There were many important nutrition stories to ponder in 2020, from the effect of pandemic stress-eating to the role of vitamin D in COVID-19 infections, to the brain benefits of eating fruits and vegetables.
Here’s a year-end look at four stories that caught my attention, along with takeaways for 2021.
COVID-19′s toll on health habits
The stress of a global pandemic and its resulting lockdowns threw our usual diet and physical activity routines into disarray. In October, a study published in the journal Obesity confirmed the health effects that COVID-19 produced, beyond the virus itself.
The global survey of 7,753 adults, conducted in April, revealed that nearly four out of 10 people reported eating less healthy diets. Forty-three per cent said they were eating more unhealthy snacks and many had increased consumption of sweets and sugary drinks.
The shift to unhealthy eating was accompanied by an increase in sedentary behaviour, a decline in physical activity and an increase in reported anxiety.
That might account for the finding that 27 per cent of participants reported weight gain after initial stay-at-home orders.
There were inspiring findings. Overall, 21 per cent of people said they had improved their diet since the pandemic due to cooking more meals at home. Among them, many had also increased exercise.
Reflect on your current eating and exercise habits; if needed, set goals to get back-on-track and feel better in 2021.
Increased focus on immune health
According to a study of Google Trends data, published this fall in the journal Nutrients, searches for immune-boosting nutrients and herbs (e.g., vitamins C and D, zinc, garlic) skyrocketed during the initial COVID-19 lockdown period in March and April.
The link between vitamin D and COVID-19 was also the focus of much research this year, with studies finding increased COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths associated with vitamin D deficiency.
Last week, 140 international medical and science experts sent an open letter to world governments calling for “immediate widespread increased vitamin D intakes” to 4,000 IU (international units) per day, or at least 2,000 IU, for healthy people.
Eat a variety of whole foods each day – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pulses, nuts and seeds, proteins – to provide the range of nutrients your immune system needs to function optimally. Include a daily vitamin D supplement.
Foods for brain health
Evidence continued to mount this year for the cognitive benefits of eating fruits and vegetables, especially ones plentiful in plant compounds called flavonoids and carotenoids.
In February, researchers from Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center concluded that a high intake of specific flavonoids found in leafy green vegetables (e.g., spinach, kale, Swiss chard, collard greens) and tea protected from Alzheimer’s disease.
Another U.S. study, published in August, linked a long-term high flavonoid intake to significant protection against Alzheimer’s disease. Berries, red grapes, apples, pears, kale, broccoli, onion and tea topped the list of foods rich in these protective compounds.
And last month, a diet high in carotenoids – especially those in leafy greens, tomato juice and tomato sauce – was tied to a lower the risk of Alzheimer’s dementia, possibly by impeding the build-up of plaques that damage brain cells.
Add brain-friendly fruits and vegetables – as well as green, black or white tea – to your diet in 2021.
High-sugar diet under scrutiny
An excessive sugar intake is a recognized risk factor for obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. This fall, a large study from France suggested it also increases the breast cancer risk.
After controlling for other lifestyle-related cancer risk factors, women who consumed the most added sugars (50 g versus 21 g per day) were more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer during the study.
Added sugars were also under scrutiny by American scientists. After a review of evidence, the advisory committee to the 2020 American Dietary Guidelines recommended lowering added sugar intake from 10 per cent of daily calories to six per cent. For a 2,000-caloire diet, that’s no more than 30 g of added sugar per day.
Make 2021 the year you cut back on added sugars. Start by reducing or eliminating sugary drinks. Eat fewer sweets and limit your intake of heavily processed foods.
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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Even with new COVID-19 vaccine approvals, rollout won’t increase before April – Global News
The country’s rollout currently depends on vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, both of which are in short supply amid overwhelming global demand.
Canada is set to receive a combined six million doses by the end of March, enough to vaccinate three million Canadians on the vaccines’ respective two-dose regimens.
Federal officials confirmed Thursday that a delay in Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shipments to Canada will cause short-term delays across the country. They also released a table showing how many people would be able to be vaccinated with the addition of all of the yet-to-be approved vaccines for which Canada has signed procurement deals.
Vaccine shortage to travel bans, doctor answers top COVID-19 questions
If other vaccines apart from the Pfizer and Moderna products are approved in the coming months, 10 million more Canadians could be vaccinated by the end of June, making for a collective total of 23 million. However, the approvals would not boost supply in Q1, which spans January to March.
Despite hiccups in the supply chain, Canada continues to be “on track” to receive the allotted four million doses from Pfizer-BioNTech by the end of March, deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo said.
“We will have enough supply,” Njoo said, highlighting all vaccinations are on track to be completed in Canada by the end of September.
