Nutrition A Newsmaker In 2006

nutrition newsThere certainly was no shortage of nutrition stories this year. Surprises were few -- thankfully no apparent flip-flops as in previous years when new evidence shook up the scientific world. Many of the reports simply reinforced the wisdom of the ages such as getting in your quota of fruits and vegetables and opting for whole grains over refined ones.

Awareness about problems with the food supply, both in processed and fresh foods, heightened. And the state of the health of our youth continued to take centre stage.

Here are some updates on a few of the year's major stories.

VITAMIN D

This nutrient has definitely gone from being below the radar in the past to a year where it's been shown to offer a defence against a growing list of diseases, including certain cancers, such as breast, prostate and colon and auto-immune diseases.

The potential shortfall of the sunshine vitamin -- the name being due to the fact that it's produced when skin is exposed to sunlight of a certain strength--is garnering so much attention that even the Canadian Cancer Society revised its sun exposure recommendations.

The latest research on vitamin D, published in this month's Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at vitamin D levels in blood samples of more than seven million U.S. military personnel and found that those with higher levels had a significantly reduced risk of multiple sclerosis.

Considering our northern climate and lack of sunshine, taking vitamin D3 supplements may be a prudent action.

D3 is the form of the vitamin produced by sunlight.

While current recommendations may be lower, scientists working in vitamin D research think that 1,000 IU a day from food and supplements is more on themark.

CHILDREN'S NUTRITION

The thought that today's youth might be the first generation to not outlive their parents has alarmed many people. And so it should. The high rates of obesity along with the increasing numbers of youngsters developing high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, formerly called adultonset diabetes, has many taking action.

This year saw a wide range of initiatives taking place across the country, including the Canadian beverage industry moving toward voluntary school guidelines to ensure Canadian students have greater access to lower-calorie and nutritious beverage choices.

But much more needs to be done.

Parents need to step up to the plate and take responsibility.

In England, where chef Jamie Oliver lobbied and brought about huge changes in what schools could serve students, as unbelievable as it may seem, there is a backlash.

Some parents object to the banning of past menu staples such as deep-fried processed meat and sugary drinks in addition to the requirement that schools provide at least two portions of fresh fruit and vegetables a day for each child, serve fish at least once a week and limit fried foods to two servings a week.

A group known as the "Meat Pie Mums," who think that "chip buttys" -- a french-fries-and-butter sandwich doused in vinegar -- is what children should be eating, started selling fat-laden items through the school fence. Give me a break.

Do they think that having one healthy meal a day will kill their kids?

TRANS FATS

In 2006, there certainly was plenty of hoopla about these artery- clogging fats. They're created when liquid oils are hardened through the process of hydrogenation. New York City recently instituted a ban of trans fats in the city's eateries.

But we, in Canada, didn't have to look at a city-by-city solution of how to rid the food supply of these man-made fats.

Or so we thought.

In June of this year, TRANS- forming the Food Supply, the final report of the Trans Fat Task Force, co-chaired by Health Canada and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, was submitted to the Minister of Health. Its mandate was "to effectively eliminate or reduce processed trans fats in Canadian foods to the lowest level possible."

Rather than voluntary measures, the task force, which included members from four federal government departments, decided that regulations were required to rid our food of trans fats.

The Minister of Health's office, after receiving the report, initially said there would be a response in the autumn but as of last week, it's still being looked at with no date for completion being given.

According to Sally Brown, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and cochair of the task force, regulations are necessary for a variety of reasons.

For one, without regulations, large seed companies won't put

money into developing crops that can produce the necessary trans fat-free oils. Farmers will not convert their land to these crops if they have no guarantee that they will have a market.

Simply put, they need incentive. Regulations will provide it. Ms. Brown pointed out that she has seen no information that companies such as doughnut makers are moving toward producing trans fat-free products.

"The government has said that they would regulate toxins in the environment. This is a toxin issue," stated Ms. Brown as she expressed concern over its inaction.

"They have a responsibility to make sure that the food supply is safe," she added.

© National Post 2006