Last month, The Downsview Advocate featured an excellent article by Anna Porretta about the new Canada Food Guide. Read it. The new Guide is a big improvement!

The benefits of a plant-based diet are recognized without hostility to meat. Even before the new Guide, Health Canada took a big leap forward by proposing to ban trans fats. Trans fats are not natural oils; they result from heat and processing. In the new Guide, the general trend away from animal fat to vegetable oil is a positive step, but here is one catch: in animals (primarily fish) omega-3 oil is more readily available than in vegetable oil.

For good health, good oils are super important. The Guide says nothing about the types and qualities of vegetable oils that we use for cooking and dressing salads.

Oil nutrition is complex. As with proteins and amino acids, our bodies make many of the nutrients we need, but some are essential in our diet because we can not make them on our own. The essential oils which our bodies need but cannot produce are in two families: omega-3’s and omega-6’s. Both are poly-unsaturated and therefore very delicate, easy to spoil with heat and light. Another valuable family consists of the omega-9’s, abundant in olive oil and avocados.  Theoretically, in the right conditions, we can make our own omega-9, but only when omega-3 and 6 are in balance. Processed oils keep these two way, way out of balance.

Omega-6 is everywhere. The amount we eat overwhelms the omega-3 which is quite scarce. If a food product is advertised as a good source of omega-6, that is like saying, “Buy this car!  It comes with four wheels!” This is not an oversimplification, but a good source of omega-6 translates to a bad source of omega-3.

It would be great if we could just eat the nut, the seed, the olive, the sardine and forget about what’s in the bottles.

Consider canola oil. Although canola seeds start out with a respectable proportion of omega-3, the extracted oil, like others, is so easily damaged in processing that the benefits get lost. In Canada, canola oil is a source of pride. Canada exported almost 3,000,000 tons of canola last year, more than half to the USA and almost a quarter of it to China. But if it is heat processed or hydrogenated or cooked, the omega-3 is partially converted to. . . guess what? . . . trans fat. Heat processing keeps the price down at a cost to health. That is part of the reason why in general, cheap oil is not healthful. On this matter, the Guide is silent.

Comments? Questions? Write to Nicole Constant is a registered Doctor of Naturopathy. Her website is:

*To read Anna Porretta’s article on new changes to Canada’s Food Guide, visit:


Safe and Smart

The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of the Smart City is passive surveillance. I come by my paranoia honestly. I was born in apartheid-era South Africa and because of Pass Laws my parents had to carry a special ID book on them at all times. If they were caught without what was more colloquially known as their ‘Book of Life’, they could be imprisoned without cause.

A headline told me recently that the modern smart city is just as likely to help us deal with inclement weather and wouldn’t that be great! Imagine never having to shovel your sidewalk again because the sensors in the sidewalk are melting the snow as it falls. Imagine traffic bottlenecks as a thing of the past as vehicle GPS systems, working in tandem with traffic lights, resolve issues before they happen.

Then of course there are the ongoing issues of safety. ‘Safety,’ the word that for so many racialized men in Downsview is just as likely to mean ‘danger’. Think about the promise of Waterfront Toronto’s redevelopment taking place on the city’s eastern waterfront in partnership with Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs, a subsidiary of Google. The redevelopment will have technology built into every corner to make our lives better. What if our racialized person from Downsview decided to visit this smart development with a smart phone in their pocket? If they were carded at some point in their life, they may trip a sensor requiring their movements to be redlined. Remember, when Toronto put restrictions on carding, the police were not forced to destroy all the unlawfully gained data already in the system. Could this level of scrutiny go to the next level in the name of ‘safety’; every physical space they walk into alerted to their presence. Young racialized men who have been subjected to carding programs have a challenging enough time walking around feeling free, will they self-sensor and never visit this new and special corner of the city?

Will we be guaranteed that we will remain free of potential abuses of these smart spaces? Waterfront Toronto has already been asked to be more transparent in how the development deal was originally struck. What else will Waterfront Toronto, an arms-length agency of the city, try to keep from us to enhance the specialness of this place?


Nobel Peace Prize Winner Makes a Stop in Toronto

Earlier this month, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Muhammad Yunus, visited Toronto’s Centre for Social Innovation for a fireside chat. Dr. Yunus is known for his human centred approach to economics and finance. Originally from Bangladesh, Yunus was fuelled by the belief that credit is a fundamental human right and that loan sharks were making it next to impossible for anyone to get ahead. His objective was to assist the unhealthy people in his village by loaning them the money they needed directly. The belief was that these individuals could escape poverty if they were just provided with suitable loan terms and knew a few basic financial principles themselves. His intention was never to profit from these interactions, but to make personal finances more manageable.

Dr. Yunus’s efforts to create economic and social development from below quickly gained momentum. As an outgrowth of Dr. Yunus’s personal loans, he decided to transform his growing business into a bank specifically addressing the needs of the low-income majority in his country. In 1983, the Grameen Bank (meaning ‘village bank’) advanced to the forefront of a burgeoning global movement toward eradicating poverty through micro-lending. This innovation has transformed communities in developing and developed countries with similar banks established and modelled in more than 100 countries, all based on this humanitarian approach.

Dr. Yunus’s work has inspired many; in viewing social business as a means to meet the needs of the many, a genuine business can be formed, barriers can be broken down, and individuals can progress. Through innovative humanitarians such as Dr. Yunus, we can see how micro decisions can redesign the system in which we live. This is our call to reclaim our relationships with each other and reinforce what it means to be truly human.