Because of that mom I have the opportunity to share a unique plant based advocacy story. Maybe I shouldn’t say “plant based” because this is much more than that, it’s a health advocacy story. Holly, whom I originally met 16 years ago in prenatal classes when my wife and I were expecting our baby, is a single mom raising a daughter with some significant health issues. Emily has Down’s Syndrome, but uniquely to her she also relies on tube feeding for her nutritional needs.
Holly, herself plant based since 1995, decided that she could no longer accept that the one food approved by Health Canada for her daughter contained animal products, tons of sugar and processed oils. Health Canada’s approach was that any formula fed must be able to withstand room temperature without spoiling (it's called hang time) during feeding times and contain whey or casein protein (I’m going to assume since it’s fast absorbing and has been studied for absorbability) in the ingredients. For Holly, this presented a personal conflict on ethics around animal foods and one for health with the ingredients of the approved formula. On the subject of processed sugars alone the standard Nestle product contains more sugar per day than recommended by the very governing health body that approves the product.
So we have a single mom, facing off with doctors, dieticians and the bureaucracy of Health Canada in her mission to get another option available to people relying on tube feeding. This isn’t solely a fight for nutrition and plant based options, it’s one of choice. As Holly so eloquently puts it “choice is change.” With approximately 100,000 people in Canada relying on tube feeding this is a bigger fight than you might think. I’m also very aware that those relying on nutritional supplements who are not tube fed use products like Ensure and Boost which are full of sugar, animal proteins and processed ingredients. Holly told me that when she stopped breastfeeding Emily, her daughter, she became horrified at the notion that every time she fed her daughter she was poisoning her. When we force people that are medically vulnerable to ingest these products (and they are big business products) we are, sacrificing their health and stripping them of the same rights you and I have to choose what we eat. Right now I can go out and make the personal choice to eat a salad, a chocolate bar or a fast food meal. With the ingredients of these approved nutritional supplements we are mandating that our most vulnerable people eat junk food at each and every meal.
Some parents feed their kids food put through a blender into their feeding tube giving them much more control and choice. With Holly's daughter, who can not be bolus fed, that wasn't an option.
In Holly’s words: "I started my hardcore advocating for change November 2015, writing to all levels of government, Health Canada, and started a change.org, petition. I switched Emily “cold turkey” from Nestle to Liquid Hope Mother’s Day 2016. It was a gift to me and of great significance. She has been on it ever since. Of course my dissatisfaction and concern over her formula was years leading up to it but I felt stuck and had to get to a point that I felt strong enough in my fight to go to battle.”
Holly’s mission has been to open the eyes of politicians, doctors and dieticians as well as her community about the issues of choice and access to options for the food choices of marginalized people. To their credit, our local provincial MLA and federal MP were huge advocates for the needed change. After Holly’s efforts a new product imported from the USA was approved by Health Canada for use. This was a product by Functional Formularies with their nutritional formula “Liquid Hope.” It was approved by Health Canada on July 17th, 2017 so if you know someone that relies on tube feeding you can let them know they now have a nutritional option other than the Nestle product with contains 5 different types of sugar, processed oils and whey/casein (milk). South of the border Liquid Hope is in wide use and encouraged by private health companies. Liquid Hope is slightly more expensive than the Nestle product which makes sense based on the quality of ingredients. Interestingly because Nestle had the market cornered they could charge whatever they wanted despite poor ingredients.
This might be a good time to take a minor side step into Holly’s daughters personal nutrition. On Nestle she had been losing weight, about 5kg (8 pounds) and blood tests revealed that her levels of iron, selenium, magnesium and vitamin D were low. Her health care providers agreed to a three month trial of Liquid Hope where they would test her blood work at the beginning and end. Upon switching to Liquid Hope she gained back 1kg and all of her blood levels returned to normal. Her family doctor and dietician are both now on side with the new food and wrote letters of support for the Liquid Hope product approval. Dieticians for better or worse in Canada are bound through licensing to the Canada Food Guide (which is thankfully being updated) and products approved by Health Canada. I’m certain that they would all personally prefer the Liquid Hope product. Liquid Hope has now been temporarily approved. The fight for food choices is not over so if you know somebody let them know they have options (they must ask their dietician) and make a point of keeping your politicians honest about giving choices to people that are vulnerable.
Nestle ingredients (VANILLA): WATER, MALTODEXTRIN, ENZYMATICALLY HYDROLYZED WHEY PROTEIN (FROM MILK), SUGAR, MEDIUM CHAIN TRIGLYCERIDES (FROM COCONUT AND/OR PALM KERNEL OIL) AND LESS THAN 2% OF CORNSTARCH, SOYBEAN OIL, CANOLA OIL, CALCIUM PHOSPHATE, SOY LECITHIN, GUAR GUM, MAGNESIUM CHLORIDE, POTASSIUM CHLORIDE, SODIUM PHOSPHATE, POTASSIUM CITRATE, SODIUM ASCORBATE, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, SALT, CHOLINE CHLORIDE, CALCIUM CITRATE, POTASSIUM PHOSPHATE, ACESULFAME POTASSIUM (SWEETENER), TAURINE, ALPHA-TOCOPHERYL ACETATE, MAGNESIUM OXIDE, INOSITOL, L-CARNITINE, FERROUS SULFATE, SUCRALOSE (SWEETENER), ZINC SULFATE, CALCIUM PANTOTHENATE, NIACINAMIDE, VITAMIN A PALMITATE, VITAMIN D3, PHYTONADIONE, THIAMINE MONONITRATE, MANGANESE SULFATE, PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE, RIBOFLAVIN, COPPER SULFATE, CITRIC ACID, BETA-CAROTENE, FOLIC ACID, BIOTIN, POTASSIUM IODIDE, CHROMIUM CHLORIDE, VITAMIN B12, SODIUM SELENATE
Nestle contains (per 250mL) 250 calories, 9.6 grams of fat, 115g of sodium, 7.5g of protein and 3.5g of iron.
Liquid Hope ingredients:
- filtered water
- organic garbanzo beans
- organic green peas
- organic carrots
- organic whole grain brown rice
- organic whole grain brown rice protein
- organic flax oil
- organic sprouted quinoa
- organic sweet potato
- vitamin blend
- [potassium citrate, calcium citrate, acerola (C), sodium chloride, mixed tocopherols (E), choline bitartrate, zinc citrate, biotin, niacinamide, selenium methionine, cholecalciferol (D3, pyridoxine hydrochloride (B6), riboflavin (B2), thiamine mononitrate (B1), methylcobalamin (B12)]
- organic broccoli
- organic almond butter
- organic kale
- organic garlic
- organic tumeric
- organic rosemary
- organic ginger
- organic wakame (seaweed)
*IMPORTANT: Nothing in this post is intended to be health advice, it is a strictly editorial opinion. It's important to work with your doctor and/or dietician when making health choices for yourself or loved one. My intention is simply to let you know you have choices (thanks to Holly) and I'd encourage you to have an open conversation with your health care team.
A special thank-you to Holly. You are truly a super hero in my mind. Through your efforts thousands of people have an actual choice in what food they eat. Thank you!!!