Nutrition: An Underrated Factor in Food Insecurity

by | Mar 1, 2023 | Community, Hunger Relief

Food is fuel. What we put into our bodies has a direct impact on our physical and mental health and well-being, our immune systems, mental focus, cognition and ability to learn, energy levels, happiness and ability to handle stress. Good food fuels healthy bodies and minds. 

Canada’s Food Guide suggests that Canadians eat a variety of healthy foods every day. If our plates were a pie chart, ½ would be vegetables and fruit, ¼ proteins, and ¼ whole grains, with a glass of water for a drink.

Easy, Accessible, Affordable: Eating (Un)Healthy Food in Canada -- Canada's Food Guide to follow 2023

                                 Canada’s Food Guide to eating healthy foods daily

Nutrition is Increasingly Out of Reach

Food insecurity is a growing concern in Canada, and it’s safe to say we’re in the midst of a crisis. With sustained inflation in essential food categories like produce, proteins and dairy, we know this problem will get worse and millions more people in Canada will struggle to put food on the table in the future. Nutrition is increasingly out of reach for many people.

This troubling trend in food insecurity has also had a devastating effect on the charitable food sector and the non-profits that support people with food. Second Harvest surveyed more than 1,300 of these organizations — including community food programs, food banks, meal programs and more — in December 2022. What we found is that on top of a whopping 134% increase in demand for their services in 2022, they are anticipating an additional 60% increase for 2023. These organizations reported needing both food and financial support to meet this anticipated demand. Accounting for the entire charitable sector, this equates to a budget shortfall in the billions.

Read more about this research in Second Harvest CEO Lori Nikkel’s Op Ed in the Toronto Star

Second Harvest emphasizes the rescue of healthy perishable foods. In 2022, 86% of the food we rescued and redistributed was perishable and 64% was classified as nutrient-dense.

Some notes on Nutrition

We are bombarded by ads for highly processed food choices with excessive levels of sodium, sugar and saturated fats, and processed meats. While they can seem more affordable than other fresh options, their consumption should be limited in order to maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet. Here’s a deeper look at each. 

Highly processed foods include sugary drinks, chips, fast food meals, baked goods, syrups and jams, ice creams, treats, candy, processed meats, and frozen dinners. They are prepared with excess sodium, sugar, and saturated fats.

  • In 2015, ultra-processed foods and drinks (UPF) contributed 45.7% to the total daily energy of Canadians surveyed —and more than half for children and adolescents.
  • Eating too much UPF is increasingly linked with poor diet habits, weight gain and a higher risk of diet-related chronic disease. 


Too much sodium—or added salt—can cause high blood pressure, which may lead to heart disease and stroke. Most of the sodium we eat comes from highly processed foods, including bakery products, appetizers and entrées, processed meats, cheese, soups, and sauces or condiments.


Sugar is naturally found in fruits, vegetables and dairy products. It is added sugar in products such as fruit juice, sugary drinks, baked goods, frozen treats, candy, chocolate, syrups, jams and condiments that need to be limited. Having too much food and drink with added sugars has been linked to an increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. 

Saturated and Trans Fats

Some foods have healthy fats naturally, such as olive, canola, or sunflower oils and avocado. These can help lower your risk of heart disease. Too much saturated and trans fat, however, is not part of a healthy diet. In the mid-90s, the levels of trans fats in Canadian diets were among the highest in the world. Researchers spent the following decades reducing that number through government regulations and educating the public.

  • For example, in 2018, Health Canada banned the use of partially hydrogenated oils in foods, the main source of industrially produced trans fat.
  • Eating too much trans fat increases the risk of heart disease—one of the leading causes of death in Canada.
5 questions with GSK Canada

5 questions with GSK Canada

Second Harvest is humbled by the incredible support we receive to fight food insecurity and reduce our country’s environmental footprint. We had the chance to ask a few questions to Alison Pozzobon, Head of Communications and Interim Head of Government Affairs and...