The importance of eating well

Nutrition is one of the few elements that people can control when it comes to preventing cardiovascular disease. For Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, who are at a higher risk of heart disease than anyone else in Canada, the imperative to eat well should be significant, but it is not being exercised enough according to Dr. Barbara Roebothan, Community Health. “We know that heart disease is a leading cause of death in Canada and that it is very high in Newfoundland and Labrador. Many factors such as age, sex, genetics and exercise play a part in the development of this disease, but the biggest one that we can control is diet,” she pointed out. “Diet has been proven in countless studies to have a direct impact on the development of heart disease. People need to take control of their health, the sooner the better, in order to affect healthy lifestyle choices.”

Dr. Roebothan's research looks at eating well to maintain health and prevent illness. Her interest in promoting wellness led her to take an active role in a study that examined what the people of Newfoundland and Labrador eat. The provincial report, released in May 2004, (www.med.mun.ca/comhealth/Roebothan/complete Report-ver5.pdf) provides the baseline data required to move forward with programs to promote healthy eating for cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and many other illnesses. A phenomenal amount of data was collected over two years. The data gathered from 2,000 interviewed participants pointed to many inadequacies in the diets of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, inadequacies that are known to cause health concerns.

Dr. Barbara Roebothan in the Health Sciences cafeteria, which now offers Heart Healthy Choices.

“What we eat has never before been recorded on a provincial level. Many people say that we eat too much of this or too little of that, but that is based on opinion and not fact. This report is factual and as such it has the potential to be very educational to the general public.”

The report is based on nutrients and so all foods were broken down into their component parts. Many of the inadequacies noted, particularly folic acid and vitamin C, are directly linked to low consumption of fruit and vegetables. The importance of eating fruits and vegetables cannot be stressed enough, said Dr. Roebothan. “The national average indicates that only 30-40 per cent of people across the country are meeting the nutritional requirements and Newfoundland and Labrador is the lowest in this rating. Increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables we consume is a positive thing and we need to encourage this so people can start to appreciate and value their health.”

There is hope that a lasting change can be achieved that will positively affect the health of people in this province. In order to maintain health and prevent cardiovascular disease, Dr. Roebothan suggests considering it a package deal.

“Do not focus solely on diet or exercise, but instead look at them in combination and stay positive. Make positive changes in diet, changes that can be sustained for a long time. If it means trying a couple of new fruits and vegetables, then do that. But make gradual changes to help ensure your success.” For most people there is a financial aspect to being healthy. Dr. Roebothan says there are ways to get fairly cheap foods that are better for you and are not as expensive as you think. “Make the effort and your heart, and good health, will thank you for it.”