3 Important Nutrients for Vegetarians

Various fruits and vegetables on a cutting board and table

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re a vegetarian, you’re probably eating a variety of plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Following a plant-based eating style has many benefits, such as a lower risk for developing heat disease, type 2 diabetes and colon cancer. But did you know that you could be missing out on some important nutrients? Here are 3 key nutrients to think about.

Iron

Iron is a part of hemoglobin that’s in red blood cells and helps carry oxygen throughout our body. There are two different forms of iron:

  • heme iron – found in animal-based foods such as meat, poultry, fish, shellfish and eggs
  • non-heme iron – found in plant-based foods such as vegetables, grains, legumes and tofu.

Heme iron has better bioavailability, in other words, it is more easily absorbed by our body compared to non-heme iron. For this reason, it’s recommended that vegetarians get almost two times more iron as non-vegetarians, especially adults and adolescent females.

To improve the absorption of non-heme iron, try these tips:

  • Enjoy your meal with a food or drink that contains vitamin C (e.g. citrus fruit, citrus fruit juice, kiwis, mangoes, cantaloupe, sweet peppers, bok choy, broccoli, kale, potatoes).
  • Add a food that contains heme iron if you include these foods in your diet (e.g. fish, shellfish, eggs).
  • Cook with cast iron pots.
  • Avoid drinking large amounts of coffee or tea, or having high amounts of calcium at the same time as your vegetarian meal because these block iron absorption. Wait about one to two hours after a meal before enjoying coffee, tea or taking calcium supplements.
  • Try the Lucky Iron Fish, a reusable cooking tool that adds extra iron to your foods and beverages.

Best vegetarian foods for iron:

  • Iron-fortified grain products (e.g. breads, cereals, pasta)
  • Whole grains and whole grain foods
  • Legumes (e.g. split peas, lentils, beans)
  • Soy / soy products (e.g. firm or extra firm tofu, tempeh, soy veggie burger, fortified soy beverage)
  • Nuts / nut butter
  • Seeds / seed butter (e.g. pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, hemp seeds)
  • Dark green vegetables (e.g. Swiss chard, asparagus, edamame, snow peas, kale)
  • Dried fruit (e.g. raisins, dried apricots)
  • Prune juice
  • Blackstrap molasses

Zinc

Zinc is important for a strong immune system and helps with wound healing. Vegetarians, especially vegans, can be at a higher risk for zinc deficiency because fruits and vegetables contain very little zinc. If you’re a pescatarian, try fish and seafood for zinc. If you’re a lacto-ovo vegetarian, you can get zinc from eggs and dairy products.

Plant-based foods contain phytates (a natural substance found in grains, nuts, seeds and legumes) which actually reduces zinc absorption. To improve the absorption of zinc, try soaking grains, nuts, seeds and legumes before cooking.

Best vegetarian foods for zinc:

  • Legumes (e.g. beans, split peas, lentils)
  • Nuts and nut butters (e.g. almonds, peanuts, cashews, pecan, pine nuts)
  • Seeds (e.g. pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds)
  • Whole grains
  • Fortified cereals

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is important for healthy nerve cells and for making red blood cells. Vitamin B12 is found naturally only in animal-based foods. Many plant-based foods are fortified with vitamin B12 such as fortified plant-based beverages and products labelled as “simulated meat products” or “simulated poultry products.” If you’re vegan, it may be helpful to take a vitamin B12 supplement. Talk to a Registered Dietitian for more advice.

Best vegetarian foods for vitamin B12

  • Plant-based foods fortified with vitamin B12 (e.g. fortified soy yogurt, veggie burgers, simulated meat products, simulated poultry products)
  • Plant-based beverages fortified with vitamin B12 (e.g. fortified soy / oat / rice / almond beverage)
  • Fortified nutritional yeast

There are many delicious foods to enjoy on a vegetarian diet. If you’re not sure whether you’re getting enough nutrients or have questions about supplements, consult with a Registered Dietitian.

References:  Health Canada (2022 May 7). Applying Canada’s Dietary Guidelines – Considerations for Vegetarian Diets.

