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food for thought

This summer, whether you’re hosting a backyard barbecue, having a picnic or dining on a restaurant patio, put Canada on your menu with these nutritious locally grown and produced foods.

While many ingredients are available throughout the country, each region produces its own unique local foods. Here’s a snapshot (it’s not inclusive) of Canada’s foods to celebrate and savour from coast to coast to coast.

I’ll start with British Columbia, where I was born and raised and grew up eating sockeye salmon fresh from the Pacific Ocean. What I didn’t realize, until studying nutrition at the University of British Columbia, was that the delicious salmon I enjoyed at family dinners was also packed with nutrition.

Six ounces of grilled sockeye salmon serves up 44 grams of protein, three day’s worth of vitamin B12 (7.6 mcg), a full day’s worth of selenium (60 mcg) and 1040 IU of vitamin D, along with plenty of potassium and choline, a nutrient that regulates memory and mood.

For dessert, serve apricot bars made with fresh fruit picked from an Okanagan Valley orchard. Or, for something decadent, enjoy Nanaimo bars named after the Vancouver Island city of Nanaimo.

If you’re celebrating in Alberta, add a salad made with whole-grain barley to your menu. Barley is Canada’s third-largest crop (after wheat and canola), of which Alberta produces the most.

One cup of cooked hulled barley, the whole-grain version with its bran layer intact, has eight grams of protein, 10 grams of fibre and 81 milligrams of blood-sugar-regulating magnesium (adults need 400 mg daily). Pearl barley, the most common type, has had its bran layer removed; it’s still nutritious but a little less so than hulled barley.

In Saskatchewan, feature lentils as one of your dishes. This province produces most of Canada’s lentils and is the world’s largest exporter of this nutritious pulse.

One cup of lentils delivers 18 grams of plant protein (the equivalent of three large eggs) and 15 grams of fibre. It’s also an outstanding source of folate, a B vitamin tied to a lower risk of colon cancer, and magnesium and potassium, minerals that help to keep blood pressure in check.

One of Manitoba’s culinary gifts is wild rice, a water grass seed that grows naturally in the province’s northern lakes and streams.

Add this nutty-flavoured rice to a salad or whole-grain pilaf or serve it as a breakfast porridge. It’s a good source of protein, fibre, B vitamins, magnesium, potassium and zinc.

Ontario is known for sweet corn, a summer staple that’s in season July through September. And it’s more nutritious than many people think. Sweet corn offers low glycemic carbohydrates, protein, prebiotic fibre that feeds your good gut bacteria, niacin, folate, vitamin C, magnesium and potassium.

Other foods to celebrate include peaches from the Niagara region (80 per cent of the country’s peaches are grown there) and, of course, butter tarts.

While poutine, Montreal-style bagels and Oka cheese come to mind, today I’m thanking Quebec for its wild (lowbush) blueberries, a treat I look forward to every July. (Wild blueberries are also grown in the Atlantic provinces.)

Smaller and sweeter-tasting than cultivated highbush blueberries, wild blueberries are loaded with anthocyanins, antioxidants highly concentrated in the berry’s skin which are thought to guard against cardiovascular disease and bolster brain health.

Wild blueberries contain more antioxidants than their cultivated cousins because, pound for pound, they contain more skin.

Moving east to Atlantic Canada, now is the time to enjoy mussels, oysters and clams, excellent sources of protein, vitamin B12, zinc and selenium. Serve them with a potato salad made with potatoes grown on Prince Edward Island. (PEI is Canada’s largest potato-producing province.)

If you feel like a snack, try dried dulse, an edible red seaweed that’s harvested from the Bay of Fundy. It’s a good source of B vitamins, iron, potassium and iodine.

We have Canada’s territories – Nunavut, Yukon and the Northwest Territories – to thank for Arctic char, a fish that’s milder-tasting than salmon but still has plenty of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. The territories are prime suppliers of wild-caught and farmed char.

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based private practice dietitian, is director of food and nutrition at Medcan.

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