Flavour of the Week

Notes from the Canadian Nutrition Society Annual Meeting

flavour-of-the-week-logoLast week I attended the 2012 Canadian Nutrition Society Annual Meeting in Vancouver. It was a great conference with a broad spectrum of nutrition topics. Here are a few highlights.

  • Lydia Dumais – Nutrition Labelling and Eating Behaviour’
  • Dr. Veronique Provencher – ‘Is Food Labelling Influencing Consumer’s Choices and Intake?’
  • Michelle Hooper – Canadian Community Health Survey, 2015
  • Dr. Stephen Cunnane – ‘Brain Fuel Metabolism During Aging: A PET-MRI Study’
  • Dr. Peter Howe – ‘Vasoactive Nutrients and Brain Function’

Nutrition Labelling and Eating Behaviour

This session began with Lydia Dumais, head of Health Canada’s Nutrition Labelling and Claims Section, discussing Health Canada’s evaluation of the nutrition facts labels found on foods. They report that consumers are having difficulties using the current system to compare foods. No wonder when the average consumer spends between 15 and 37 seconds to choose a product! Obviously, we need to make a quick comparison much easier. She identified four key challenges with the current system:

  1. Inconsistency in serving sizes (math and grocery shopping don’t mix!).
  2. Consumers find the percent daily value (DV) confusing.
  3. Regulations are costly and difficult to change.
  4. Health professionals’ endorsement of the current system has been lukewarm.

Another concern with nutrition labeling, or the lack of, is restaurant foods. Currently in Canada it is not required for restaurants to place their nutrition information in an obvious place prior to the point of sale – i.e., nutrition facts on a menu or ordering board. Lorrie Cramb, RD presented on a new voluntary program called the Informed Dining Program developed in British Columbia. We have a long way to go but it is a start.

Another interesting point brought up in the session surrounded the idea of education vs. action. Dr. Veronique Provencher presented ‘Is Food Labelling Influencing Consumer’s Choices and Intake?’ Here the question is: does food labeling actually influence consumer choice? It seems that when choosing a food the top criteria are (1):

  1. Taste
  2. Nutrition
  3. Cost
  4. Healthiness
  5. Convenience

Turns out that about 50% of us report regularly reading food labels (although in practice it might be fewer) and only 40% of Canadians are ‘health literate’. Interestingly, we are more likely to read a food label on foods that we perceive as healthy rather than unhealthy. I can sympathize – I never look at the label for pralines ‘n’ cream ice cream. I just don’t want to know!

In conclusion, we need to improve the food labels BUT also realize that there are many other factors that influence food choice. We need to ensure that education leads to action.

Canadian Community Health Survey, 2015

Great news, Canada! It looks like we won’t have to wait 30 years for the next nationwide nutrition survey! The future Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) is in development and will be launched in 2015. Currently, we are all citing the 2004 data, and prior to that, data from early ’70s. The 2015 survey will be a repeat of the 2004 survey with a few modifications. Michelle Hooper from the Office of Nutrition Policy and Promotion at Health Canada explains that the 2004 survey provided evidence that was used to inform nutrition policy and help make program decisions; the 2015 survey will continue to do so.

With the 2015 following “hot on the heels” of the 2004 survey, they expect increased capacity to interpret the data and hope to draw on an experienced network of health professionals for quick and effective analysis. It will also allow for improved monitoring and trend analysis. The 2004 CCHS conducted 35,107 in-person interviews with a 24-hour dietary recall, height and weight measurement, food security assessment and correlate information. There was also a follow-up phone 24-hour food recall. Cathy Trainor from Statistics Canada discussed the 2015 survey and notes that they will be analyzing the 2004 CCHS survey to look for improvements and any required changes. They will consult experts and get feedback on survey development, sampling, programmers and interviewers. If all goes as planned here is the proposed timeline:

  • 2012 – 1st consultation.
  • 2013 – 2nd consultation and pilot preparation.
  • 2014 – Pilot the survey in February and March and prepare for the main survey.
  • 2015 – Data collection and coding and processing.
  • 2016 – Release of the results.

