Sunnybrook Academic Family Health Team

Eating well with Canada’s Food Guide: my two cents

Vegetables

Health Canada recently made headlines over its proposed changes to Canada’s Food Guide. It has been years since this public health tool has been updated. Canada’s Food Guide is meant to help the public make informed decisions about what to eat, and how much to eat, in hopes of supporting healthful and nutritious eating. Although it will be a while before we see any concrete changes, the proposed revamp has people across the country talking.

The last update to Canada’s Food Guide was in 2007. One of the most notable changes was that the Vegetables & Fruits group replaced the Grain Products group, to take the top spot in our diet. It currently represents the largest arc of the food guide rainbow, which means that vegetables and fruit should represent the majority of what we eat. I often encounter people who do not realize this, and are not getting enough vegetables in their diet. The Food Guide was also lengthened to be a six page document, with extra nutrition tips for children, women of childbearing age, and men and women over 50 years of age. There is even a small section on physical activity and label reading.

One of the most talked about proposed changes to Canada’s Food Guide is to remove juice as an example of a serving of fruit. The current recommendations suggest the consumption of 7-10 servings of vegetables and fruits per day for adults, with examples such as ½ cup cooked vegetable, 1 cup raw vegetables, ½ cup fruit, or ½ cup juice. Those in favour of removing juice claim that it is an unhealthy beverage, and that we should be aiming to eat whole fruits instead. Those who defend the current food guide agree that juice is not the healthiest choice, but it is included as an option to help meet fruit intake. What do I think? I agree that juice should be removed from the Food Guide. Juice is a source of free sugars that can raise blood sugars, triglycerides (a blood fat), and contribute to dental caries. It displaces much healthier whole foods we could be eating, and perhaps worst of all, it wears a health halo – giving the false illusion that it is a health food. While it could be an option in some people’s diets, and if consumed infrequently in small amounts it can be a part of a healthy diet, I do not think it belongs in our national food guide as an example of what to eat.

If I could have my way, I would make a few more changes to Canada’s Food Guide. Here are a few points to consider:

  • Separate vegetables and fruits into two distinct categories
  • Move potatoes and corn to a Grains/Starch food group, instead of keeping in the Vegetables and Fruit group
  • Increase the recommended number of servings in the Meat and Alternative group
  • Place more emphasis on leafy greens, whole grains, and meat alternatives
  • Encourage Canadians to steer away from processed, refined foods, and choose more unprocessed whole foods
  • Offer recommendations around healthy options and portions for fats and oils

Perhaps the biggest complaint about Canada’s Food Guide is that it is complicated. Its table of recommended servings per food group requires using arithmetic to understand. It encourages Canadians to count, weigh, and measure food servings – not a realistic, sustainable, or enjoyable way to eat. It does not depict what a healthy meal or day would look like. In other words, it does not describe how to enjoy food.

The revised version of Canada’s Food Guide would do well to take some pointers from other eating guidelines such as the Dietary Guidelines for the Brazilian Population. In Brazil, the guidelines focus on how to enjoy eating food as a healthy way of life, rather than how to count servings and nutrients. Here are some examples of their recommendations:

  1. Make natural or minimally processed foods the basis of your diet.
  2. Use oils, fats, salt, and sugar in small amounts when seasoning and cooking.
  3. Limit consumption of processed foods.
  4. Plan your time to make food and eating important in your life.
  5. Be wary of food advertising and marketing.

Eating should not be so complicated. Eating should be about enjoying the pleasure of food, in good company, in a healthy way.  Unfortunately, our society has placed a lot of attention on eating nutrients – getting the right vitamins, enough protein, less fat, counting calories, and counting servings. I do not envy the task of the committee who has to put together a national food guide.  There is so much to say about food and nutrition, yet sometimes the best strategy is to KISS – Keep It Simple…Seriously!

To speak with a Registered Dietitian at the Sunnybrook Academic Family Health Team, call 416-480-6100 ext. 1658.  To speak with a diabetes dietitian, call 416-480-4805, or click here to learn more.

About the author

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Annie Hoang

Annie Hoang is a Registered Dietitian with the Sunnybrook Academic Family Health Team.

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