharing about their day, the other two typically want to share too. They often use the term “Breaking news” when they want to share something about their day as small as “what girl likes what boy” or “who got in trouble” (it’s never them – eyeroll).

Research has shown that simply sitting down at the kitchen table and sharing family meals has a positive impact on children and teenager’s development.  Children and teens that eat regular meals with their family have been shown to have improved food choices, better nutrient intakes, lower eating disorder risk, better social adjustment and improved school performance. Teens specifically involved in meal preparation have also been shown to have improved vegetable and fruit intake.

I believe that sharing meals for adults (with or without children) is equally important.  Personally I cherish the meals I get to share with my girlfriends, family friends, and coworkers.  It is a time to try new restaurants or experience new cuisine (that may be a bit too adventurous for my children).  More than that, it is a time to catch up, de-stress with laughter, get advice and possibly vent.  For many adults it provides a sense of belonging and community.  It allows us time to fulfill our desire to be heard, understood and affirmed in who we are.

Dysfunction:

The following are 3 mealtime struggles I commonly see in my practice:

1. Child Food Fights.

Mealtime should not be a regular battleground of tension, struggle and fighting.  Not uncommon to many families is the power struggle between parents and young children over food. Whether the concern is picky eating, eating too much/too little, etc.  If this is happening at your table, you may need to evaluate or seek guidance on changing your approach to childhood feeding.  Mealtime should be a calm and comfortable environment for children without pressure from grownups.  For example, meals should be a time where kids can feel free to try or not try new foods and finish or not finish everything on their plate.  “When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.” -Ellyn Satter (Childhood feeding expert, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Family Therapist)

2. Dieting Disruption.

When a parent(s) is dieting it disrupts the unity and enjoyment of sharing the meal.  I’m not talking simply cutting down portions but eating in a totally different way than the rest of the family or eating at a different time.   Others will have a list of “food rules” of what they can or cannot eat.  With chronic dieting “You have forgotten what you really like to eat and instead eat what you think you should eat.” -Evelyn Tribole (Intuitive Eating: A revolutionary program that works)  A dieting parent may never eat dessert or call themselves “bad” when they do.  Children have watchful eyes and ears that pick up on parental behaviours.  This can lead children to question their own food choices and whether “they need to lose weight or diet too”.  Just like in many other areas of life, children need their parents to be role models with eating.  Instead of dieting focus on healthy behaviours that can benefit the whole family.  For example, focus on balancing the family meal better by offering more vegetable options.

3. Eating Disorder Destruction.

Nothing breaks my heart more than seeing eating disorders rip families apart.  A family member so ill with their eating disorder that mealtime becomes a battleground of control and frustration.  The individual may be so overwhelmed with anxiety and fear that they basically “shut down” at the table.  For some people struggling with an eating disorder, their fears of eating around others or eating food that they did not prepare becomes so terrifying that they socially isolate themselves from friends, colleagues and their own family.  They miss birthday parties, BBQ’s, holiday celebrations, school and/or work events.  For single people, they may avoid dating and meeting new people for fear that food may be involved.  Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that destroy the natural human connection fostered at mealtime and instead create a disconnect and isolation from others.  If you suspect you or your loved one has an eating disorder – reach out for help right away.  The sooner a person receives support and treatment for an eating disorder, the better the recovery outcomes.

Links to useful resources:

Eating Disorders: http://www.nedic.ca

Freedom from Chronic Dieting: http://www.intuitiveeating.org

Childhood Feeding: http://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org

*Seek support if you or your family is experiencing struggles at mealtime.  Look for a Registered Dietitian and therapist that specializes in your area of concern.

Easter Blessings – Food for the Soul

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This Easter weekend I returned to my Ukrainian roots and took part in the Blessing of Easter baskets.  Easter and the Holy Week leading up to it, has always been a very special time of year for me.  Growing up in the Ukrainian Catholic faith, we had so many faith-filled traditions with deep-rooted meaning and many involving food.   I still have fond memories of all of our extended family celebrating at the table with the basket of blessed food.