This article originally appeared on Canadian Food Focus, a source for Canadian food and farming stories that provide advice to help you make confident food choices.

The Spirit Plate – an Indigenous Food Tradition

Have you heard of a Spirit Plate?  I hadn’t until I met Chef David Wolfman.

Chef Wolfman with Sue, Lucia and others standing in a kitchen with plated food.

Chef Wolfman (first on left) with Sue, Lucia, USA Consulate General Susan Crystal (third from right) and others, preparing foods using Indigenous ingredients.

 

Chef Wolfman is an internationally recognized expert in traditional Indigenous cuisine, member of the Xaxli’p First Nation in BC and a Culinary Arts Professor at George Brown College in Toronto. At a culinary master class hosted by Taste USA and the Ontario Produce Marketing Association, I had the wonderful opportunity to cook and learn from the Chef.  Along with dozens of other participants, we prepared dishes using traditional ingredients such as Wild Rice Jambalaya and Shawnee Cake, and Barbecued Pork Tenderloin with Strawberry Sauce served with Salad and Chokecherry Drizzle.

Before we sat down to eat together, Chef Wolfman assembled a Spirit Plate with samples from each of the cooked dishes. The plate is then left outside to honour both the ancestors and children who are no longer here with us.  🧡

This simple yet meaningful gesture allows us to remember those who have come before us and those who have left us. It’s a reminder that food is love and connection.

Chef Wolfman wearing his Indigenous chef's wardrobe and explaining the meaning of a Spirit Plate

 

 

In this video, Chef Wolfman describes the Spirit Plate.

Thank you Chef for sharing your wisdom and knowledge with us!

 

 

Good Things Grow in Ontario!

Sue smiling and holding two strawberries as earrings in strawberry field

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I was a kid, I remember singing the tune ‘Good things grow in Ontario!’ And that lyric still holds true today.

I was recently invited by Farm Food Care Ontario to attend a farm tour in beautiful Norfolk County where we had the chance to learn more about food and agriculture!

First stop: Strawberry Tyme Farms

Dalton and John Cooper standing in a high tunnel strawberry field

Meet Dalton Cooper, a 4th generation berry farmer and his dad John. Originally an apple farm since 1939, the family now grows berries using innovative varieties and growing techniques. Traditionally, strawberries harvest in June but a new ‘day-neutral’ strawberry fruits for 5-6 months, extending the typical strawberry season from June / July well into October.

John gave us a little strawberry physiology lesson to understand how this works. ‘June strawberries’ are named as such because they fruit in June. These berries are planted in the Fall when the days are short, and bear fruit in June when the days are long. On the other hand, ‘day-neutral’ strawberries are an annual variety planted in the spring with berries ready to pick about 12 weeks later. The berries continue fruiting regardless of the length of the day, which is why they’re called ‘day-neutral’!

The strawberries are grown on table tops in high tunnels which protect the berries from damaging heavy rains and maintains a moderate temperature. Not to mention, it’s much easier to pick these berries! The Cooper family also grows long cane raspberries, a growing technique where the berries are grown in pots and produce fruit in their second year.

Fun facts: There are 675 farms across Ontario which grow strawberries. Ontario growers produce between 6,000-7,000 tonnes of strawberries each year!

 

Next stop: Suncrest Orchards

Farmers Amanda and Hayden with their family of Jamaican workers

Image: Facebook Suncrest Orchards

Farmers Amanda and Hayden Dooney have owned the Suncrest Orchards since 2019 and work with a wonderful Jamaican family of eight employees including Raymond and George.  They’re seasonal agricultural workers who come up to the farm as early as March and stay until the end of October or longer. The farm grows and harvests seven different varieties of apples: Paula Red, Ginger Gold, Sunrise, Golden Delicious, Honey Crisp, Royal Gala and Ambrosia.

Red gala apples growing on a bush

At lunch, we had the wonderful opportunity to chat with some of the workers. Amanda says, “We have huge respect and appreciation for the sacrifice they make to come up and help with our orchard.”  Livian, (pictured front left below), for example, has worked seasonally on farms for 25 years and is proud to have supported his four kids through university. Indeed, let’s all give our thanks to the amazing farmers and seasonal agricultural workers who work so hard to grow delicious and nutritious food!

