Simple food, exercise and friendship at core of Vancouver Island food program

Combining easy exercise, healthy eating and social interaction is at the core of a new education program for low-income residents.

Low-income residents of the Cowichan Valley can take part in the free 12-week health program

The main goal of FoodFit is to help people establish healthy eating habits but facilitator Alyssa Louks says the social aspect of participating is just also important to overall health. (Flikr, Danny Ayers)

A new program in B.C.'s Cowichan Valley aims to help low-income earners motivate each other to become healthier and fitter.

FoodFit is for people who are curious about nutrition, cooking and exercise. It also aims to combat social isolation, which program facilitators say is a barrier to health for many in the region.

"We teach them really easy and simplified recipes that are manageable with a stressful life," said FoodFit facilitator Alyssa Loucks.

"They'll be learning different kinds of salad, alternatives to proteins, alternatives to sugars, things like that."

FoodFit was developed and launched in 2014 with the help of a medical doctor, nutritionists and community members. It's been tried in 13 cities so far, including Kamloops, B.C., and Calgary.

Loucks says introducing new food ideas, basic exercise habits and easy-to-understand nutrition information can help people develop good habits.

The program won't focus on weight loss or aesthetics, according to Louks.

Instead, participants in the free 12-week program will track exercise and resting heart rate over time, while pushing each other to reach health and fitness goals.

More education needed

Loucks told All Points West host Robyn Burns that there's a need for more education around nutrition in the Cowichan Valley, but acknowledged that cost can also be a barrier to eating healthy.  

"If you want to look at organic foods and local foods, they generally are more expensive," said Louks.

It's often easier and sometimes cheaper for people to buy cheap fast food everyday rather than face one big, expensive grocery shopping trip, according to Louks.

Through a separate food program, the Cowichan Green Community offers vouchers to low-income earners that can be used at the Duncan Farmer's Market.

Funding for the new FoodFit program comes from Community Food Centres Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada. 

The two-year pilot project aims to help more than 100 participants and begins April 26.

With files from All Points West