Thanks, Health Canada and Statistics Canada for realizing the importance of current and accurate nutrition and health information!

Nutrients, Bioactives and Cognitive Function

Feeling forgetful? There may be a nutritional therapy for that! The effect of nutrition on brain function is an important area of research. With the ageing baby boomer generation, it is important for us to better understand the effects of ageing on the brain and develop nutritional therapies or prophylactics for Alzheimer’s and Dementia.  In his presentation ‘Brain Fuel Metabolism During Aging: A PET-MRI Study’ (2), Dr. Stephen Cunnane evaluates the hypothesis that brain hypometabolism (lower metabolism or activity) could precede and thus contribute to the mental decline seen in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. PET-MRI is a hybrid imagining technology that uses both MRI to outline the brain and PET (positron emission tomography) imaging to measure brain activity. By combining these two techniques they can determine how different areas of the brain are being activated. Here are a few key points:

  • A comparison between the brains’ of healthy young and older adults found hypometabolism in the older adults (measured by lower glucose uptake).
  • A comparison between healthy older adults and those with Alzheimer’s disease found hypometabolism in the brain in those with Alzheimer’s disease but in different areas. This means Alzheimer’s disease is not simply an extension of aging but differs from the normal ageing process.
  • A comparison between normal and overweight individuals found that obesity reduces glucose uptake in the brain – an indication of less brain activity. The logical conclusion here is that obesity could also increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

The good news? They felt that the risk of Alzheimer’s disease could be reduced by improving insulin sensitivity, resulting in better use of glucose (insulin helps the cells take up and use glucose). Additionally, in rats, they found a ketogenic supplement improved brain function. This works by switching the fuel source that the brain is using. It allows the brain to bypass glucose as a fuel and use ketones instead (3).

More good news! Dr. Peter Howe presented his talk on ‘Vasoactive Nutrients and Brain Function’. He suggests that the decline in mood and brain function that occurs with age may be related to problems with blood flow. Consequently, foods that improve blood flow may be beneficial. Topping the list are: omega-3 fatty acids from fish (4); cocoa flavanols – read: dark chocolate (5) and resveratrol – read: red wine (6).  A couple of important notes:

  • Many of the studies he cites look at blood flow in people with cardiovascular problems rather than Alzheimer’s or Dementia.
  • He also points out that exercise will increase blood flow and could improve brain function and indeed many of these studies use exercise in combination with the nutritional intervention.
  • More research is needed to confirm these effects, excessive consumption of either red wine or dark chocolate is not recommended.

My thanks to the Canadian Nutrition Society for a great conference! There were so many other sessions we could have written about. The conference covered everything from gut microbes and pre-natal programming to body composition and public health policies. We encourage anyone who can to attend the 2013 conference.


  1. Morestin, F. et al. National Collaborating Centre for Healthy Public Policy; 2001, 92 pages.
  2. Cunnane S, et al. Brain fuel metabolism, aging, and Alzheimer’s disease. Nutrition 2011; 27:3-20.
  3. Pifferi F, Tremblay S, Croteau E, Fortier M, Tremblay-Mercier J, Lecomte R, Cunnane SC. Mild experimental ketosis increases brain uptake of 11C-acetoacetate and 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose: a dual-tracer PET imaging study in rats. Nutr Neurosci 2011; 14:51-8.
  4. Sinn N, Milte C, Howe PR. Oiling the brain: a review of randomized controlled trials of omega-3 fatty acids in psychopathology across the lifespan. Nutrients 2010; 2:128-70.
  5. Davison K, Coates AM, Buckley JD, Howe PR. Effect of cocoa flavanols and exercise on cardiometabolic risk factors in overweight and obese subjects. Int J Obes (Lond) 2008; 32:1289-96.
  6. Wong RH, Howe PR, Buckley JD, Coates AM, Kunz I, Berry NM. Acute resveratrol supplementation improves flow-mediated dilatation in overweight/obese individuals with mildly elevated blood pressure. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis 2011; 21:851-6.

2 thoughts on “Notes from the Canadian Nutrition Society Annual Meeting

  1. Pingback: Dietary Patterns and Memory | No Baloney

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