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A Mediterranean Diet for the Prairies: The Pure Prairie Eating Plan



PPEP coverToday’s guest post comes from Catherine B. Chan and Rhonda C. Bell, Professors in Human Nutrition at the University of Alberta. It describes their Pure Prairie Eating Plan (PPEP) and how they went about developing this rather unique venture into eating local.

Healthy eating is a key factor in preventing and treating chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes. According to the World Health Organization, good nutrition is one of 4 key factors that could help postpone or avoid 90% of type 2 diabetes and 80% of coronary heart disease.

The Mediterranean Diet has gained popularity as a healthy diet, but evidence gathered through research on Canadian prairie­grown products (canola, flax, barley, pulses, dairy and meats) demonstrates that many local foods have similar nutritional qualities and would be more acceptable and accessible to people who live in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Our recent project was conceived to develop, test and demonstrate the potential health benefits of a dietary pattern based on foods that are commonly grown and consumed in a “made in Canada” menu plan.

How the Pure Prairie Eating Plan (PPEP) was developed

The original purpose of the menu plan was to help people with type 2 diabetes adhere to the nutrition recommendations of the Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA) by focusing on healthy food choices with a local flavour. The menu plan concept integrates knowledge gained through research related to consumer behavior, behavior change, and nutritional quality of dairy, meats,
canola, pulses and grains.

During its development, it was recognized that a diet healthy for people with diabetes is a diet healthy for everyone. This notion was reinforced in a Consensus Conference with people living with type 2 diabetes, who felt strongly that their diet should not be different from others.

This approach provided knowledge that formed the basis of a 4-­week menu plan focused on foods that are grown and readily available in the Canadian prairies. The plan consists of 28 days of diabetes-­friendly menus including 3 meals and 3 snacks each day, approximately 100 recipes, tips for healthy eating, pantry and grocery lists and other helpful information.

If followed consistently, the menus meet the recommendations of Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide on a daily basis, and over 1 week averages approximately 2000 kcal/day with macronutrient distribution consistent with health recommendations.

The menus also provide total fibre between 25 and 50 g/day. Many of the recipes have been obtained from our provincial agricultural commodity groups (see http://pureprairie.ca/our­sponsors/).

The recipe ingredients feature many homegrown foods from each food group. They are quick and easy to make…and tasty!

Our Research Findings

Funding was secured through the Alberta Diabetes Institute to pilot test the menu plan concept in a 12-­week intervention that measured both quantitative (disease biomarkers) and qualitative (acceptability, accessibility and acceptability) responses to the menu plan of 15 people with type 2 diabetes.

The results, published in the Canadian Journal of Diabetes, showed that most participants liked the menu plan and their A1c decreased by an average of 1%.

However, many were not used to cooking from scratch and cited time as a barrier to using the menu plan more. The benefits of the menu plan included more structure in participants’ diets, increased frequency of snacking, increased awareness of food choices, purchasing healthier foods and better portion control.

Participants were aware of better blood sugar control. Participants were pleased with the variety of food choices and liked the taste of the recipes. They also liked the flexibility of the menu plan.

In the second phase, which included 73 participants, we included a 5-­week curriculum delivered in a small­group setting with a facilitator and included assessment of hemoglobin A1c as a measure of blood sugar control as well as cardiovascular risk factors. Nutrient intake was assessed using a computer­based 24-­hour recall system called WebSpan.

In this study, 86% of those enrolled completed all aspects of the programme, including the 3­-month follow­up. On average, there were decreases in A1c (­0.7%), body mass index (­0.6 kg/m2) and waist circumference (­2 cm). (Note that a decrease in A1c of 0.5% is considered to be a clinically relevant improvement in blood sugar control.)

Although the weight loss was relatively small, it correlated with the reduction in A1c more strongly than any other factor examined.

Analysis of nutrient intakes showed decreases in total energy intake (­127 kcal/day), total fat (­7 g), total sugar (­25 g) and sodium (­469 mg).

The Pure Prairie Eating Plan (PPEP)

With promising outcomes regarding the nutritional adequacy and acceptability of the menu plan, and with encouragement from Alberta agricultural commodity groups and others, we packaged and re­branded the menu plan as the Pure Prairie Eating Plan (PPEP): Fresh Food, Practical Menus and a Healthy Lifestyle.

PPEP is available for purchase in selected bookstores throughout the prairies and proceeds from its sale will be used to further research into improving the lifestyle behaviours of Canadians with or at risk of chronic diseases.

For a listing of bookstores currently stocking PPEP, or to buy online, click here

Healthcare providers wishing to purchase 6 copies or more can contact info@pureprairie.ca for a discount.

We would like to acknowledge the financial support of our sponsors.

The Authors

Dr. Catherine Chan is Professor of Human Nutrition and Physiology at the University of Alberta. Her research (Physical Activity and Nutrition for Diabetes in Alberta, PANDA) focuses on the development, implementation and evaluation of healthy behavior interventions as well as on identification and testing of healthy food ingredients. She is also the Scientific Director for the
Diabetes, Obesity and Nutrition Strategic Clinical Network of Alberta Health Services.

Dr. Rhonda Bell is Professor of Human Nutrition and leader of the ENRICH project (Promoting Appropriate Maternal Body Weight in Pregnancy and Postpartum through Health Eating) at the University of Alberta. The ENRICH project aims to develop and promote practical strategies for women to maintain healthier weights during and following pregnancy.

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