Are you hosting an educational tour? Contact me to cover the event and share highlights!

This event was sponsored travel and this blog reflects my own learning experiences. Thanks to the event sponsors for hosting a truly inspiring and heart-warming event: Farm and Food Care OntarioGreenBeltMore than a Migrant WorkerOntario Apple GrowersOntario Berries and the Ontario Produce Marketing Association.

 

Apple Pie Overnight Oats

 

4 jars of apple pie overnight oats with apples and flowers in the background

Apple Pie Overnight Oats

This delicious breakfast features nutritious oats and the cozy flavours of apple pie. It's all made ahead of time so you can go ahead and hit that snooze button!
Course Breakfast
Servings 1

Ingredients
  

  • 1/2 apple, diced
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup oats
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon

Instructions
 

  • In a microwave-safe bowl, toss apples with maple syrup and cinnamon. Cook in the microwave for 45-60 seconds.
  • In a container or jar, add oats, milk, yogurt, maple syrup and cinnamon. Stir well to combine.
  • Spoon cooked apple on top of the oat mixture.
  • Cover and refrigerate overnight. Stir before eating.
Keyword apple pie overnight oats, apples, breakfast, breakfast ideas, breakfast recipes, easy breakfast recipe, oats, overnight oats

How much caffeine is too much?

A person holding a the handle of a coffee mug. An image of Sue's face in the overlay.

Health Canada has set recommended maximum daily amounts of caffeine depending on your age. For children and teens under the age of 18, the recommended caffeine intake depends on their body weight. Consuming too much caffeine can lead to insomnia, irritability, nervousness and headaches. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, consider having less.

chart with caffeine recommendations for age groups

Caffeine is found naturally in coffee, tea, chocolate and certain flavourings such as guarana and yerba mate. Check out the caffeine content of some common foods and beverages to see where you’re at with your caffeine intake for the day. Keep in mind that many mugs and store bought drinks are larger than a standard cup.

chart with caffeine intake of foods and beverages

Do you have a food or nutrition question?  Ask me and I’ll feature the answer in one of my next newsletters.

New Front-of-Package Nutrition Labels are Coming to Canada

A magnifying glass with the words "High in sat fat, sugars, sodium"

 

 

 

 

 

You’re probably already familiar with the Nutrition Facts information found on the back of food packages. Health Canada is now introducing a new nutrition symbol that will appear on the front of food packages. This new front-of-package (FOP) nutrition symbol will help consumers quickly identify foods which are high in saturated fats, sugars and / or sodium. Here’s what you need to know.

Background

According to Heart and Stroke, 60% of the food we buy is prepackaged and processed, and many of these foods may be high in saturated fats, sugars and / or sodium. Eating a diet that’s high in these nutrients of concern is linked to a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and some types of cancer. At the same time, 8 out of 10 Canadians say that nutrition is important when choosing foods.

To help Canadians make informed choices, Health Canada is introducing a new front-of-package (FOP) nutrition symbol to identify packaged foods which are high in saturated fats, sugars and / or sodium. The regulations came into effect on July 20, 2022 and food companies have until January 1, 2026 to update their packaging their labels. Over 40 countries including Chile, Argentina, Mexico and New Zealand, currently have a front-of-package nutrition labelling system.

 

What does the new front-of-package (FOP) symbol look like?

French only front-of-package symbol

Horizontal front-of-package label with magnifying glass and words

 

 

 

 

The new FOP symbol is a black and white image of a magnifying glass along with the name(s) of the nutrient(s) of concern – saturated fat, sugars and / or sodium – that are deemed high in the packaged food or beverage. It may appear either as a horizontal or vertical symbol. The FOP symbol may appear on the food package as one bilingual symbol or as two separate symbols in both official languages.

English only front-of-package symbol

French only front-of-package symbol

 

 

 

 

The FOP symbol will always appear on the upper right half of the food package. In the sample chocolate bar below, the symbol indicates that the food is high in saturated fat and sugars.Sample chocolate bar with the front-of-package symbol for high saturated fat and sugars

 

 

 

 

 

Which foods will need to show the FOP symbol?

