Celebrating the 2016 Community Scholars

Stanford F. Blade — Dean, Faculty of ALES

University of Alberta Community Connection Awards - Pure Prairie Eating Plan

Catherine Chan and Rhonda Bell are both professors of Human Nutrition in the Faculty of ALES, focused on how diets affect diabetes. As a part of a four-year research project called Physical Activity and Nutrition for Diabetes in Alberta, they produced a breakthrough tool — monthly menu planning that is practical, simple and sustainable for people with type 2 diabetes, and improves blood sugar levels.

Knowing their scholarly approach was not a fad diet, but one that used locally available foods, and a variety of carb, fats and protein sources, they took the initiative to translate their expertise into a guide accessible by everyone living on the Canadian Prairies. In December 2013, they self-published “The Pure Prairie Eating Plan,” a meal planner/recipe book that has become influential in communities far beyond the Prairies and the University of Alberta. After two-plus years of promotion, its impact is still widening.

The 28-day menu plan (a.k.a. PPEP) includes recipes, shopping lists and nutritional information, using foods which are commonly grown and consumed in the Prairie Provinces. Every inclusion was guided by the premise that to trigger healthy eating, food must be accessible, acceptable and available.

Nearly 4,000 copies have been bought by the general public and health-care professionals (primarily dieticians or diabetes educators) across Canada. The plan’s website, blog, quarterly newsletter and Facebook page makes Catherine and Rhonda’s evidence-based results available internationally, and have garnered acclaim for the U of A. On Amazon.com, 91 per cent of reviews give it 4 or 5 stars (of 5).

PPEP has also sparked other community-focused projects. Catherine and Rhonda are working with Alberta Health Services developing a pilot project for a community kitchen for seniors, using the plan as the educational resource/recipe book. Health Canada purchased a large number of books for its programming in Aboriginal communities. Catherine and Rhonda will soon be evaluating its utility in a primary care setting.

Catherine and Rhonda have given away copies at events with a high concentration of health professionals, and to sponsors in exchange for robust financial assistance from many provincial commodities groups. Agricultural organizations, such as the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency, bought extra copies for conferences and other promotions. The Alberta Diabetes Foundation and Alberta Diabetes Institute promote it as evidence of translational research occurring under their auspices. It’s been noticed internationally by other audiences through its inclusion in Tim Caufield’s book, “The Cure for Everything,” which describes his family using it as a dietary intervention. It’s also available from each of Amazon.ca/.ca/.uk/.in, from PPEP’s own online store.

All this practical sharing of Catherine and Rhonda’s scholarship with so many communities is entirely due to their ongoing commitment to publicize and distribute their research widely, in a mass-market format, while extracting no personal benefit. In fact, their efforts required considerable donation of their time.

The publication’s preparation was a year-long process that included securing sponsors; revising the resource so it was family-friendly (based on research-participant feedback); engaging a chef to develop new recipes; liaising with agricultural commodities groups for recipes and sponsorship; engaging and supervising a project manager, graphic designer, food photographer, editor, student support and their own spouse-volunteers. Catherine and Rhonda spent hours analyzing recipes and menus for nutritional content, editing copy and photos, and developing a marketing plan. Once PPEP was published, they devoted many weekends and evening hours to promoting it, being interviewed by media, giving talks to various organizations, attending diabetes Expos across Alberta, and supplying bookstores and events.

While still attending to their duties as professors, they continue to devote personal time to this endeavour by promoting it at such conferences and book signings. They’ve also begun work on a sequel publication that will examine seasonal influences on food availability and cooking practices.

The team’s scholarly influence on communities outside the university is significant, because unlike thousands of other diets PPEP is not predicated on the denial of foods or food groups. It is consistent with the advice in Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide, and with the Nutrition Therapy guidelines of the Canadian Diabetes Association. So, it’s easy for dieticians to recommend. As one wrote, educational information on ingredients such as legumes “help to ease the anxiety of those who may be trying an ingredient for the first time,” while tips to reduce each recipe’s calories, and per-serving and daily nutritional information “makes it useful for people with specific dietary needs.”

Catherine Chan and Rhonda Bell created an appealing, ground-breaking and sustainable vehicle that drives news of their research on healthy eating into communities needing it. This useful resource enhances the U of A’s reputation for excellent research, promoting social dividends, and for leading and uplifting. We believe this team richly deserves a 2016 Community Connections Award.


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Stanford F. Blade — Dean, Faculty of ALES

Stan Blade is dean of the faculty of agricultural, life and environmental Sciences at the University of Alberta. Previously, he had been CEO of Alberta Innovates — Bio Solutions.

Community Connection Awards

When: Monday, May 2
Time: 12:00 P.M. — 1:00 P.M.
Where: City Room, City Hall

A dessert reception will follow the presentation