I had very high hopes for the newly released Canada's Food Guide. I thought that maybe this time around, Canada's government would let go of the wishes of food lobbyists and look deeply at the true nutritional needs of Canadians. Canadians have waited 12 long years for an update and, while many experts will say that this new update is "good", in my opinion, one big shift would have made all the difference.
Let’s celebrate what the new guidelines got right for Canadians!
The 3 true food groups are Carbohydrates, Fats and Protein, and even though it is a simple concept, the Canada's Dietary Guidelines focus on examples of a type of food (i.e. grains) instead of sharing that those carbohydrate needs can be fulfilled with fruit and veggies alone.
Why is "protein" defined, while "fats" and "carbohydrates" are not given the same?
A problem with the old guidelines was that Canadians were tempted by the maximum recommended servings. For example, at a glance, a number of my clients felt they could eat up to 10 servings of grains a day! At that amount, the average Canadian would struggle with their weight. The amount of grains on the menu may cause weight to balloon because it spikes insulin, driving fat storage.
It's also worthwhile to mention that industrialized growing of grain is a strain for the Earth, due to mono-crop farming and increased use of pesticides. There are so many plants that can be farmed or foraged naturally and have less impact on your body and the planet. For example, lamb quarters, which grow near corn fields, could be eaten instead of sprayed it with glyphosate and other chemicals, increasing the biodiversity of plant and animal species. Plus, we'd get to eat something that tastes essentially like delicious spinach!
Instead of "Grains" as a catchall title for carbohydrates, I think it would be more beneficial to explain sources of carbohydrates, explain slow carbs vs. fast carbs and give solid examples; i.e. squash, yams, plantains, dates, onions, carrots, beets and jicama, to name only a few!
In summary, the best part of Canada's Food Guide 2019 is that it points to “how” to eat vs. “what” to eat!
This is sound advice on how to become conscious of your food habits. If Canadians embrace this advice, there is real hope for the health of the Nation!
Ever asked how the food guide evolved in the first place?
I've been having fun looking back to see how Nutrition Science has evolved. Come along and have a look at the quantum leap made since Canada's first Food Guide.
Old Food Guide Photo credits: The Globe and Mail
Canada's Official Food Rules (photo above) were created due to wartime rationing. While healthy store-bought food was scarce, it's too bad that Canadians weren't instructed to continue gardening and foraging for healthy and nutritious food. There were 6 food groups, which I find interesting, with a focus on Vitamin D foods and at least one serving of liver, heart or kidney weekly!
Only 2 years later, the references to kidney and heart were removed, due to limited supply. 1 in 3 woman in the world suffer from anemia (iron deficiency) and I wonder if that would be the case now if the government still advocated for eating organic organ meats? Interesting to note that there was the advice to drink plenty of water. Meat “substitutes” changed to “alternates,” with references to beans, peas and nuts.
It is too bad the most interesting suggestion, to include, "some source of Vitamin D such as fish liver oil" (which is terrific for immunity and brain development) disappeared! I think should have stayed in the CFG for the last 70 years) Do you agree?
Canada's government softened it grip by dropped the word “rules” and started to use “guide” to show the "flexibility and the variety of foods that could satisfy nutritional needs". I love the happy visuals but sadly, it had a growing focus on dairy and grains.
The 70s continued with the same high-carbohydrate recommendations. Fruits and vegetables were consolidated into one group, a mistake (in my opinion) as they offer very different nutrients.
Milk was expanded to include dairy products, and the recommended amounts were 'off-the-charts'. Dairy is a source of fat and protein, yet only 35% of people can digest dairy after infancy! If you can’t digest it, then you can’t utilize it, so why make it such a central part of a food guide? The Dairy Board of Canada is a powerful lobby group and may have developed a deep influence on Canada's Food Guide.
Each of the four food groups was outfitted with a servings number range, which started a lot of confusion. Many Canadians assumed they could eat at the top end of the servings range and this is about the time obesity rates started the climb. Though, you just gotta love that sunny graphic, right?
Talk about 'losing the plot'! The 1992 Canada's Food Guide used a graphic representation of a rainbow-style format to indicate visually which food groups should be eaten in greater quantities, making grains the largest arc.
This grain suggestion further confused Canadians and many people cut out fat and embraced eating up to 10 slices of bread or piles of pasta every day.
2007 expanded Canada's Food Guide to a big six-page document with serving recommendations based on age and gender. This was a good move in my opinion as servings are important to cover in such a detailed document. People need to understand what a serving is and let their activity levels be a guide as to how many servings they get to enjoy. Essentially, you must earn your carbs! An elite athlete needs the higher end of the range, and a person who does not work out at all needs to be very careful of insulin spiking carbohydrates as insulin is a fat storage hormone.
The best move of this guide? Fruits and vegetables finally occupied the largest arc in the rainbow, bumping grains to second. A small step forward but still too much insulin spiking carbs to really make a difference.
So what would I like to see as an updated visual guideline for healthy eaters?
More along the lines of my anti-inflammatory food pyramid that I created in 2010 for my book Meals That Heal.
What do you think?