For most packaged products, the definition of “high” means that the food or beverage contains 15% or more of the Daily Value for saturated fat or sugars and / or sodium per serving.

For example, take a look at the nutrition facts information below for a can of soup. The saturated fat is at 5% DV, the sugars is at 2% DV but the sodium is at 36% DV. So this soup would need to show the front-of-package nutrition symbol with the word sodium to let consumers know that this product is high in sodium.

Nutrition facts table for a can of soup

 

 

Front-of-package symbol for high sodium

Front-of-package symbol needed for the sample can of soup by January 1, 2026

For foods with a small serving size such as salad dressings or pickles, the criteria is 10% DV instead of 15% DV for saturated fat, sugars and sodium. And for pre-packaged main dishes that have a larger serving size, such as a frozen pizza or frozen lasagna, the criteria is 30% DV for those nutrients.

Which foods are exempted from the FOP symbol?

This is a list of some foods which are exempted either because of a recognized health benefit, technical or practical reasons. 

  • Plain fruits and vegetables
  • Plain, unsweetened 2% milk & whole milk
  • Plain cheese and yogurt*
  • Plain nuts / seeds & nut / seed butter
  • Eggs
  • Raw, plain single ingredient meat, poultry & fish, including ground meat
  • Butter, margarine, ghee; Vegetable oils; Sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup; Salt (e.g. table salt, sea salt, Kosher salt, garlic salt, onion salt, celery salt, etc.) – It would simply be redundant and impractical to put a FOP symbol on these foods.

Any of the foods noted above are no longer exempt if they’re made with an ingredient that contains saturated fat, sugars and / or sodium. For example, a bag of plain salad is exempt from the FOP regulations. But is the bag of salad contains bacon bits and salad dressing, the FOP symbol may apply. Similarly, if salt is added to plain nuts, the FOP symbol may apply.

*Cheese and yogurt made from dairy these foods naturally contain saturated fat, sugars (lactose) and sodium (needed in the cheese-making process). However, these foods contain calcium which is considered a “shortfall nutrient” since many Canadians may not be getting enough and calcium. Any plain cheese or yogurt is only exempt from the FOP symbol if a serving of the food contains at least 15% DV for calcium (or at least 10% DV for calcium in foods with a serving size of 30 grams / 30 mL or less). The ongoing need for this exemption will be reassessed after 10 years.

Other exemptions include:

  • Foods that are only sold at a farmer’s market, flea market, craft show, road-side stand or sugar bush by the person who prepared and processed the product
  • Packaged individual portions of foods that are only intended to be served by a restaurant to accompany a meal or snack, such as coffee creamers or individually packaged crackers often served with soups at restaurants
  • Foods sold in very small packages or with limited display space, such as milk, cream and goat’s milk which are sold in refillable glass containers since there available labelling space is limited to the lid

Pros and Cons

Pros: The FOP symbol will help consumers make informed food choices. In Chile, where a similar FOP labelling system has been in effect since 2016, 92% of consumers said that the FOP label influenced their food purchase. And overall household food purchases in Chile contained 37% less sodium and 27% less sugars.

Another pro is that this new nutrition labelling policy will inspire food companies to reformulate their products. In the next four years, expect to see new and improved products containing less saturated fat, sugars and sodium.

Cons: The FOP symbol could promote a “good food vs bad food” mentality which supports diet culture. Remember that we eat food for more than just nutrition. We eat food for celebration, comfort and connection.

Sue’s advice

Use the new FOP symbol as another tool to help you make informed choices. Read the Nutrition Facts table on the back of the package to see what other nutrients are offered in the food. Look at the ingredients list to determine whether any fat, sugars or sodium have been added to the product. If you happen to occasionally eat a food / beverage that has a FOP symbol, don’t feel guilty or ashamed. All foods can be enjoyed in moderation and fit into a healthy, balanced diet.

 

This article originally appeared on Canadian Food Focus, an excellent resource for information about food and farming.

