Anyone who has travelled has probably noticed familiar foods can taste different abroad.
No matter how juicy and tasty is a mango bought at your nearest grocer, for example, it is no match for a mango plucked off a tree in, say, India.
Immigrants have the same experience upon arriving in B.C.
“Diet was a big adjustment,” said Neha Anand, a Delhi native who moved to Canada 10 years ago.
“The vegetables, fruits and even lentils don’t taste the same and it was difficult to change the tastebuds.
“But the best part is I had to try different things, improvise, learn about different cuisines, like Mexican.”
Immigrants face obvious challenges when they arrive: language and culture; shelter and work; services and transportation.
A change in diet can also be intimidating.
In fact, some studies show immigrants are often less healthy five years after arrival — they’ve gained weight, developed diabetes, have high blood pressure — partly because of diet change.
Groups such as MOSAIC, a not-for-profit organization that helps immigrants adjust to life here, wondered how newcomers were adjusting to a new diet, but there were no hard numbers.
So in association with the B.C. Salmon Farmers and The Province, MOSAIC commissioned the Mustel Group to canvass immigrants to study their eating habits and see if they were aware of resources such as Canada’s Food Guide.
MOSAIC has also published a cookbook, called a Mosaic of Flavours, with simple recipes from local chefs for salmon, shellfish and prawns.
“From the survey, it seems a lot of newcomers don’t adjust their diets,” MOSAIC’s Diana Lee noted.
On the support group’s website, MOSAIC points out that “moving to a new country often means adapting to a new lifestyle, which includes unfamiliar foods.
“Since food is often a comfort for most of us, we want to help you learn about some of British Columbia’s best locally grown seafood and fish that can help you lead a healthy life.”
Jeremy Dunn, executive director of B.C. Salmon Farmers Association, said: “We’ve been working with MOSAIC for a couple of years and they didn’t have the data available or the knowledge of whether new Canadians were eating healthy or incorporating seafood into their diets. We thought that would be valuable information to have.”
One interesting thing uncovered by the study is that immigrants tend to eat as much fish as native B.C. residents — but not necessarily salmon, steelhead or other local fish.
Immigrants fall far short of the B.C. average in other food groups listed by the federal food guide.
“One of the main objectives of this research is to see what awareness there is of Canada’s Food Guide: Is the guide designed for an immigrant population and is it meaningful for them?” said Evi Mustel of the Mustel Group.
“There is a low awareness of the guide and what it contains.”
A couple of days ago at the Vancouver-area home of Regina Cid, a native of Brazil, the family was about to dig into big salmon fillet.
“I hadn’t heard of the food guide at first,” Cid said. “But in time I saw copies through my daughter’s school.
“It was interesting. I told my kids this is important for you.
“It fits how we ate (in Brazil) and it agrees with what I believe in.”
Healthy-heart diet unknown to many
Half of all immigrants are unaware of, or at least unfamiliar with, Canada’s Food Guide recommendations, according to the survey, conducted by the Mustel Group in association with MOSAIC, B.C. Salmon Farmers Association and The Province.
That number grows to 60 per cent among four groups: Those born in China, those with annual household income of less than $50,000, immigrants who have been here less than 10 years and males in general.
The study found consumption of meat, fish and alternatives meet the guidelines for the most part, but the average daily servings of fruit, vegetables, grains and milk or dairy fall well below recommendations found in the Food Guide.
Saying that, less than one in five newcomers feel they clearly understand what a healthy-heart diet is (that number falls to one in 10 for those born in China). In the population as a whole, that number is slightly more than one in three.
But one in four don’t (one in three for China-born immigrants).
A healthy-heart diet is designed to keep cholesterol low and prevent the risk of heart disease. It includes eating foods low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.
Fish such as salmon that contain omega-3 fatty acids, lean meats, nuts and seeds, vegetables and fruits, tofu and legumes, and unrefined whole-grain products qualify.
Once a healthy-heart diet was explained to those taking part in the survey, most said they follow such a diet, at home in any case.
When asked about their diet when dining out, 41 per cent of immigrants overall and 48 per cent of those born in China said they do not eat a healthy-heart diet.
The study, carried out from Jan. 11-17, surveyed 218 B.C. residents online and included clients of MOSAIC and previously recruited participants of a web panel.
The margin of error on a random sample of 218 is plus or minus 6.7 per cent, with a level of confidence of 95 per cent.