People and programs 11/23/2017

Walk into the NorWest Co-op Community Food Centre on any given day this month, and you’re likely to spot a curious display of sugar cubes, arranged in piles next to processed foods and beverages. An unusual sight, indeed, at a place that works hard to ensure the community has access to fresh, healthy foods every day.

But the sugar is not for eating, only for looking—and for learning how much of it we consume when packaged foods are part of our regular diet. The sugar cubes, on display at the centre through November for Diabetes Month, are meant to create awareness of the impact of sugar on health.  

The NorWest Co-op Community Food Centre, located in an area of Winnipeg called Inkster, is home to a significant number of South Asian and Indigenous families. “Research shows that these demographics are at a higher than average risk of developing diabetes in their lifetime. So it’s important that we’re able to offer programming to support the community to understand the condition, and build awareness about prevention,” says Abby Legaspi, Cooking and Food Skills Coordinator at the centre.

That program is called Living Well With Diabetes, an eight-week cooking program that supports participants to prevent and manage diabetes through diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes. They spend a few hours each week cooking and sharing a healthy meal together while learning how the foods benefit their health. Guest speakers such as dietitians, fitness professionals, and physiotherapists join the group to share information and tips on how to eat well, exercise, and improve their overall health.

Participants have the opportunity to test out new healthy foods and recipes, a task that can be intimidating when you’re on your own and spending your food budget on unfamiliar ingredients. After they prepare the meal and eat together, they’re encouraged to make it again at home for their families to try. “One of our participants told us that her family eats salads now—something they never did before she came to the program. And they’re eating meals together as a family more, too,” Abby says.  

Of the 12 people currently attending the program, most are diabetic or borderline diabetic. They feel comfortable talking to Abby about their health and how they’re feeling. She says they report eating more vegetables and cooking more at home, and that they’re getting outside in the evenings to exercise instead of watching TV. She often hears that participants have more energy since coming to the program, and she loves it when they come back from a doctor’s visit to tell her their blood sugar levels are stabilizing.

“They are doing so well. One participant has been coming to the program regularly for a few years, and recently she started biking to the CFC for the program for exercise, instead of making the 9-minute drive. She’s improved so much that she’s now biking to and from work—a 25-minute drive one-way!” Abby’s pride in her progress is clear.

Want to learn more about programs that are improving individual and community health? Check out FoodFit, a healthy eating and exercise program for people living on low incomes. We're currently accepting grant applications for spring 2018. Go here to find out more.