Blog - Carol

Do your clients eat a nutritious diet – or are they just thinking about it?  

People often have good intentions to eat healthy, but data published this summer shows that many Canadians are falling short. With almost half (45 per cent) of the calories in the Canadian diet coming from calorie-rich nutrient poor ultra-processed food, it is no wonder we are seeing many Canadians not meeting their daily needs of some nutrients.  

Here is the scoop on some of the common nutrient shortfalls in our diets and a way to remedy that by promoting nutrient-dense diets.  

Who is missing out on what?

Recently, researchers from the University of Toronto reviewed the Canadian Community Health Survey data from 2015, considered the most robust and recent data available on Canadians’ food and beverage intake.  

They found that most Canadian adults have a sufficient intake of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat) however the nutritional quality of those food choices were often poor and as a result, many are not getting adequate amounts of essential micronutrients such as iron, calcium, magnesium, and several vitamins.  

Essential nutrient Who’s not getting enough 
Iron Nearly 30% of women ages 19–50 
Zinc 30%–34% of women, 21%-44% of men (varies by age group) 
Calcium More than 60% of women and 40% of men aged 19+ 
Magnesium 66% of women and 58% of men aged 19+ 
Vitamin A 47% of women and 51% of men aged 19+ 
B vitamins Many Canadians had inadequate intake of B12, B6, and thiamine 
Vitamin C 28%–59% of women, 38%–64% of men (varies by age group) 
Vitamin D 98% of women and 94% of men 

Dietitian’s tip on supplements: Whole foods are greater than the sum of their parts which is why getting our nutrition from food first is ideal. Plus food tastes terrific and supplements can be costly or even have unwanted side effects, for example iron can cause GI discomfort.  When supplements are needed, be sure to ask a pharmacist or your health care provider for personalized advice about potential interactions with other meds and safe amounts to take. 

Three Ways to Promote Nutrient-Dense Food Choices  

Here is how to encourage your clients to make changes to their eating habits – and stick with them. 

1. Keep advice simple.   

There are many barriers to healthy eating, and the plethora of advice on what to eat adds to the confusion. Perhaps it is time to simplify nutrition advice down to one message: swap ultra-processed foods for wholesome, naturally nutrient-rich choices by building a healthy plate that is half veggies and fruit, one-quarter quality protein and one-quarter whole grains. This food-first approach would address nutrient shortfalls, provide adequate nutrition for an active lifestyle, and reduce the risk of nutrition-related chronic diseases.  

TALKING TIP: Getting too much nutrition advice at once can leave people feeling overwhelmed, and that may prevent or distract them from making healthy changes. Share just one or two tips at a time. 

2. Show healthier swaps. 

People tend to think about food choices in relation to meals and snacks, so it is especially helpful if you suggest concrete ideas for healthy swaps to try.  

TALKING TIP: Help people put your advice into practice with easy ideas. For example, you might suggest making oats ahead of time (it reheats really well) or make overnight oats with frozen berries and nuts as a great swap for sugary breakfast cereal, or trying a tasty and easy-to-make ground beef and bean burrito loaded with bell pepper slices instead of frozen pizza for dinner or breakfast!  

3. Address barriers to healthy eating.  

To help make the healthy choice the easy choice, address one of the key barriers to healthy eating, time. It is not enough to tell people what to eat, they need clever shortcuts and time saving tips so they can put the advice into practice.  

TALKING TIP: For example, you might suggest batch-cooking fiber-rich barley, magnesium-rich beans or iron-rich ground beef on the weekend to use throughout the week. These foods make nourishing bases for a variety of delicious meals, such as power bowls, wraps, soups, and casseroles.  


Carol Harrison is a registered dietician who loves her daily workouts! She has a food nutrition communications company in Toronto. For more dinner inspiration and meal planning tips, follow Carol on Instagram and Twitter @CarolHarrison.RD