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October 19, 2004

Canadians ate 77 kg of vegetables per person in 2003 - is that a lot? We also increased our total caloric intake by 1 - 3% every year for 10 years, and became more fat each year..

Statistics Canada has released its report on food consumption for 2003, and a popular quote from the report in the media is, "Canadians eat 77 kg of fresh vegetables." This sounds like a lot, but isn't much at all…

While Canadians are eating more fruits - a good thing - the report also states that while we are eating less margarine, the overall consumption of fats and oils continues to rise. Fats and oils from salad dressings, deep-fried food, and baked goods are on the increase in both restaurant and home use. All in all, Canadians have increased their total caloric intake every year since 1993 by 1 - 3%. That's compound interest folks.

If you ate 2500 calories per day in '93 - by 2003 you were consuming 3047 calories per day, an increase of 547 calories per day, averaging the percentages provided in the report to a 2% annual increase. A person who consumed 2000 calories daily 10 years ago would be chomping down about 2400 calories today.

Here is what Statistics Canada reports for daily caloric increases over the last 26 years:

The October 14, 2004 food consumption report makes this euphemistic conclusion,

"With the overall increase in the consumption of food, the ingestion of many vitamins and minerals, which play an integral part in how well the body functions, has also increased."

This seems to suggest that the measured increased caloric consumption by Canadians may very well be healthy.

But this report compiled by the Alberta Government makes these statements:

"According to Dietitians of Canada, (the average amount food consumed in 2002) exceeds the recommended daily energy intake for most age and gender groups", and, "Diet is one of the factors contributing to obesity as excessive calorie intake leads to weight gain."

Since Canadians have been packing on more body fat every year since 1993, could it be that the reported 1 -3% increase in calories year-over-year for 10 years has contributed to fat gain? I would say yes, and the above report found on an Alberta Government web page seems to agree. The October 14, 2004 Stats Can article, which I find to be somewhat absent minded, leans towards painting a bright picture talking about our veggie consumption. The media has taken this bait and is reporting only on how much fruits and vegetables Canadians are eating:

Pineapple consumption has tripled, we eat more Chinese cabbage, and on average consumed 77 kg of fresh vegetables in 2003.

Big hairy deal. Lets get real here folks; this is nothing to be proud of. At first wash eating 77 kg of veggies sounds like a lot, but it is minuscule when spread out over 365 days. In fact it amounts to only 129 calories per day from vegetables, making up just a little over 5% of the average 2500 calorie per day diet.

In fact, according to the prior years report (2002), Canadians ate 110 kg of vegetables in 2002, and 106 kg in 1992, so we are eating less vegetables and more fat in 2003 than in 2002, as well as all the way back to 1992.

The October 2004 report states that nearly half of the 77 kg vegetable intake was from potatoes. I'll round that out to 50% or 38.5 kg, which is about the same potato consumption as 2002, meaning we ate less of other more nutrient dense vegetables. Moreover, the intake of potatoes includes potato chips and French fries, as well as baked and mashed potatoes, so it's not as though our potato intake is entirely healthy.

38.5 kg of baked potatoes is 35,805 calories, or 98 calories per day (105 g) when spread out over one year. In terms of healthy intake of potatoes, this is a little less than half a cup of potatoes in one day, or about 3/4 of a small potato- not a lot. I am being far too generous with this caloric breakdown of potato consumption because we're not eating our potatoes solely in the healthy baked form. Take a look at the calories and total fat grams for the same amount of potatoes in the form of French fries and potato chips..

Potato Served as:
Grams
Calories
Fat Grams
Baked Potato
105 (3.7 oz)
98
0.14

French Fries
(deep fried in vegetable oil)

105
342
18.43
Potato Chips (reduced fat)
105
511
21.84
Potato Chips (regular)
105
586
40.32
Large Fries at McDonald's*
177
550
26
Average Bag of Potato Chips
255 (9 oz)
1423!
97.92!

