Can Food Banks Sustain Nutrient Requirements? A Case Study in Southwestern Ontario

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Canadian Journal of Public Health





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BACKGROUND: Concerns about adequate food supply is a mounting problem in Canada, making food bank visits a necessity for over 820,000 Canadians. Given this reliance, the purpose of this study was to compare contents of food hampers with Canadian guidelines, at a large urban food bank in Southwestern Ontario that intends to provide 3 days worth of food per person.

METHOD: Thirty hampers of each available size (for 1-6 people) were sampled (N = 180). Food items were recorded and analyzed for caloric value, food group, and macro- and micro-nutrient values. Results were compared to Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) and Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating.

RESULTS: 99% of hampers did not provide 3 days worth of nutrients. Grains and cereals met the lower range of Canada's Food Guide recommendations, and fruits and vegetables, meats and alternatives, and dairy products were below recommended levels, as were numerous vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, D, B12, C, riboflavin, niacin, calcium, magnesium and zinc. Carbohydrates were slightly above recommended DRI, and energy from fat and protein scarcely met the minimums recommended. Hampers contained 1.6 days worth of energy per person.

DISCUSSION: The energy available per person was below recommendations for most Canadians. Nutrients missing from the hampers can come from fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and meats and alternatives. However, many low-income families have limited finances to purchase these foods which are relatively more expensive than processed foods. Encouraging more perishable food donations and storage facilities to maximize the nutritional intake for clients is imperative.

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