Canada's New Food Guide: Did they get it right this time?
Shawn M. Persaud ( 2 | 9 | 2019 )
Historically, the purpose of the Food Guide was to help the average Canadian understand how to meet their basic nutritional needs to prevent diseases caused by nutrient deficiencies (not to achieve optimal health). To this end, numerous organizations have been consulted to create the Food Guide, including scientists, medical doctors, social welfare representatives, farming representatives, politicians, etc. In other words, until now, there has been very little input from nutritional experts.
Big Problems with Canada's Previous Good Guides
Creating guidelines to educate Canadians on how to meet their basic needs, especially in the context of war or tough economic times, was an honourable goal for our government to strive for. However, after WWII, Health Canada began publishing Food Guides that claimed to be a "model for a healthy and balanced diet based on the latest science," which, in my opinion, has been a fraudulent claim.
In fact, there are very few nutritional experts in the world that have supported Health Canada's Food Guides. Over the years, it appeared as though Health Canada had been making biased dietary recommendations, such as encouraging significant intakes of dairy products, grains, meats, and processed foods. This bias may have been done intentionally to increase consumer demand for the nation's large dairy and farming industries (which have traditionally played a vital role in our economy). This point is reinforced by the fact that these unusual diet recommendations were not often found in the Food Guides of other developed countries, where those industries play a minimal role in their economy.
Unfortunately, the Food Guide naturally became the basis for (1) the health curriculum in publicly funded schools and in Universities that educate Medical Doctors and Dieticians, (2) diet and meal plans made for publicly funded institutions (i.e., public school cafeterias, hospitals, long term care facilities, etc.), and (3) for ridiculous marketing claims that label foods such as dairy, refined grains, and some processed foods as "healthy" and "essential" for a "balanced" diet.
As a result of the past editions of the Food Guide, thousands of Canadians with chronic health conditions, and/or struggling to lose weight, have suffered immeasurably. Even Medical doctors and Dieticians have pushed sick patients to follow the Food Guide's very bad advice, which nutritional experts have always known to be contributing factors to disease and weight gain.
The New Canadian Food Guide (2019)
Health Canada appears to have, for the first time, worked closely with nutritional experts to design a Food Guide that will help Educate Canadians on a health promoting diet, rather than a diet designed to meet basic needs! The New Food Guide has made a complete U-Turn and Health Canada has reversed many of the bad recommendations they used to make in past Food Guides! Here are some of the highlights:
Milk & Dairy are no longer considered a food group! Eliminating dairy as a food group was important given that more than half of the world's population cannot digest milk past infancy. In fact, according to nutritional science, milk & dairy products play absolutely no essential role in the human diet and are a contributing factor to many diseases (there are no adult animals, including cows, that consume milk!)
Plant based foods are being acknowledged as critical and we are now being encouraged to eat plenty of it (at least half a plate full), while reducing consumption of meat and dairy. This change finally validates the variety of wholesome plant based diets and the many ways we can get enough vital nutrients such as calcium, iron, B12, and protein!
Sugar, refined, and processed foods are being discouraged! Finally, the new food guide encourages us to avoid foods/beverages with added sugar as well as refined/processed foods, which they now clearly acknowledge as being harmful. Instead, they now recommend eating real food, including plenty of fruits/vegetables and moderate amounts of whole-grains, nuts/seeds, meats/fish/eggs, etc.
No more recommended servings! Many Canadians found the old recommended servings format confusing and were not able to figure out what serving ratios were right for them. Now, the Food Guide has simplified their approach with a simple diagram of a plate (see photo above) that illustrates what your typical food ratios should look like.
What Can be Improved:
The Food Guide should highlight the 3 Macronutrients "the true food groups" (Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fats) and provide examples of the many healthy/unhealthy sources for each of these groups. This clarification would be helpful to protect Canadians from the many extreme diets being popularized out there that either emphasize cutting out food groups altogether or eating excess amounts of a particular food group (i.e., low carb diets, high/low fat diets, high protein diets, etc.).
The Fat Controversy: There is still a raging debate in the health world about what sources of dietary fats are "good" and what fats are "bad." That said, the Food Guide still wrongly claims that all sources of saturated fats are "bad" and recommend avoiding foods such as coconut. Nutritional experts strongly disagree with the Food Guide on the fat debate and believe that the saturated fats contained in plant based foods, including coconuts, and free-range meats/eggs are beneficial and pose little to no health risk within the context of a balanced diet.
Fine-tuning details: The Food Guide still hasn't gone as far as emphasizing the benefits of Organic produce, safe and sustainable sources of seafood, and free-range meats/eggs. I believe they should explain the potential dangers associated with the consumption of GMO foods, conventionally farmed produce sprayed with pesticides, farm-raised/contaminated sources of seafood, and meats/eggs from animals raised on hormones/antibiotics. The Food Guide also continues to recommend foods such as "fortified soy beverages," and "low-fat dairy products" as "healthy" options. These processed foods are not health promoting and should be avoided.
A reminder that the Food Guide's primary aim is to offer "general guidelines" that would be suitable for the average healthy Canadian. In other words, the Food Guide is not a one size fits all, because each individual is biochemically unique and the ideal diet for you depends on a number of factors, including body type, activity levels, underlying health conditions, and more.
It appears as though Health Canada felt enormous pressure to finally publish an honest food guide to regain their credibility as more and more Canadians have been questioning their integrity. Many developed countries around the world updated their Food Guides long ago to reflect the views of nutritional experts. However, it took our government nearly 80 years to make these positive changes. Nonetheless, this major overhaul finally acknowledges all of the important work that nutritionists do and their contributions to healthcare.
The new Food Guide will also encourage Medical Doctors, Dieticians, and policy makers to make more competent recommendations, which I expect will improve the quality of patient care as well as meal plans, and cafeteria menus in public institutions (i.e., hospitals, long term care facilities, and public schools) where nutritional experts aren't always available.
As a side note, I expect the dairy and farming industries, who have worked relentlessly to lobby Health Canada over the years, protest the New Food guide as it will negatively impact their businesses. Be aware of their agenda to boost their profits at the expense of your well-being and steer clear from the misinformation that they are bound to spread.
As a scientist who is heavily engaged in cutting edge research with numerous distinguished medical institutions, I can confidently tell you that Canada's medical system is often up to 20 years behind the latest science in healthcare.
In this case, it took Health Canada nearly 80 years to publish a Food Guide that's starting to make sense and it will take even longer for conventional doctors, dieticians, hospitals, and public institutions to follow-suit with the changes. For this reason, I want to stress how important it is for you to do your own research and to advocate for yourself when it comes to making decisions over your health, because even healthcare professionals can be wrong.
When it comes to your health and well-being, you simply can't afford to wait for years before conventional medicine finally puts politics aside and reveals the truth. I always advise that you consult with a competent nutritionist to receive nutritional advice, rather than rely on government agencies or conventional doctors that have little to no training in nutrition.
I know all too well the magnitude of pain and suffering that many people live through, and I am well aware of how hard it is to find a trusted source of information.
It is my hope that I can be that trusted source of information for you and that through my articles, you may find the information you need to come one step closer to improving your health.