As a dietitian, Easter is a good reminder to me that food is so much more than nourishment.  Sharing food is also about human connection.  It is a way that people connect on a social and cultural level.  Sharing meals establishes a sense of stability, security, togetherness and belonging that not only benefits children but adults as well.

The day before Easter on Holy Saturday, Ukrainians prepare a basket of food for their families and then have it blessed by the priest at their church. The Easter basket symbolizes the joy and gratitude marking the end of Lent.  After the Easter Sunday Divine Liturgy the food is eaten in celebration of the Resurrection of Christ.  Not a morsel of food is thrown away because everything is blessed.  (Even the egg shells are ground up and often put in the dirt outside with the plants.)  The basket contains specific foods and items that symbolize different aspects of our Christian faith:

Pascha: 

  • symbolizes Jesus Christ and the joy of the new life He has given to us
  • a sweet white bread rich in eggs decorated with braids, crosses, etc.

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Candle: 

  • symbolizes Christ as “the light of the world”
  • made of beeswax and lit during the blessing

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Eggs:

  • symbolizes Christ’s death and resurrection
  • Pysanky are intricately decorated eggs

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  • Krashanky are hard-boiled eggs often dyed and meant to be eaten

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Butter: 

  • symbolizes the goodness of Christ which we need to reflect to others

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Ham: 

  • symbolizes the great joy and abundance of Easter

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Kobasa:

  • symbolizes God’s favour and generousity

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Cottage Cheese:

  • the blandness symbolizes the moderation that we should cultivate in our daily lives

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Salt:

  • symbolizes that we are followers of Christ and the meaning of life is to live according to the Gospel
  • a reminder of Christ’s words: “You are the salt of the earth.”

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Horseradish:

  • symbolizes the passion and death of Christ and the bitterness of sin

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Embroidered Cloth Cover: 

  • symbolizes Christ’s shroud (white linen)
  • (this cloth is usually embroidered with an image of the risen Christ, a cross or other appropriate symbol or words)

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I feel blessed to have a heritage so rich in customs and traditions that has brought me so many fond childhood memories.  Whatever your culture or customs may be, I encourage you to keep them alive with your family and pass on these beautiful and meaningful traditions to your children!

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Nutrition Fail – My 1st Marathon

I’m sharing this personal experience with hopes that it might save someone from the mistake I made…

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On May 27, 2012 I ran my first full marathon.  My goal was sub 4 hours which I thought was reasonable for being a busy mom of 3 young boys.  I followed a training plan and ran the appropriate mileage each week.  As a Registered Dietitian I paid attention and knew nutrition was important especially for the full marathon distance.  I was careful to hydrate, get my electrolytes in on long runs, paid special attention to carbohydrates and recovery nutrition (including carbs and protein).  For ease, I trained using water, energy gels and sports drinks.

Race day was a cool cloudy day.  I felt ready but anxious.  The start was congested but I managed to make my way into my own space after a few kilometers.  It wasn’t a flat course by any means but I managed the hills (I am from Saskatchewan after all) and was thankful for my hill training.  The atmosphere was enjoyable with people cheering you on and I had some good laughs at the signs created by spectators.

I felt good overall until near the end of the race when fatigue starting setting in.  Honestly, the thought of choking back another energy gel was enough to make me want to vomit.  So I didn’t.  Big mistake.

From what I remember around the last 5km mark I bonked and bonked hard.  Some may call it “Hitting the wall”.  I basically felt like I had a sack of bricks tied to my feet and legs – they were so heavy and difficult to lift.  From a mental perspective, I started to feel delusional and just “out of it”.  Someone asked me why I just didn’t sprint the last 100 meters and honestly it would have been physically and mentally impossible.  After I crossed the finish line I almost fell over and didn’t feel right until I ate some cookies and drank some sports drink at the food tents.

In case you are wondering, somehow I still met my goal of sub 4 hrs (my chip time was 3hrs:59min:58sec) and I was still happy about meeting my goal.  However, questions will always remain – how at risk was my health and safety? and if I hadn’t messed up my nutrition plan – what could my time have been?

In the end, I learned a valuable lesson and want to share it with others.  Have a nutrition plan, don’t think you can get away with skipping the carbs, and train with some different options.  Otherwise your safety and performance will suffer.

