The Sochi Winter Olympic Games gave rise to my first, entirely watched game of hockey. It was for the men’s’ gold – Canada vs. Sweden. The 3:30am wake up call brought forward my new found appreciation for the game. I am not sure if it was the lack of sleep, the showcase of phenomenal stick skills, or the nicely built men on skates, but I can definitely see the allure.
It has almost been a year since moving back home to Canada, and it seems to get more beautiful and impressive by the day. Spring brought road trips, exploring the rocky coastline and old growth forests. Summer was all about the lakes; houseboats with water slides and tubing in the sun warmed waters. Fall is for exploring the city, Victoria in shades of yellow and orange never looked prettier. And finally winter… Can you imagine a hot tub in the sand on a Canadian beach in the middle of winter? Maybe if it’s heated by the ranging bonfire next to it!
Thinking about how proud I am to be a part of a nation that is 100% behind their athletes made me think about how great it would be if we were all also 100% behind locally produced Canadian foods. We are so lucky to have beautiful, locally grown produce available all year around in B.C. Even in the middle of winter we can see kale, cabbage, apples and squash coming in direct from the farmers fields. Here are my top 5 Canadian foods that we should all be proud to have come from our beautiful nation.
1. Canadian Apples
Apples are grown in provinces all across Canada. B.C. alone grows 17 different species, accounting for approximately 30% of the apples produced. Apples were first brought over by European settlers in the 17th century. In 2010 the farm gate value of Canadian apples was estimated at $148.5 million. Not only that, but apples are now an indispensable source of nutrition that can outlast our long winter months.
“We can expect to see more information on the effects of apples on bacterial balance in our digestive tract.”
There is a movement in B.C. to stop the approval of Genetically Modified (GM) Okanogan Non-Browning Apples, AKA “Arctic Variety”. These apples won’t brown for up to 2 weeks after being sliced open . Many feel this could greatly impact the Canadian apple export market and organic apple growers are deeply concerned. If you want to have your say on GM Non-Browning Apples visit CBANs website here.
At 65 calories a hit, this fruit is a great choice for an afternoon snack. New research has also found that when adults consume a medium sized apple 15 minutes before a meal, their caloric intake for that meal decreased by 15%. Apples are also high in phytonutrients that can help you to regulate your blood glucose levels. We can also expect to see more information coming out on the effects of apples on bacterial balance in our digestive tract – next superfood anyone?
2. Canadian Wild Rice
Wild rice was an integral part of the traditional Canadian Aboriginal people’s diet, particularly those of the Ojibwe tribe. These tribes considered wild rice to be sacred, and hand harvesting always occurred via canoe. We can still find wild rice harvested via this traditional method today. It is thought to ensure only the ripe rice is harvested, and preserves the taste and texture of this tasty grain.
“Per 100 calories wild rice is second only to oats in protein content, with quinoa coming in at third.”
Wild rice differs in taste from traditional white rice and tends to have a chewy outer sheath and a tender inner grain. The more authentic varieties range in colour from light brown, to greenish-brown, to deep brown. Wild rice takes about 30-40 minutes to fully cook and offers a rich flavour that has a slightly vegetal taste. It goes nicely in soups, stews, salads, grain burgers, desserts, pancakes, waffles and in bread.
This gluten-free grain is high in protein and dietary fibre. In terms of grains, per 100 calories (cooked) wild rice is second only to oats in protein content, with quinoa coming in at third. It is also a good source of B-vitamins as well as certain minerals including zinc and manganese.
3. Fresh Canadian Seafood
Our pallets have become accustomed to salmon and halibut here in Canada, but there is so many more delicious and sustainable seafood options available to us. Sablefish (Black Cod) from the Canadian Pacific or Alaska that are trap and bottom longline caught is one of the best options out there. In B.C. we also have Spot Prawns (see here for my post on B.C. Spot Prawns) that are super sustainable, and over on the East Coast they have Oysters on offer. And don’t forget about the Pacific Cod, Dungeness Crab, Sardines and Atlantic Mackeral – all “green” choices as per SeaChoice.
“Pacific Salmon, Sablefish (Black Cod), Pacific Sardines and Atlantic Mackerel are amongst those sustainable seafood options that have the highest levels of omega-3 and lowest mercury content.”
