This year was marked by ever-increasing food prices, new food labelling regulations and also encouraging news about diet and health.

Here’s a roundup of four stories that stood out in 2022, along with take-aways for 2023 and beyond.

Food inflation top of mind

This year Canada saw the highest rate of food inflation since 1981. Rising food costs led many Canadians to make changes to the way they shop for, prepare and store foods.

Data reported from the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University revealed that many shoppers are buying less food, using more coupons and more often purchasing privately-labelled store brands. Four out of 10 Canadians also say they’re reducing food waste.

Budget-minded eating also meant many people swapped red meat for cheaper protein sources and turned to tinned fish for their omega-3 fats. Some also skipped meals.

Expect to continue to feel the effects of food inflation next year. Canada’s Food Price Report 2023 has forecasted an overall 5 to 7 per cent jump in food prices this winter.

The price of fresh vegetables is anticipated to rise the most (6 to 8 per cent), a reason to add frozen vegetables to your grocery list in 2023.

According to Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, director of Dalhousie’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab, “prices in the frozen produce aisle are historically much more stable due to a more consistent supply chain.”

Frozen vegetables can have a higher nutrient content than their fresh out-of-season counterparts since they’re flash-frozen right after harvest. Using frozen vegetables also helps reduce food waste.

Front-of-package nutrition labels announced

In July, Health Canada regulated front-of-package (FOP) nutrition labels to help consumers make healthier food choices. The new mandatory “high-in” label will appear on prepackaged foods that meet or exceed 15 per cent of the daily value (DV) for saturated fat, sodium and/or sugars.

That’s good news since Canadians get nearly half of their daily calories from ultra-processed foods, which add excess saturated fat, sodium and sugars to our diet.

A high intake of these nutrients is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and obesity. Growing evidence also suggests that a poor diet contributes to depression and anxiety.

Food manufacturers have until Jan. 1, 2026, to comply with the new regulations. In the meantime, use the DV percentages on nutrition labels to get a sense of how much sodium, saturated fat and sugars are in a product; 15 per cent or more is considered a lot.

New stricter alcohol guidelines

In August, the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction proposed new Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines (LRDG) that may have surprised many people.

The advisory organization recommends that adults, males and females, limit alcohol intake to two standard drinks per week (e.g., 12 ounces of 5 per cent beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits).

This advice is a striking departure from Canada’s original LRDG, released in 2011, which set a limit of 10 drinks a week for women and 15 a week for men.

The new guidance is based on a review of over 5,000 studies that found regular alcohol consumption is tied to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, several cancers, mental-health problems, injury and violence. All levels of alcohol intake are associated with some risk.

For minimal to low risk of negative health consequences, the updated advice is to consume no more than two drinks a week. A weekly intake of three to six drinks is associated with a moderate risk; exceeding six drinks a week steeply increases the risk.

The final LRDG are to be released on Jan. 17, 2023.

Mediterranean diet continues to earn top score

It was a good year for the well-researched Mediterranean diet. In January, the U.S. News and World Report, once again, rated it the best overall diet for 2022.

Numerous studies have found the Mediterranean diet lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression and dementia.

In May, an Australian study added to growing evidence that the diet also helps treat depression. Among young men with moderate to severe depression, those who adhered to the eating pattern for 12 weeks had significant reductions in depression, with 35 per cent reporting low to minimal symptoms.

This year two studies linked a “green” Mediterranean diet – one high in polyphenols from green tea, walnuts and a green shake made with water lentils – to healthy brain aging and reduced visceral fat, a harmful fat stored around the liver, the pancreas and the intestines.

Make 2023 the year you adopt the Mediterranean diet. Include olive oil, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and herbs and spices in your daily diet. When you do eat red meat, have small portions.

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is director of food and nutrition at Medcan. Follow her on Twitter @LeslieBeckRD

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