5 Nutrition Tips for New Marathoners:

  1. Forget Low-Carb: Low carb diets are not for distance runners.  Distance runners need carbohydrate stores called glycogen which fuel long runs.  Simply put-if you are not eating enough carb daily to meet your basic needs, you will not store any glycogen to fuel your long runs.
  2. Train with a Nutrition Plan:  You need to practice your fluid and fuel strategies during training runs in order to assess your body’s tolerance (ie. digestive upset, cramping, etc.).  For runs 1-2.5 hours: 30-60g of carbohydrate is recommended per hour.  For longer runs >2.5 hours: up to 90g of carbohydrate per hour.  Adequate hydration is always essential and electrolyte replacement is recommended for running 1 hour or longer.
  3. Vary Carb Sources: to prevent flavour/taste fatigue.  Taste buds can get tired too which makes it very difficult to choke down another sweet gel.  Train with a few options.  Varied carb sources may also be of benefit to achieve higher carbohydrate absorption rates and therefore enhance performance.
  4. Don’t forget Recovery Nutrition: Have a recovery snack high in carbohydrate with a modest amount of protein within 20-30min.  Then have a balanced meal ~1hour later.
  5. See a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist if you have Questions: It is very important to look for the credentials RD or PDt after the health professional’s name or ask if they are a Dietitian.  In many provinces the title “Nutritionist” is not protected so someone could call themselves a “Nutritionist” with little or no education and without accountability to a regulatory body.  Registered Dietitians have many different specialties so seek out someone with sports nutrition experience.

Check out these links to useful resources:

The No-Fail Breakfast Method

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It’s 6am.  You rise from your bed well rested and bright eyed ready for the day ahead.  You have plenty of time to prepare your gourmet balanced breakfast as you brew your coffee and listen to your favourite tunes.   As you watch the sunrise out on your back deck, you mindfully eat your delicious meal and sip your warm latte feeling peaceful before heading off to work…

Realistic?  Probably not.  I work with a lot of clients who say they skip breakfast because they are rushed in the morning, do not feel hungry, feel physically sick if they eat, or it’s just become a habit.  However, I find that if you set yourself up properly there is no need or excuse to miss breakfast.

“The No-Fail Breakfast Method” focuses on planning for 3 scenarios to set you up for success:

  1. Home Breakfast – Ideal to eat before you leave for the day so that you can eat in a relaxed, non-distracted setting.  This way you can eat slowly and have fuel before you start expending energy.
  2. On the Go Breakfast – Some mornings are a little more rushed and scattered to get out the door.  Use less time by preparing a quick portable option and eating it on the commute.
  3. Back-up Plan Breakfast – There are always some unpredictable events in the morning (ie. alarm mishaps, dog barfs, bad weather, etc.) so as a last resort when breakfast is totally missed have a few options already stored and available at the office (or your school locker).

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

1. Home Breakfast Ideas:

  • Breakfast burrito with scrambled egg, veggies, salsa in a whole grain wrap
  • Oatmeal with berries/nuts or Overnight oats (make ahead the night before)
  • Homemade muffin, fresh fruit salad and cottage cheese
  • Leftovers from last night’s supper

2. On the Go Breakfast Ideas:

  • Homemade trail mix with nuts/seeds+dried fruit+dry cereal (pre-portion it ahead of time into containers and leave in your car/bag)
  • Smoothie with fresh or frozen fruit, spinach or kale, greek yogurt and milk
  • Banana and nut butter sandwich or on a whole grain wrap
  • Greek yogurt parfait with berries and muesli

3. Back-up Plan Breakfast Ideas:

  • Plain instant oatmeal packets that you can easily make with hot water at the office and add-in some nuts/dried fruit or an unsweetened fruit cup.
  • Nut butter (that doesn’t need to be refrigerated) on whole grain crackers
  • High fibre low sugar cold breakfast cereal (with milk if your office has it for coffee)
  • If you have an office fridge – keep a few pre-peeled hard-boiled eggs, fresh fruit and/or Greek yogurt handy for the week ahead.