Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Bad Joke that is "My Food Guide"

Tony Clement told Mike Duffy last night that the My Food Guide component of Health Canada's website would be highly customizable,

"If you go to healthCanada.gc.ca and go through the site to the food guide, you can plug in your age, plug in your gender, plug in some information about your exercise regimen, and it will give you very specific dietary information, and that's a really good interactive tool that can be used for anyone."
Virtually all media outlets include some accolades for the My Food Guide component. Here's a smattering:
"Adds a new interactive component called My Food Guide that allows Internet users to personalize their nutritional information based on their age, sex, food preferences and activity choices."
- Gloria Galloway, The Globe and Mail

"Users can simply go to www.hc-sc.gc.ca, click on Create My Food Guide, and by following simple, straightforward instructions, are able to build a food guide tailored to their age and sex as well as their food and exercise preferences. Within minutes, parents can create individual guides for each member of the family that includes that person's input."
- Rebecca Field Jager, The Hamilton Spectator

"Some of the other key revisions to the Food Guide include more detailed information according to age and gender, the inclusion of recommendations for preschoolers, linking mandatory food labels with the Guide and the new interactive Web component called My Food Guide."
- Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance of Canada News Release.
Did these people even bother to click on it?

My Food Guide is completely useless.

It cares about your age and sex. It doesn't care about anything else. Not your height, your weight, your co-existing medical conditions, your level of physical fitness and the extent that you exercise. Nothing.

Let's take for example two hypothetical individuals:

Meet Samantha. She's a 21 year old, 5ft 10inch, Varsity Volleyball player with hopes of making it to the Olympics in 2008. She loves exercise and between her Volleyball, her workouts and simply leading an active lifestyle she averages 14 hours of vigorous exercise weekly. She currently weighs 145lbs with a BMI of 21.

Here is her, "My Food Guide" (for the sake of ease, I simply clicked the 3 first items on the left and 3 first items on the right for all of my choices).

Now let's take our other hypothetical.

Meet Margaret. She's 72 years old, has type II diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, is a widower, had a stroke last year, is almost completely sedentary and enjoys listening to the CBC. She is 5ft 2inches tall and weighs 225lbs with a BMI of 41.

Here is her "My Food Guide"

So let me get this straight.

The only difference between the two My Food Guides is that Samantha's being told to eat one more fruit or vegetable, one more grain and one less dairy product?

Other than that they're identical?

Those are really the only differences?


[unintelligible, irritated mutterings]

You know, it's one thing to create a customizable and useful My Food Guide that would have taken into account activity levels, age, weight, height and sex. It's quite another to create something completely useless and then promote it as wonderful.

Wanna know why they couldn't make something useful?

Because they ignored Calories and frankly that's the only way to make tailored, useful, customizable dietary recommendations that take all those factors into account.

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  1. Go Yoni! I talked about this same thing on CBC radio this morning. I can't believe there's so much enthusiasm in the media about a tool that is pretty useless and doesn't really customize anything.

  2. I have a question - as a somewhat overweight person with an iron deficiency that only got worse when I cut out red meat in an effort to lower my caloric intake and as fish & chicken breasts are notoriously low in iron, what would I eat to ensure good iron intake if not red meat? and Yes I know about iron in vegetables - also notorious for non-absorbability.
    So, what would a Food Guide look like if you were designing one. Wouldn't it helpful to the Canadian public to provide an alternative to Health Canada's one?

  3. Hi Kathy,

    I've posted multiple times about the already available alternative being Dr. Walter Willett from Harvard's Healthy Eating Pyramid.

    His book is linked in my sidebar, but the pyramid itself was recently posted on Julie's blog and has been posted multiple times on mine including in the post entitled, "What Can You Do" in my Canada's Food Guide series (also linked on my sidebar).

    Regarding Iron, there are indeed Iron supplements that you can buy and you might also consider some cast iron cookware which indeed confers some iron to the food cooked in it.

  4. Kathy1:32 pm

    Hi and thanks for the information in response to my ?'s. I take a iron supplement that provides 18 mgs. ANything higher and my stomach protests loudly. I'm new to your blog so I haven't had an opportunity to go thru all the sections. I've found what you have referenced however. Thanks again. Kathy

  5. Helps if the site actually works, as well. No matter how often I try, it continually freezes for me at Stage 4.

    I really wanted to get in there and see what the "milk alternatives" were.

  6. It is frustrating all around. Do you know of any resources for parents that are looking to ensure an appropriate number of calories and/or portion sizes specific to a child?

  7. Hi Les,

    Regarding children, I found a resource online at (you'll have to cut and paste the link back together)


    that will help you determine the caloric needs of children based off the child's age, weight, height, sex, activity level.

    Remember, the best thing you can do for a child is live the life you want them to live.

    I never recommend that a person force weight control on children but rather I recommend involving that child in a family based healthy living overhaul.

