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Emergency Department

Craving culturally relevant food

By Lindsey Enns

Have you ever wondered why some foods give you energy while others make you crash? If you’ve ever been curious about the science behind nutrition, or what foods you should be eating to feel your best both mentally and physically, consider consulting a registered dietitian.

“We’re not the food police so we’re really trying to correct that misconception about our role,” says Chantal Morais, a registered dietitian in Prairie Mountain Health. “Dietitians work across the health system, providing nutrition advice and recommendations in a variety of settings ranging from health promotion and prevention of chronic diseases to personal care homes and critical care units.”

Dietitian have long been important members of health-care teams working across Manitoba, but the importance of their role was heightened during the pandemic with the need for appropriate nutrition and hydration policies in all settings.

“We know that a good baseline nutrition and being well-nourished can help keep people out of hospital, or if they are admitted for care, it’s for a shorter time,” Morais says. “When someone is malnourished, they are at higher risk of being readmitted to hospital, so our work in supporting patients to develop the knowledge and tools to stay nourished decreases recovery time and chances of readmission.”

For Morais, each work day is a little different. As a dietitian working in health promotion, she works with community groups and organizations to promote healthy eating with a special focus on nutrition, food skills education and healthy food environments. With the cost of food on the rise, food security is top of mind for many groups and organizations that Morais works with.

“Because we work with diverse groups of people and communities, we need to be caring, compassionate and aware of social justice and the right to food security,” adds Morais, who also leads various sessions for First Nations communities and health-care providers, and facilitates regional programs including Strive to Thrive and Craving Change. “People are looking for ideas for foods that are culturally relevant to them and are nourishing to their mind, body and spirit within their current budget. We can help with that.”

Passionate about her work and her profession, Morais gets excited when talking about bringing communities and community partners together to improve and support the health and well-being of a community.

“Working with various public health nurses and getting to visit different communities, there’s a lot of variety of work that I get to do,” Morais says. “Seeing communities come together to develop wellness activities and keeping that momentum going in that community is what makes my job worthwhile. Supporting the health and well-being of a community is so rewarding.”

Morais comes by her commitment to community and her passion for food and nutrition naturally. Her family operates a small cattle farm located between Hamiota and Virden, and while she doesn’t refer to herself as a farmer, she credits living on a farm with giving her an appreciation of the role of agriculture and its importance to the culture of rural communities.

“Having an understanding of agriculture, the largest industry in southwestern Manitoba, helps me better relate to the communities and people I work with on a daily basis,” Morais says.

Chantal Morais (centre and wearing a striped shirt) stands in the Neepawa Arts Forward kitchen with Immigrant Settlement Services’ Cooking in Canada program preparing for a meal with newcomers.

Morais has worked in rural Manitoba since completing her studies at the University of Manitoba. She worked first in Virden alongside a clinical team and then, after completing a master’s in public health, transitioned to her current role supporting health promotion in Hamiota and surrounding area.

“There are lots of opportunities and so much you can do as a dietitian,” Morais says. “Working rurally, I’m part of a really great interprofessional team and a great team of dietitians. I know rural jobs can be a bit lonely, especially if you are the only dietitian at a particular site, but there’s a whole team to stay connected with and always somebody that you can consult with. There’s always support here.”

Allied health providers like dietitians work in every community, across the full continuum of care needs and across the entire lifespan of the patients they serve.

“Our allied health providers are always there,” Morais says. “We’re often working behind the scenes in hospital, long-term care facilities, primary care facilities and in prevention. If you’re interested in nutrition, there’s so much opportunity to grow and mould your practice to align with your interests and what you’re passionate about.”

From Nov. 6 to 12, Manitoba’s health service delivery organizations are celebrating the diverse and highly specialized skills of our province’s allied health professionals. Representing nearly 200 disciplines working in every sector and area of our health system, allied health professionals are vital members of our health-care teams.

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