Study shows the consumption of functional foods could help fight diseases

Gluten Free Hemp (photo credit:

Locally grown and processed crops and livestock products could be the answer for both improving health and lowering the province's annual health care costs.

A recent study by agricultural and food economist Maria Jose Patiño Valiente shows that Manitoba could potentially save on health care costs each year if eating habits were changed to include more functional foods.

"Forty to 60 per cent of cardiovascular disease is diet related," said Lee Anne Murphy, executive director of the Manitoba Agri-Health Research Network Inc. (MAHRN), the sponsor of the study. "In Manitoba, the management and treatment of non-communicable and cardiovascular diseases represent approximately 60 per cent of the total health expenditure in the province so new solutions are needed that address patient quality of life as well as fiscal realities."

Focus on local foods

The study, titled Economic Impact to Manitoba of Increased Adoption of Healthy Food and Food Ingredients for Chronic Disease Management and Mitigation, used the Canadian Climate Advantage Diet (CCAD) model as the basis for determining what the impact of consuming functional foods would be on health care costs associated with diabetes and heart disease.

The CCAD focuses on the consumption of functional foods – that is, foods that have a health effect beyond basic nutrition – which are grown or processed in Manitoba. These include canola oil, flaxseed, pulses, whole grains, potatoes and emerging crops, eggs, dairy, turkey, bison, freshwater fish, honey and grass fed beef.

One of Valiente's instructors, Dr. Jared Carlberg, associate dean in the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences at the University of Manitoba, has been researching the effects of these foods on cardiovascular disease and diabetes for the past decade.

Food education important component

Dr. Carlberg believes that education about nutrition plays an important role in reducing disease, and in turn reducing health care costs.

"Consumers don't always understand the consequences of what they do when they're younger. Someone in their 20s or 30s might not think that what they eat today, or whether or not they get some exercise today will affect their quality of life when they're 65 or 70, but it does," he said. "People who are educated about the nutritional value of the foods they eat tend to eat healthier. And those who understand the future implications of the lifestyle choices they make tend to have a longer, better life."

Research being done through MAHRN members the Richardson Centre for Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals, The Canadian Centre for Agri-Food Research in Health and Medicine and Food Development Centre aims to find ways to incorporate Manitoba functional foods into an everyday diet plan to lower the risk of and be part of the treatment for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

"Anecdotally, if you're looking at a handful of pills or a well-crafted meal I think most people would choose the meal," said Murphy. "Life is about enjoying interaction with your food and why not take advantage of healthy benefits while you're doing that."

Valiente's study was made possible with funding from the Growing Innovation program.

You can request a copy of the executive summary report through the MAHRN office.