How much of our potato intake is potato chips and fries? The report doesn't have that magnitude of detail, but since the chips and fries are 3 to 5 times the calories and have over 100 times(!) the fat as the same amount of baked potato, it wouldn't take many chips and fries to make a large portion of our 77 kg "vegetable" intake to in fact represent some of our over-consumption of fatty foods.

The other half of our vegetable intake, 38.5 kg, is comprised mostly of lettuce, onions, carrots, and tomatoes. This totals 11,454 calories, or 31 calories per day over one year. Overall our non-potato veggie intake is far less than the average of 7 servings of fruits and vegetables per day recommended by the Canada Food Guide.

Summary:

  • The 2003 one year vegetable consumption of 77 kg per person is down from 110 kg in 2002
  • 77 kg of vegetables per year is only 129 calories per day - if we generously assume that everyone is only eating plain baked potatoes, lettuce, carrots, onions, and tomatoes, and some cabbage
  • The reality is half of the 77 kg intake of vegetables includes potatoes served also as French fries and potato chips which have over 100 times the fat as an equal amount of baked potato
  • No matter how you cut it 77 kg of vegetable intake over one year for one person does not represent optimum healthy eating - in fact it illustrates the opposite

Once again we succumb to an ignorance is bliss scenario and pat ourselves on the back for no good reason. Eating 77 kg of vegetables in one year does not mean we're eating better, it means we're eating worse.

What about physical activity?

While over-all physical activity is increasing in Canada (up by 10% from 1995 to 2001), but decreasing amongst youth; according to this report, "..as many as 82% (youth) may not have been active enough to meet international guidelines for optimal growth and development."

56% of the population is inactive, expending less than three calories (Kilocalorie - go here to learn about calories) per kilogram of body mass per day. For a 77 kg (170 lb) male this works out to expending more than 231 calories through physical activity in one day or about a total of 30 minutes brisk walking to escape being labeled as "inactive" and move up to "moderately active". A 58 kg (130 lb) female need only surpass 174 calories expended in one day to be considered "moderately active". The activity level of our population breaks down as follows:

Inactive 56% Less than 30 minutes of walking per day
These "standards" for physical activity are extremely low. The total walking time depicted is cumulative, meaning it includes short jaunts such as walking to the bus stop. The standard of a walking intensity is in fact the lowest common denominator. In practical application this means that a person may be determined as "active", but still be completely unfit.
Moderately Active 24% 30 minutes of walking per day
Active 20% 60+ minutes of walking per day

With our "standards" for qualifying what "physically active" is, it is a safe bet that the 20% of the population that is categorized as "physically active" is in fact not really that active. The percentage of the population that is actually physically fit is most likely closer to 1% or less.

Every year Canadians;

  • Eat more fat, more total calories, and less nutrient dense vegetables
  • Remain inactive (majority of population)
  • Gain more body fat

I'm sure our overweight and obesity problem will eventually begin to turn around, if not this year then hopefully in the next 5 years. How do we do this?

Eat less fatty foods, eat less calories overall, make more of the food we eat healthy, and exercise a little every day.

Overweight and struggling? Try these simple steps:

  • Eat slightly less each day than you do now
  • Go for a 20-minute walk at least 4 times per week

More is needed in the long run, but doing these two easy tasks can be done by anyone starting right now. Eventually a person should include 60 minutes of dedicated exercise time almost every day, and as a person becomes more fit they would expect to gradually increase the intensity of their exercise. Exercise is a true reward, inactivity and overeating are not.

Go here to calculate daily caloric needs

More articles on obesity, fat loss, and exercise are found here and here

*Mcdonald's nutrition info from the Mcdonald's web site

Send comments on this article to info@rhinofitness.ca

2003-2004 Cris LaBossiere Rhino Fitness

Copyright 2004 Rhino Fitness. All rights reserved.
For more information contact: clabossiere@rhinofitness.ca