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Canada creates a simpler, more science-based ‘Food Guide’

Government of Canada/USDA
Although the Canadian plate, left, looks a lot like the U.S. one, right, it’s much better.

This week, Canada released its newest Food Guide  — its version of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans — and, for the most part, it’s getting great reviews.

Comparing Canada’s Food Guide to the 2016 update of the Dietary Guidelines is an interesting exercise, particularly because the U.S. will be updating its guidelines again in 2020. The political squabbling about that project is already well underway.

Press accounts certainly make it sound as if creating dietary guidelines is much less contentious north of the 49th parallel.

“In the U.S., expert advisors recommended cutting back on red and processed meats,” explains ConscienHealth, a U.S-based group that advocates for the evidence-based prevention and treatment of obesity. “Meat producers howled in protest. So the final guidelines omitted any specific guidance on the subject. Warring factions are bracing for another round of conflict in the 2020 guidelines.”

“For the Canadian Food Guide,” the group adds, “the result was more clear-cut. ‘Choose protein foods that come from plants more often,’ it says. In fact, meat and dairy are no longer represented as distinct food groups here. The groups on the plate are simply proteins, whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.”

The Canadian experts who put together the Food Guide reportedly refused to include any research funded by the food industry in their assessment of the current evidence regarding nutrition.

And Canada’s politicians backed them up in that decision.

“It was my role as health minister to meet with all stakeholders,” said Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor, “but in no way did my meetings influence the individuals creating Canada’s Food Guide.”

Similar imagery

Like the current U.S. guidelines, Canada’s new Food Guide uses a dinner plate to visualize its recommendations for consumers.

But, as Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, points out on her Food Politics blog, although the Canadian plate looks a lot like the U.S. one, it’s much better.

“Even though it retains the annoying “Protein” section (we don’t eat proteins; we eat foods containing protein and lots of other nutrients), it drops the dairy requirement,” she writes.

And “even better, it comes with mostly useful suggestions,” she adds.

Those suggestions, however, don’t talk about the number of servings we should have from each section of the plate or even about the specific foods we should eat. The suggestions focus instead on how we can develop a healthier relationship with food.

“Healthy eating is about more than just eating certain types and amounts of food,” the guidelines stress. “In all cultures, food is an integral part of social interactions and celebrations. Eating together can help to reinforce positive eating habits.”

Key recommendations

Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa and an obesity expert, summarizes the new guide’s main recommendations on his Weighty Matters blog:

  • Regularly consume vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and “protein foods“, where protein foods include everything from legumes, to nuts, to dairy, to meat, and where the guide suggests you consume plant-based proteins more often.
  • When you can, consume unsaturated fats instead of saturated fats (with the guide explicitly noting that there’s no need to get caught up in the total fat content of your diet).
  • Make water your beverage of choice (with the guide explicitly mentioning that 100% fruit juice and sugar-sweetened milk are beverages that should be minimized).
  • Limit your consumption of processed foods and beverages that contribute excess sodium, free sugars, and/or saturated fat (the new guide recommends less than 2300mg/day of sodium and less than 10% of total daily energy intake from free sugars and saturated fats respectively).
  • Limit your consumption of alcohol.
  • Plan your meals, cook more often, enjoy your food (here guide is speaking to consideration of culture and food traditions), and eat with others.
  • Use food labels.
  • Be aware that food marketing can influence your choices (and here I’d have preferred if they used the word “beware” which is clearly what they’re getting at).

“The guide’s dietary recommendations aren’t complicated,” writes Leslie Beck, a Canadian dietician in an opinion piece for Toronto’s Globe and Mail. “Eat a variety of healthy foods each day. Have plenty of fruits and vegetables. Eat protein foods. Choose whole-grain foods. Make water your drink of choice.”

Let’s hope our 2020 guidelines will be as clear.

FMI: You can explore Canada’s new Food Guide on that government’s website.

Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by cory johnson on 01/25/2019 - 10:40 am.

    I’d love to know how long the beef and corn lobbies have known that the food pyramid I grew up with was a sham. It’s frustrating to realize how many millions of people were raised with poor eating habits because the government cared more about votes than health.

    • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/25/2019 - 11:06 am.

      The food pyramid was a scam because it pushed high carbs low fat. That is the exact opposite of how you should eat which is why we have an obesity and diabetes epidemic

      Beef, pork, poultry , fish are very healthy for you. Keep the fat on the meat including the chicken skin. Corn son so great but better than wheat. Green, above ground, vegetables are good for you too.

      • Submitted by cory johnson on 01/25/2019 - 11:21 am.

        That’s why I’m frustrated. You seem to be reading sarcasm into my comment where it doesn’t exist. I’ve known it was a sham for several years.

  2. Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/25/2019 - 11:03 am.

    Whole grains are still fast carbs and thus should not be eaten. Fruits in limited amounts but in whole form only.

    What it should look like: Natural Fats ~ 75% proteins ~25% carbs 20 grams or less for inactive 50 grams or less for moderately active. People trying to bulk up can decrease the fat and increase the protein.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/25/2019 - 11:37 am.

    Sounds like the Canadians are trying to emulate the ancient Greeks: “Moderation in all things.” We could do much worse than follow their example. In fact, we HAVE done much worse, with the anecdote about howling meat producers an obvious case in point.

    • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 01/25/2019 - 12:53 pm.

      Actually the meat producers were right. High fat meats are very good for you. Vegetable fats are typically very bad for you (most veggies don’t have oils/fats in them which is why canola/vegetable et al oils are terrible for you).

      Leave the fat on your meat and eat it. You need the fats not the carbs.

  4. Submitted by Paul Scott on 01/25/2019 - 03:46 pm.

    The Canadian food plan is not evidence based. It does appear to be sympatico with a partisan vegetarian campaign now underway in the nutrition “sciences”. Both Marion Nestle and Yoni Freedhoff are dietary dead enders, to use the Donald Rumsfeld phrase. They are committed to outdated beliefs regarding calories-in, calories-out and are divorced from reality when it comes to evidence showing no harm to meat and saturated fat. They also ignore the weakness of the short term dietary trials supporting their views not to mention the inherent weakness of observational (not cause and effect) findings in dietary trials, and shaky reliability of trials that utilize year-long food diaries. (“How many hot dogs did you eat last year?”) Dissenting scientists are disparaged as food industry shills. But not everyone who thinks their ideal diet is garbage, disconnected from culture and deeply unsatisfying is a shill. They’re making us all sick. This diet is a plan for more diabetes. Sorry to go on so long!

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