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Photo by Becky Rowe

by Becky Rowe

The global financial crisis is being felt in small ways by everyone in Canada. Ordinary Canadians are scrutinizing their household bills, searching for a way to save a few pennies. According to a recent survey by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, the tough economic times have begun to affect our eating choices as well.

The survey, which polled Canadians across the nation, found that nearly half of Canadians have reduced the amount of healthy food they buy because it is simply too expensive. Healthy food includes fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy products, whole grains, lean meats and fish – all the cornerstones of a healthy diet.

The problem is one of economics, not attitude, said Rhae Ann Bromley, director of communications for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. “If people are on a limited budget, faced with higher-priced healthy food and lower-priced, less nutritious food, we know what ends up in the cart,” she said.

Grocery shoppers on a budget are limited by what they can buy, and lack the financial resources to shop around to find a better price, Bromley said. Low-income neighbourhoods offer far fewer options for shoppers who are limited to a geographical area. “We call these areas of a city ‘food deserts’,” explained Bromley, describing the issue as “a problem of community design.”

Healthy eating choices play a huge role in long-term health, said Bromley. Children, who make up a significant portion  of those living under the poverty line in Canada, are most susceptible to health problems later in life caused by poor childhood diet.

“We’re seeing children of nine or ten with streaks of atherosclerotic plaque in their arteries. If things don’t change, these children will be at risk for heart disease in their 30s,” said Bromley.

Bromley added that, if this trend continues, the current generation will be the first to have a shorter lifespan than their parents. “It’s truly frightening,” Bromley said.

Digestive health specialist Charmaine Ramstead agreed. “When people are younger, they don’t really realize how important healthy eating is. It’s only when they start to feel old that suddenly it becomes important,” she said.

Ramstead recommended buying organic foods, which are more commercially available than ever, although often at a higher price than conventional food products.

She felt that buying organic is well worth the money. “We’re surrounded by so many toxins all the time. We need to limit what we can,” she said.

Ramstead said that the pesticides used in agriculture, called “zenohormones”, mimic estrogen in the body, and over time can lead to a range of serious health problems, including cancer.

Choosing organic produce doesn’t have to break the bank, says Jennifer Hammer, assistant manager of Eat Healthy Foods. The organic grocery store is one of two in Regina specializing in local and fair trade food products. 

“Organic doesn’t always mean more expensive,” she said.

Hammer suggested buying fruit in-season to avoid the high prices of more exotic selections, adding that exotic fruits like pineapple are no healthier than more common ones such as apples.

Hammer also recommended purchasing food locally. The Regina Farmer’s Market is open from May to December, and is a great place to find inexpensive healthy produce, Hammer said.

“The Farmer’s Market is as cheap or cheaper than the grocery stores,” she said.

Hammer also offered some tips for making your grocery dollar stretch a little farther.

“Cooking from scratch is a good way to save money,” she said. Making soups and stews from scratch using dried beans and grains is usually cheaper than purchasing read-to-serve products, Hammer said.

Often, hectic schedules deter people from preparing foods from scratch, but Hammer said it’s just a matter of making time. “You can always find the time to cut up those vegetables,” she said.

The crock-pot can be a lifesaver for those trying to save money and time, says Hammer. "It's the best thing in the world. You come home and there's a hot meal waiting. It's cheap and easy."

For more information, visit:

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada

Eat Healthy Foods