Supply chain expert says countries can learn lessons from COVID-19 vaccine rollout disruptions
Major-General Dany Fortin, head of the country’s vaccine distribution efforts, said despite some provinces being “disproportionately” impacted by the Pfizer-BioNTech shortage, Canada has managed to distribute 1.1 million vaccines across provinces and territories.
Fortin further maintained that such “losses” will in time be “rebalanced” once the supply picks up.
Canada has administered some 700,000 shots – that accounts for roughly 1.7 per cent of the population who have received at least one dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna products. In Ontario, about 40,000 people have been fully vaccinated against the virus.
Meanwhile, Health Canada regulators are still reviewing clinical trial data for both the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson products. Three other vaccine candidates included in Thursday’s vaccine supply projection are not yet in the rolling review phase.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Vaccine delay left Barrie’s Roberta Place home vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreak – The Globe and Mail
The slow rollout of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccination program to people living and working in the province’s virus-ravaged nursing homes has left one facility where an unidentified variant has been detected vulnerable to a devastating outbreak.
The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit got the go-ahead to roll up its mobile immunization unit to Roberta Place last Saturday – days after an outbreak began ripping through the long-term care home in Barrie, north of Toronto, infecting nearly every resident.
Colin Lee, Simcoe Muskoka’s associate medical officer of health, said residents and staff should have received the vaccine well before the outbreak began.
Vaccine maker Moderna delivered 168,000 doses to Canada at the end of December. The Ontario government earmarked the Moderna vaccine for Toronto, Peel Region, York Region and Windsor-Essex, the four areas with the highest COVID-19 transmission rates.
Dr. Lee told reporters on Thursday that the four regions received the Moderna doses that were destined for Simcoe Muskoka. “We were planning to go straight to the long-term care homes with it,” he said.
Health authorities say an unidentified variant of COVID-19 is behind the outbreak at Roberta Place, which began on Jan. 8 after one staff member tested positive during routine screening.
The staffer was in close contact with someone who travelled internationally, but not to the United Kingdom, Brazil or South Africa. Dr. Lee said the staffer’s swab is one of six that contains an unidentified variant. It’s a “very, very high probability,” he said, that the variant will turn out to be the strain from one of those three countries.
Forty-eight hours after the outbreak began, 55 residents and staff were sickened with the virus. As of Thursday, 122 of the home’s 130 residents had tested positive for COVD-19, including 25 who have died. Another 72 staff and two essential visitors were also sickened with the virus.
The health unit immunized 21 residents on Saturday with the Pfizer vaccine, but testing subsequently revealed that most of them were already infected with COVID-19, Dr. Lee said.
“Unfortunately, the ability to move the vaccine came a little bit late,” he said.
The health unit has a small amount of the Pfizer vaccine, which it must juggle between administering a second dose to long-term care residents and staff who’ve received their first shot and to those in retirement homes, who have yet to be vaccinated, Dr. Lee said.
“There are some difficult choices we have to make,” he said.
Fourteen cases of a COVID-19 variant have been found in Ontario as of Jan. 16, according to the province’s weekly epidemiologic summary. Roberta Place is the first known case of a highly contagious variant finding its way into a long-term care home in Canada – a sector that has been hard hit by the coronavirus.
Ontario has deemed residents of long-term care homes the province’s most vulnerable citizens. To date, 3,256 nursing home residents have died of COVID-19.
These residents were supposed to be at the front of the line for the vaccine. An expert committee that advises the Public Health Agency of Canada on immunization recommended that the first shots go into the arms of residents and staff in long-term care homes.
But in Ontario, that is not what has happened. The first dose of a vaccine has made its way to only 40 per cent of the province’s 626 long-term care homes, according to Alexandra Hilkene, press secretary for Health Minister Christine Elliott.
In addition to the Moderna vaccine, Canada has also approved one made by Pfizer. Ontario opted to distribute its first doses of the Pfizer shot only through hospitals with access to freezers capable of keeping vials at -70 C, as the vaccine maker suggested.
“I can only wish I could turn the clock back,” Dr. Lee said. “If we had vaccines a month before we went in on Saturday, I think this outbreak would be a lot less severe.”
With a report from Laura Stone in Toronto
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Hospitalizations from COVID-19 in B.C. fall to level last seen in November – Squamish Chief
The trajectory of serious COVID-19 infections in B.C. continues to point in the right direction, as the number of hospitalizations, and intensive care unit (ICU) patients, continues to fall.
The province now has 320 people hospitalized with the virus that has spawned a global pandemic. That is nine fewer than yesterday, and the lowest total since November 30.
The number of hospital patients in ICU is similarly falling, as it is down by four overnight, to 66, which is the lowest total since November 26, according to government data.
