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Nutrition For Which To Be Thankful

Not only do we have food in abundance, we rank among the top countries in spending less of our expendable income on food.

With Thanksgiving on our doorstep, it makes me realize that we have a lot to be thankful for, not just in the realm of nutrition but for almost everything that our country has to offer. But since this is a nutrition column I’ll stick to what I know best… another thing to be thankful for!

Not only do we have food in abundance, we rank among the top countries in spending less of our expendable income on food. Sure, we complain about the high cost of groceries, but a lot of what we spend in the grocery store goes for things that either aren’t very nutritious (pop, frozen cakes, etc.) or aren’t even food (cleaning supplies, magazines, etc.).

Having been accused of being a nutrition nut, a hard nut and just plain nuts, I thought I’d start this column of thanks with a look at the nut. Peanuts, otherwise known as goober peas, are about as close to being a perfect protein as a plant can get. A few of their amino acids are borderline, as with other nuts, so it pays to eat them in combination with some other protein food. Various ethnic cultures traditionally serve crushed peanuts with many of their dishes. Few people eat peanut butter straight out of the jar (although some addicts are known to favour this manner of consumption) and the habit of putting it on whole-wheat bread with a milk chaser pays a big nutritional bonus.

Calories are something to consider carefully however, as just one peanut has 10 calories. Dry roasted offer fewer calories and those whose sodium intake is on the high side should opt for nuts packed without salt. Some of the other nutritional benefits of the peanut include thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, potassium, calcium, phosphorus and fibre.

Almonds, for some reason, have gained the reputation of being much lower in calories than peanuts. This isn’t true, but they are a considerably better source of calcium and riboflavin and they have no cholesterol.

Some people are interested in the omega-3 polyunsaturated fat levels. In this area walnuts are the winner, with the English variety having even more than the black. Cashews are often considered much more caloric than other nuts, but they’re not — just more expensive.

In a nutshell (pun intended), the lowly nut gives us a lot for which to be thankful, and so does frozen food. Though it’s long had a reputation for being inferior to fresh, the commercial freezing of food has come a long way since the first TV dinners. The original freezing techniques often resulted in a mushy product after the frozen item was defrosted, but technology has changed a lot. Fish, for example, is frozen within minutes of being caught… a lot fresher than if you buy it “fresh” at your local fish market.

If the food is properly cleaned and wrapped, to prevent ice crystals coming in contact with it resulting in freezer burn, the food

is essentially suspended in a nutritional time warp. This means that the levels of nutrients like vitamin C in fruits and vegetables, which were at their peak when picked, virtually remain the same. Then, if you defrost the food properly (or with some foods, leave frozen until cooking) and cook it minimally as in a stir-fry or steaming, the levels of water-soluble vitamins (all the Bs and C) can actually be higher than in the so-called fresh produce. I say “so-called” because in actual fact some of the fresh produce, like apples and pears, might have been picked even five months before you buy them. This doesn’t significantly alter their nutritional profile; just be aware that frozen can often be “fresher” than fresh.

And finally, I think we should be thankful that our ancestors learned how to can foods. True, today some canned foods contain more salt and/or sugar than they should, but we can choose the low-sodium or packed-in-water types. We probably wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t learned how to preserve food by canning.

Let us all give thanks for the wondrous food supply to which most of us have easy access. Let’s not forget, however, that some of our fellow Canadians still rely on places like the food bank, so in the spirit of the season, let’s show our thanks by giving some of our bounty to those in need. Stop by a food bank today and be generous.

Helen Bishop MacDonald is a consulting nutritionist in the agricultural industry.

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