 

 

Cool Facts About World Refrigeration Day!

A cartoon refrigerator surrounded by images of fruits, vegetables and the earth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Did you know that June 26 is World Refrigeration Day?

Refrigeration is one of the most important engineering initiatives of the last century and is at the very heart of modern day life. Just think of the many ways in which this technology improves our lives:

  • Food safety: Bacteria can grow quickly in food at temperatures between 4°C to 60°C, potentially causing foodborne illness. But the cooling provided by refrigerators and freezers in our homes, restaurants and retailers slows bacterial growth, keeping foods safe to eat. Not to mention the cooling technology that allows perishable foods to be harvested and transported to their final destination.
  • Food waste reduction: One way to reduce food waste at home is to use up leftovers. Thanks to refrigeration and freezing, most cooked meals can keep about 3-4 days in the fridge and between 2-6 months in the freezer. For a detailed guide to storing leftovers, check out Health Canada’s info about Leftovers: How Long Will They Last? or this Cold Food Storage Chart.  
  • Food availability and nutrition: Freezing allows fruits and vegetables to be picked at their peak ripeness and then frozen – often within hours – to lock in maximum nutrition and flavour. When fresh, seasonal produce is not available, frozen is an excellent, nutritious and affordable option.  
  • Planetary health: Cooling reduces one of the largest contributors to climate change – the emission of greenhouse gases from food that is lost due to spoilage and waste.

Dr. Leslie Oliver sitting at his deskDr. Leslie Oliver (pictured), a member of the HVACR Heritage Centre Founding Committee and his father Howard Oliver were pioneers of early refrigeration in Canada.

The HVACR Heritage Centre is a volunteer driven heritage organization whose mandate is to preserve and record the history of heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration technologies and how they’ve changed our lives. Dr. Leslie Oliver, a professional engineer appraised historic artifacts as well as documented the contributions of the industry’s work since its early years. By 1928, his father T. H. [Howard] Oliver became one of Canada’s first high tech workers in the field of internal combustion, radio and refrigeration. Howard started the family business T.H. Oliver Ltd. which Leslie later took over as Vice President and General Manager. Read the inspiring stories behind cooling technology and its impacts on society at their virtual museum.

 

This post was sponsored by the HVACR Heritage Centre to raise awareness of World Refrigeration Day and recognize the invaluable contributions of this technology. Opinions are my own.

Meet the McKennas!

McKenna family photo

Last month, I was kindly invited by CropLife Canada to meet the McKenna family who are 4th generation farmers in beautiful Prince Edward Island (PEI)! Gordie and Andrea McKenna shown above with their family, grow potatoes, carrots and turnips on the red, iron-rich soil which helps to retain the right amount of moisture for the crops.

But it takes so much more than just perfect soil and climate to grow food. Along with hard work and perseverance, the McKennas must navigate issues such as:

  • Land management – Preparation for this year’s potato planting actually began 3 years ago with a SWAT analysis (soil, water, air and topography), crop rotation and pest management.
  • Soil health – Grid sampling is conducted to test soil samples for nutrients.
  • Impact of world events on supply and cost of resources – For example, much of the fertilizer was previously sourced from Russia. With the world events, the cost of fertilizer has risen by 85%!
  • Technology – Modern day farmers need to invest in technology and digital tools.
  • Labour shortage – It’s a challenge to find staff who understand the machinery and technology required for farming. The shortage of truck drivers in our country is escalating a competitive marketplace between Canadian and European farmers.
  • Weather –  Climate uncertainties such as early frost or heat domes can pose major challenges.
Gordie and Jason on the farm

Gordie McKenna describes the precision needed in growing carrots.

I had a chance to ask Gordie, “What’s one thing you would like to say to Canadians?”

His reply, “I want Canadians to know just how challenging it is to produce perfect food. It’s a constant pressure on a food producer in Canada to try to be perfect every step of the way. Farmers need more respect from consumers, better understanding and more education in the classrooms for children to see what farming is like today.”

