Thursday, September 27, 2012

Living in Poor Health

From September 13-19, 2012, 26 high-profile Saskatoon individuals experienced food insecurity.  They received a food bank basket, a few pantry items/staples, and a $5 food budget for the week.  The participants were not allowed to eat out or accept free food/drink, but could use community meal programs to help them through their week.

This was the second year of the Food Basket Challenge, which is meant to create conversation, awareness, and relationships between those who live in poverty and those who do not.  While it is only one week, and the participants get to return to their lives at the end, I am sure they all learned something and perhaps that will be enough to start creating change so that people do not have to go without nourishment.  One of the main issues is Food Security - access at all times to safe, nutritious food to maintain health and activity.  

I was in touch with 2 participants (Jill Smith and Heather Morrison) on twitter as they were concerned about the nutritional implications of the challenge.  Heather recorded her daily intake on the challenge blog which allowed me to do a nutrient analysis.  Heather is gluten and lactose intolerant which definitely affects the food choices she makes on a daily basis - this can be a real concern for those who are struggling to get enough food, but also perhaps have restrictions which can reduce their already limited choices.  

Heather's basket included spinach, yogurt, strawberries, deli meat, potatoes, rice, applesauce, canned pears, canned corn, V8 juice, and yogurt.  The food basket is meant to last 2-3 days, but for many people it must last weeks.  For her pantry items she chose corn flour, salt, oil, honey, and ketchup.  She spent her $5 on eggs, beans, and apples.

There are so many factors to consider - Heather knew to budget her food so she meal planned for the week so as not to run out.  She also knew to spend her money on healthy foods that would provide nutrients (not just Calorie dense foods - burger, fries, pop, chocolate bar, etc.).  Heather also had the equipment and skills to make modified corn bread (with potato water as her liquid) and potato pancakes.  She was also able to use community meal programs, but some people may not have access to transportation to get to them, or may feel ashamed, etc. for needing to seek help.

I used the Dietitians of Canada EaTracker website to enter Heather's food.  The results are approximate because I didn't know the exact recipes/composition of her corn bread or potato pancakes, and borscht didn't exist in the database.  It still gives us a glimpse as to how much food she was getting (Calories) and what nutrients were lacking.

Depending on Heather's weight, height, age, and activity level she likely needs between 1900 - 2300 Calories per day and it is typically recommended that women do not go below 1200 Calories per day (or men below 1800) because it is too hard to meet nutrient requirements.  That being said, here is approximately how many Calories she received during her 6 day challenge:
Day 1: 982, Day 2 = 1054, Day 3 = 994, Day 4 = 1273, Day 5 = 1618, and Day 6 = 1308.  That is just the food energy, but due to a lack of choice and variety she was consistently low in certain nutrients.  Based on daily recommendations she was less than 50% for potassium, fibre, vitamin A, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin E, and iron on every day of the challenge.  Most days she exceeded her sodium requirements (too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure which is a risk factor for stroke, heart disease and kidney disease).  She met her vitamin C and most of her B vitamin requirements most days, although was low in folate a few times.  She also only met her protein requirements half of the days.

What are potential implications (chronic low intakes)?
Potassium - for control of fluid balance and blood pressure; allows nerves and muscles to work together.
Fibre - for a healthy digestive system, can help reduce blood cholesterol and control blood sugar levels, and can also help you feel full longer.
Vitamin A - important for healthy eyes; protects you from infection by keeping your skin and other body parts healthy, as well as promoting normal growth and development.
Calcium - for healthy bones and teeth; allows muscles and your heart to work properly.
Vitamin D - important for increased absorption of calcium and phosphorus to be deposited in bones and teeth; keeps your immune system healthy.
Vitamin E - also helps keep your immune system strong and is an antioxidant working to protect your cells from damage.
Iron - carries oxygen to all parts of your body and as such can prevent you from feeling tired/fatigued; iron deficiency anemia is the most common and widespread nutritional disorder in the world (WHO).

Another basic way to look at Heather's intake is compared to Canada's Food Guide recommended servings.  For a woman age 19-50, she would need about 7-8 vegetables and fruit, 6-7 grain products, 2 milk and alternatives and 2 meat and alternatives.  However, most days she has the equivalent of 3 servings of vegetables and fruit, 5.5 servings of grain products, 0 milk and alternatives (yogurt in Tablespoons just doesn't add up to be enough), and 2 meat and alternatives. 

A chronic low intake of the nutrients listed above could lead to more colds, flus, and other disease states.  This can make is harder for people to go about their daily tasks (going to get food, searching for work, caring for family members, etc.).

You may choose not to eat certain foods or to include Calorie dense rather than nutrient dense foods at times, but for many people the CHOICE is gone and this can affect their health and ability to live their life.

Thanks for sharing your information Heather!

Steph Langdon, RD
something nutrishus counselling & coaching