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Canadians eating record amount of produce

While consumption of fruits and veggies has risen in the country, so has the intake of sugars, in addition to an unchanged rate of fats and oils.

j.p. moczulski The Globe and Mail

Forget the steak and its sizzle. These days, Canadians are more interested in what the produce aisle has to say.

At least, that's what a new report from Statistics Canada reveals about the country's food consumption patterns.

On average, Canadians consumed a record amount of fresh fruits and vegetables last year, according to the new study, which was released yesterday.

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The country's taste for red meat also declined to 23.4 kilograms per person in 2009, compared to a high of nearly 32 kilograms in 1981.

The average consumption of fish also rose in 2009 compared to 2008. At the same time, the number of calories Canadians consumed daily dropped to about 2,358 last year, compared to 2,363 in 2008. While that may not seem like a big decline, the average daily caloric intake has been falling since its peak of more than 2,500 in 2001.

And we're not simply buying healthy food and letting it rot in the refrigerator. In order to calculate accurate food consumption patterns, Statistics Canada uses highly complex "adjustment factors" to take into account food that would have been lost through spoilage at home or in restaurants.

But it's not all good news. The amount of sugar and syrup consumed in Canada has crept up over the past two years to nearly 24 kilograms a person, following six years of declines. Dairy consumption also decreased 3.5 per cent to 16 kilograms a person in 2009 compared to the previous year.

The country's intake of fats and oils remained nearly identical between 2008 and 2009 at nearly 18 kilograms a person. Although consumption of butter, margarine, shortening and oils has been declining in recent years, it's still far above a low of about 16 kilograms a person in 1981.

Nutrition experts say while the report has some positive highlights, simply eating more fruits and vegetables doesn't make our population fit and healthy.

"If people are eating more fruits and vegetables and more Häagen-Dazs ice cream and more French fries, what's the benefit?" said Rena Mendelson, professor of nutrition at Ryerson University.

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A major portion of the population is overweight or obese, physical activity levels are low and the risk of cardiovascular disease and other health problems continues to climb.

The report is a snapshot of eating trends that's compiled by calculating the total available supply and then using a formula to estimate how much of that would not have been consumed because of waste, spoilage or other factors. As a result, the report can't be broken down by age, geographic location or income bracket and means its results should be interpreted with caution, the report says.

The findings do seem to suggest that healthy-eating campaigns and growing awareness of obesity across Canada is starting to have an impact on how the country eats, said Tina Moffat, associate professor in anthropology at McMaster University, who focuses on childhood nutrition.

However, a closer inspection of eating trends would likely reveal that positive changes are mostly confined to higher income groups, she said.

"I still think we have some fundamental problems with low socioeconomic people not being able to access fruits and vegetables," Dr. Moffat said.

Produce, as well as lean meats, are often pricey and that means many people living on lower incomes have to rely on processed and other unhealthy foods, she said.

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In order to reverse some of the troubling trends that have taken hold in recent decades, many nutrition experts advocate teaching children about proper nutrition and cooking techniques.

"I think we need to get to the point where more Canadians have a higher … food literacy and that food literacy includes understanding things like how to prepare food, how to plan meals and how to take into account portions," Prof. Mendelson said.

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About the Author

Carly Weeks has been a journalist with The Globe and Mail since 2007.  She has reported on everything from federal politics to the high levels of sodium in the Canadian diet. More

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