The bottom line is that farming is incredibly hard work. Farmers take pride in growing safe and nutritious food that feed us and families around the world. Watch the Real Farm Lives documentary series to peek into the daily lives of our amazing Canadian farmers!

Other Fun Facts I Learned on My Trip to PEI

  • Prince Edward Island is the largest grower of potatoes in Canada, supplying about 25% of all potatoes grown in Canada. There are 200 potato producers in PEI, and 96% of them are multi-generational farmers.
  • Plant science includes tools that protect crops from insects / weeds / diseases as well as innovations to develop stronger varieties of crops. Farmers use these innovations to grow food sustainably.
  • Cavendish Farms were the first potato producer in North America to convert solid waste to bio-methane gas for energy. The Cavendish Farms plant processes 4 million pounds of potatoes every day and produces 270 bags of French fries every MINUTE – that’s 388,800 bags of French fries each and every day! It can take 9 years to clone a new potato variety. The Cavendish team of researchers developed the Russet Prospect potato which requires less fertilizer and soil fumigation.
  • Harrington Research Farm houses a field and greenhouse research facility as part of the Charlottetown Research and Development Centre. Scientists conduct research on integrated crop systems with a focus on crop rotations, soil health, water quality, agronomy of new crop species, crop nutrient cycles and pest / disease management.

Thanks again to CropLife Canada, Farm and Food Care PEI and the PEI Federation of Agriculture for organizing this fantastic trip and educational event! Until next time!

Group photo of tour participants on the farm

Friends and colleagues on the McKenna family farm!

The event was sponsored travel and this blog reflects my own learning experiences.

 

 

 

Does diet affect erectile function?

A man in a blue shirt sitting on a sofa and speaking to a health professional.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s the question you may have always wondered, but were too shy to ask!

June is Men’s Health Month, so let’s take a look at some of the research on this topic.

A study published in the Journal of the American Association Network Open journal suggests that a healthy dietary pattern may play a role in maintaining erectile function in men. Researchers from the University of California and Harvard University looked at the food and nutrient data from over 21,000 healthy men aged 40 to 75 who had no previous diagnosis of erectile dysfunction or diabetes or heart disease. The men were part of the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. The researchers found that men at all ages who followed a Mediterranean-style diet had the lowest risk of erectile dysfunction. A Mediterranean-style diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and fish.

Fruits and vegetables contain special plant nutrients called flavonoids.  Researchers in Greece found that eating fruits and vegetables lowered the risk for erectile dysfunction by 32% in men aged 18 to 40 years.

Another study from researchers in Spain looked at 83 healthy men aged 18-35. For 14 weeks, these men were asked to follow their usual diet and were divided into 2 groups – one group also ate 60 grams (about ½ cup) of nuts a day such as walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts; the other group of men did not eat nuts. The study found that a healthy diet supplemented with mixed nuts may help to improve erectile and sexual desire.

Bottom line: Fruits, vegetables and nuts are the foundation of an overall healthy diet that can benefit not only your heart health but also your sexual health.

 

Garlic Shrimp Linguine

A plate of shrimp linguine with broccoli florets.

Garlic Shrimp Linguine

Calling all pasta lovers! This fast and easy dish is perfect for dinner on a busy weeknight or lazy weekend!
Course Dinner

Ingredients
  

  • 1 package (454 g) uncooked linguine
  • 2 cups broccoli florets
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 400 g frozen shrimp (thawed, peeled and deveined)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Instructions
 

  • Cook pasta ccording to package directions. Add broccoli florets during the last 2 minutes of cooking. Drain pasta and broccoli, and set aside.
  • In a medium-sized bowl, toss shrimp with minced garlic.
  • Heat oil over medium heat in a frying pan. Add shrimp and garlic. Season with a pinch of salt. Cook for about 2-3 minutes on one side, flip and cook for another 2 mnutes or until shrimp beginsto turn pink.
  • Add cooked pasta and broccol. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Pour in lemon juice. Toss until pasta is well coated.
  • Garnish with chopped parsley. Sprinkle on parmesan cheese just before serving.
Keyword Garlic Shrimp Linguine, Linguine, Pasta, shrimp, Shrimp Linguine