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What if we didn't have Canada's Food Guide?

Published on November 22, 2017 at 1:14 / Updated on June 7, 2022 at 13:46

It’s been in the headlines for almost a year, and some people think it’s outdated and old-fashioned. Can you guess what it is? Yes, it’s Canada's Food Guide. Are we right or wrong to hate it so much?

Since the beginning of 2016, Canadians have been protesting about the slowness of the procedures to revise Canada's Food Guide. News around this hot topic escalated when Americans unveiled their new health and nutrition guidelines last January. And yet these guidelines are essentially revised every 5 years, with slight changes or upgrades depending on evidence from the scientific world. I must say that I didn’t fall from my chair when I saw the main changes made by our neighbors to the south.

This eighth edition doesn’t contain any big surprises and has even been openly criticized as being too conservative, as science evolves rapidly, and new evidence shows negative consequences from consuming certain foods. For example, we note that the new American guidelines don’t discuss the consumption of red meat, bacon and cold meats, while the World Health Organization published a media release on the subject last fall, declaring loud and clear that consuming red meat increases the risk of cancer. Some media loudly decried that the powerful beef lobbies were behind the postponement of future recommendations on red meat and cold cuts for the next edition of the guidelines to be published in 5 years.

Is it a copy of the Mediterranean diet?

Basically, it portrays the Mediterranean diet with more plant proteins, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, olive oil, etc. The new American guidelines are not very restrictive and rather advocate a varied and balanced diet that is strongly based on the Mediterranean diet. Experts therefore speak of food profiles. They encourage you to consume a majority of foods that contribute to a healthy diet, including: 

  •  A variety of colourful vegetables ranging from dark green, to red and orange, including legumes (beans and chickpeas) and other starchy vegetables (parsnip, winter squash, green peas, etc.)
  • A variety of fruit, preferably eaten fresh and whole
  • Grain products, at least half of which should be eaten as whole grains
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy products, including milk, yogurt, cheese and/or fortified soy beverages
  • A variety of foods high in protein, including seafood, lean meats, poultry, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, and soy products
  • Vegetable oils

In the wake of the scandal, Health Canada posted the Workbook on Canada's Food Guide, a tool to collect your opinions about the current Food Guide that will guide the government towards new avenues when creating the next one. But what does this questionnaire tell us? I completed it to show you the main underlying guidelines:

  • Personalization: Do we want a family-oriented guide or one for the individual? This is important, because depending on the answers obtained, we’ll get a Guide that is either qualitative or quantitative.
  • Getting out of the house: the next Guide may give buying advice to optimize choices at the grocery store and in restaurants. 
  • Is it the end of the portions? Health Canada wants to know if the population still wants to rely on portions or would like general advice on healthy eating, food profiles (e.g. eat more or less of certain types of food), recommendations on the choices to make or limit or on specific foods. 
  • Recommendations on food processing are also expected to emerge. In the Workbook on Canada's Food Guide, Health Canada places a lot of emphasis on cooking at home and the degree of food processing, much like the Brazilian Food Guide. 
  • New recommendations on sugar consumption should emerge. 
  • Could this be the end of the 4 food groups? Health Canada wants to know if the current grouping of foods is appropriate. In my opinion, we should drop this method of classification and encourage the consumption of certain foods, such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, seeds, fish, yogurt. These foods stand out in the scientific literature as being associated with a better dietary profile. The new Guide should be based on these profiles, a bit like the new American guidelines, and thus abandon the 4 groups as we know them. 

We already know that Canada's next Food Guide will be created by calling on experts in the food and health fields, health professional associations, and non-governmental organizations interested in health, and federal, provincial and territorial officials. Industry will therefore be excluded from the procedures, for which Health Canada has long been criticized. People want a Guide that is neutral, transparent and free from outside influence from lobbyists, producers, restaurateurs and industry. 

At Health Canada’s next meeting in 2017, they will share the drafts of the new recommendations on healthy eating. Will we be disappointed? Time will tell!

Familiprix in collaboration with Hubert Cormier 

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