Unfortunately 14 more people died overnight from complications related to the virus, pushing the death toll in B.C. to 1,104 since the first death was recorded on March 9.
New cases continue to pile up, with 500 people newly diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past day, and only 465 people newly diagnosed as having recovered. Testing also ramped up substantially, compared with yesterday, as 10,437 tests were given. That pushes the positive-test rate down to 4.7%, compared with 9.22% yesterday.
More than 89%, or 55,564 individuals out of the 62,412 people identified in B.C. as having contracted the virus, are deemed to have recovered.
The vast majority of the 4,345 people actively infected with the virus have been told to self-isolate, while 6,905 people are under active health monitoring from officials because they are known to have been in contact with others who have tested positive for the virus.
Here is a regional breakdown of where the 500 new cases were identified:
• 125 people in Vancouver Coastal Health (25%);
• 216 people in Fraser Health (43.2%);
• 32 in Island Health (6.4%);
• 91 in Interior Health (18.2%);
• 35 in Northern Health (7%); and
• one person who resides outside the province.
Despite fewer doses of vaccine expected to be delivered in later January than first expected, there were 5,756 vaccinations completed in the past day, for a total of 98,125 since the first dose was administered on December 16.
”We have had two new health-care facility outbreaks: at Villa Cathay in the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, and Acropolis Manor in the Northern Health Authority,” provincial health officer Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said in a joint statement.
“The outbreaks at Guildford Seniors Village and Maple Ridge Seniors Village in the Fraser Health Authority, as well as Mountainview Village and Village by the Station in the Interior Health Authority, are now over.”
They added that there has been one new community outbreak at the Surrey Pretrial Services Centre.
“Our COVID-19 curve is trending in the right direction, and we want to keep that going – to push our curve down, which in turn, will allow us to safely ease restrictions,” they said.
The nine hospitals identified as having active COVID-19 outbreaks are:
• Burnaby Hospital in Burnaby;
• Cariboo Memorial Hospital in Williams Lake;
• Chilliwack General Hospital in Chilliwack;
• Mount St. Joseph’s Hospital in Vancouver;
• Ridge Meadows Hospital in Maple Ridge;
• St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver;
• Surrey Memorial Hospital in Surrey;
• Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver; and
• University Hospital of Northern B.C. in Prince George.
The nine active outbreaks at seniors’ living facilities in Vancouver Coastal Health are at:
• Arbutus Care Centre in Vancouver;
• Braddan Private Hospital in Vancouver;
• Fraserview Intermediate Care Lodge in Richmond;
• German Canadian Benevolent Society Home in Vancouver;
• Hilltop House in Squamish;
• Little Mountain Place in Vancouver;
• Minoru Residence in Richmond;
• Renfrew Care Centre in Vancouver;
• Sunrise of Vancouver in Vancouver; and
• Villa Cathay in Vancouver.
The 23 active outbreaks at seniors’ living facilities in Fraser Health are at:
• Avalon Gardens in Langley;
• Brookside Lodge in Surrey;
• Eagle Ridge Manor in Port Moody;
• Evergreen Baptist Care Society in White Rock;
• Fleetwood Villa in Surrey;
• George Derby Centre in Burnaby;
• Good Samaritan Delta View Care Centre in Delta;
• Hilton Villa Seniors Community in Surrey;
• Kin Village in Tsawwassen;
• Kin Village West Court in Tsawwassen;
• Madison Care Centre in Coquitlam;
• Mayfair Seniors Living Care in Abbotsford;
• Menno Home in Abbotsford;
• Morgan Place Care Facility in Surrey
• Nicola Lodge in Port Coquitlam;
• Peace Arch Hospital Foundation Lodge in White Rock;
• Queen’s Park Care Centre in New Westminster;
• Rideau Retirement Residence in Burnaby;
• Royal City Manor in New Westminster;
• St. Michael’s Centre Extended Care in Burnaby;
• Suncreek Village in Surrey;
• The Harrison at Elim Village in Surrey; and
• Waterford Retirement Residence in Delta.
The two active outbreaks at a seniors’ living facilities in Northern Health are at Jubilee Lodge in Prince George, and Acropolis Manor in Prince Rupert.
The nine active outbreaks at seniors’ living facilities in Interior Health are at:
• Brocklehurst Gemstone Care Centre in Kamloops;
• Creekside Landing in Vernon;
• Heritage Retirement Residence in West Kelowna;
• Heritage Square in Vernon;
• Noric House in Vernon;
• Sunnybank Retirement Home in Oliver; and
• Williams Lake Seniors Village in Williams Lake.
In Island Health, there are two seniors’ facilities with an active outbreak of COVID-19:
• Chartwell Malaspina Care Residence in Nanaimo; and
• Hart House in Victoria.
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