Seafood is an important part of the traditional and modern Canadians diet. Unfortunately overfishing and unsustainable fish methods mean our children might not be able to enjoy the bounty of seafood that is presently available to us. Maybe it is time to say goodbye to Bluefin Tuna forever and start sourcing our seafood from more sustainable fishing methods. SeaChoice and The Monterey Bay Aquarium both have booklets and apps to help us make those sustainable seafood choices.
Registered Dietitians recommend at least 2 servings of oily fish per week. This is mostly in part due to the high omega-3 fatty acid content which can help to boost immunity and reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer and other ailments. Making sustainable seafood options ensures that we are not draining the ocean to meet these nutrition recommendations. It is also important to note that some fish can contain toxic levels of mercury that can pose certain health risks if eaten too frequently. Pacific Salmon, Sablefish (Black Cod), Pacific Sardines and Atlantic Mackerel are amongst those sustainable seafood options that have the highest levels of omega-3 and lowest mercury content.
*Vegetarians – see my post How To Get Your Omega-3s – For the Vegetarians
4. Canadian Rolled Oats
Canadian Oats are grown across Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Oats prefer temperate regions and have a lower summer heat requirement and greater tolerance of rain than most other cereals. Oats were brought to Canada in the early 17th century by European colonists and used primarily as a feed crop for horses which were used for farming and transportation. Although oats continue to primarily be used as feed for the livestock industry, they also have a secondary importance as a health food for human consumption.
“Oats are high in protein and fibre, and a good source of manganese, selenium, magnesium and zinc.”
Whole oats need to have their hull removed before consumption; hulled oats are known as “grouts”. Steel cut oats are whole grouts which have been cut into a few smaller pieces. Further processing and partial cooking leads to rolled oats which is what most of us are used to eating. Further processing leads to instant oats, but these have a lesser nutritional value. In food we can expect to see oats in rolled form for breakfast, or crushed to make oatmeal. Muesli and granola also use oats as a primary ingredient. Oats can also be ground into a fine flour and used in baking and in bread. Best Canadian oats: Fieldstone Organics (grains from Okanogan, BC) and Anita’s Organic (grains from B.C. and the Canadian prairie provinces).
Oats have been praised for their ability to combat high cholesterol. This is in part due to the high soluble fibre content- particularly the beta-glucans which can reduce total and LDL (bad) cholesterol. Oats, particularly whole oats, have a lower GI which helps to stabilize blood glucose levels. Oats are a gluten free grain but are often processed on the same equipment that processes gluten-containing grain so may not be suitable for those with coeliac disease. Gluten-free oats are available and may be tolerated by some with coeliac disease*. Oats are also high in protein and a good source of manganese, selenium, magnesium and zinc.
*Oats contain a protein called avenin which is not tolerated by all those with coeliac disease, and can trigger a reaction in avenin-sensitive individuals.
5. Canadian Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is so iconically Canadian that in fact we dedicated our national flag to the maple tree. Maple syrup was used by Aboriginal Canadians before European settlement and maple sap was prized as a good source of energy and nutrition by our first people. Going further along in history, maple syrup and maple sugar were used by abolitionists in the years prior to the American Civil War. It was encouraged as an alternative to cane sugar and molasses which were both produced by southern slaves.
“New research is emerging into the antioxidant profile of pure maple syrup and their health promoting benefits.”
Maple syrup is said to be used by Aboriginal people as European people used salt. Game meat including venison was cooked in maple syrup as well as seafood including salmon. Maple syrup can also be used in salad dressings, added to roasted vegetables and in a variety of different desserts – maple pecan pie?
The bad news is that maple syrup has virtually the same caloric content as white sugar. The good news, maple syrup has a lower GI that white sugar and will have a lesser affect on blood glucose levels. A 60mL (1/4 cup) portion of maple syrup provides 100% of the recommended daily allowance of manganese, 37% of riboflavin, 18% of zinc, 7% of magnesium and 5% of calcium and potassium. New research is also emerging into the antioxidant profile of pure maple syrup and their health promoting benefits. Stay tuned.
Rachel Dickens, The Conscious Dietitian, is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She graduated with her Masters in Nutrition and Dietetics in 2010 from Griffith University. She strives to provide evidence-based nutrition information with a focus on plant-based nutrition, and share some of her favourite seasonal recipes and sustainable eating tips.