    On that same page there are actually a great many resources. Stay away from the Food Pyramid stuff though because it's actually even worse than our new Food Guide.

  8. Chilipepper6:02 pm

    With reference to your 2 examples. I would think that in the case of the elite volleyball player she would have a peronal trainer who would be developing a program for her needs. In the case of the elderly lady, I would hope she is under the care of her doctor and a RD. I see the New Food Guide as being a tool to help Canadian in making better choices. You comment on the fact it does not count calories. Why should it? Just follow the daily recommended and you should be OK. I have for years and I lead a very active life style (long distance running). You also state that is does nothing for obesity. It does. It excludes potato chips, choclate bars and it suggest that individuals should exclude products with high sodium intake and sugar.

    Yoni, you (and only you from what I read) are grabbing at straws.

    PS: The web site worked for me on both a PC and a Mac.

    Eat on Canadians! Exercies and keep healthy.

  9. You know what's a great skill?


    Here's the quote from Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canada's Chief Medical Officer of Health on whether or not this Food Guide addresses obesity.

    "The new food guide is not a weightloss tool or a diet system," Dr. Butler- Jones said.

  10. chilipepper9:13 pm

    May I direct you to web site: http://www.newswire.ca/en/releases/archive/February2007/05/c4659.html -- "The Food Guide recommends a careful selection of foods balanced by
    physical activity," said Dr. David Butler-Jones, Chief Public Health Officer
    for Canada. "By increasing their levels of physical activity, improving eating
    habits and achieving healthy weights, Canadians can help ensure good health
    and prevent many chronic diseases, including some cancers, type 2 diabetes,
    cardiovascular disease and stroke."

    It appears that you do not like it when people disagree with you.

    PS: I am able to read (and listen too).

    Enough said :)


  11. More good reading, this time from the press release of the Canadian Medical Association,

    "Canada's doctors consider sources of nutrition information to be an essential part of a broad-based national strategy to promote a healthy lifestyle. It is important to note, however, that Canada's Food Guide is a nutrition resource, not an effective weight loss tool because it provides inadequate guidance on daily caloric intake."

    I don't mind folks who disagree with me.

    I'd also direct you the the editorial in today's Calgary Herald, and to my show with Dr. Dworkin this Sunday at 3:30pm - please call in and we can discuss this even further.

    Someone once told me that I wouldn't be a successful blogger until I started getting angry or irritated comments.

    I made it baby!

  12. Chilipepper,

    Dr. Freedhoff is not grabbing at straws, and isn't the only one who thinks this guide is poorly put together.

    I'm a vegetarian with a dairy allergy - almost half the guide is completely useless to me. The elements that supposedly incorporate our country's cultural diversity are pathetic - including pita bread and naan certainly does not reflect the diet of the majority of non-Cascasian Canadians.

    I do a lot of writing about food production and nutrition and the guide is designed to satisify lobby groups for the various food production industries. That it may marginally help anyone in terms of nutrition is just a stroke of luck.

  13. Chilipepper7:35 pm

    Dr. Freedhoff, you state that the reading is a great skill. I don't deny. However taking items out of context to satisfy what 'you' want people to hear is irresponsible. So let your readers read the entire quote which may be found at http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/foodguide/ "It's not a weight-loss tool or a diet system, but if we match it with advice from Canada's Physical Activity Guide, it can help assist Canadians to make healthier choices," Dr. David Butler Jones, Canada's chief officer of health, told a news conference. Also if you read th guide itself it clearly states that by following the recommendations it "reduces your risk of obesity". The quide also educates consumers on how to read food labels, to determine what constitutes a serving and what foods should be avoided.

    Sheryl states...
    "the guide is designed to satisify lobby groups for the various food production industries"... well not everyone has access to their own garden or dairy sources. If we did not have access to these food providers then what would you suggest we eat? If you read pg. 1 of the Guide "Eat Well" it suggest we should stay away from cakes, sweet drinks etc., so explain to me how that is helping industry?

    Yes, the power is reading however qualifying what you say. Also, when you quote someone, you should reference your source.

  14. Hi Chillipepper,

    This will be my last comment on this matter.

    Again I'd like to extol the virtues of reading.

    Reading the "whole context" that you've provided tells me quite clearly that Dr. Butler-Jones does not believe that the Food Guide will aid in weight loss, but does believe that it will aid in healthy eating - two very different things.

    I can eat healthy and gain weight.

    I can also eat unhealthy and lose weight.

    Want to know why?

    Because healthy eating has to do with the foods that are chosen and weight loss has to do with their Calories.

    With regards to the fact that the Food Guide states, it reduces the risks of obesity......I bet the health food store folks love you, those bottles state lots of things.

  15. Chilipepper9:00 pm


    Never been to a food store in my life and don't intend to.


  16. Anonymous12:12 pm

    Never been to a "food store" chilipepper? Boy, you must be hungry. The virtues of writing are also pretty important....