Saturday, November 18, 2006

Eat Less Fruit and Vegetables

When considering this post I was tempted to simply leave it at one line,

"Health Canada has actually recommended that men and women over the age of 18 consume fewer fruits and vegetables",
because it's such a mind-bogglingly poor recommendation that it almost speaks for itself.

The 1992 Food Guide recommended the consumption of up to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. The draft Food Guide has reduced that number. Men between the ages of 18-50 are now instructed to have 8-9 servings a day and women 7-8. Turn 50 and apparently now Health Canada wants both sexes to only have 7.

Amazingly, Health Canada has tried to explain their fruit and vegetable reduction on the basis of lower numbers of fruits and vegetables leading to decreased calorie consumption. Frankly, aside from the choices of potatoes, dried fruits and fruit juices, the vast majority of all fruits and vegetables have fewer than 50 calories per serving. Contrast that with the 200 or so calories per serving of cheese or 88 calories per 50 grams of lean beef and it makes you wonder about Health Canada's math.

Makes you wonder about their research as well considering that diets higher in fruits and vegetables have been shown to:

  • Decrease the chances of having a heart attack or stroke
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Help prevent constipation and diverticulitis
  • Prevent cataracts and macular degeneration
  • Decrease memory loss
  • Decrease total caloric intake and aid in weight control

  • Those all sound like good ideas to me.

    The only other comment regarding fruits and vegetables and the draft Food Guide is that no caution is provided regarding potatoes. As noted in the Broken from the Get Go post, 40% of Canada's current vegetable consumption comes from potatoes and half of that consumption is in the form of french fries or potato chips. Given the calories, saturated and trans fats associated with fried potatoes and the studies implicating high potato consumption with diabetes, specifically recommending that we consume fewer potatoes, or at the very least, fewer fried potatoes, would be an important recommendation. Of course, the draft Food Guide, doesn't make it.

    There is however an amazingly stupefying comment regarding Health Canada's approach to high-fat potato consumption in a document that Bill Jeffery, the National Coordinator of the Canadian arm of the Center for Science in the Public Interest obtained using an access to information request. The document is from the Office of Nutrition Policy and Promotion, Health Canada and is dated June 2006 Document A-1 and its title is, Reading results from Food Guide Pattern Modelling: Outputs of modelling - Food Expenditure Survey derived spreadsheets. Ready for it? Here's the quote,
    "Sometimes to achieve nutrient satisfaction at the lowest energy cost, amounts of modelling subgroups needed to be removed from the model....For instance, to reduce the amount of fat and energy in diets, the amount allocated to higher fat potatoes was reallocated to lower fat potato choices"
    In English what that means is that Health Canada indeed did note that half of our potato choices were high-fat fried choices, however instead of actually guiding us to making better potato choices, or better yet, guiding us to fewer potatoes, Health Canada did something that even I have a tough time comprehending and believing (and as you may gather, my confidence in Health Canada's Food Guide revisions is not high), they chose simply to ignore the fact that we eat french fries and instead simply pretended that we don't.

    That sound you just heard was my jaw hitting the floor.

    Next week I will explain the irony of Health Canada talking about calories at all, but I'll finish this post by saying that while I agree that Health Canada ought to made significant reductions in the amount of food they recommend, fruits and vegetables certainly are not the group they ought to be picking on.

    Tomorrow: Drink Lots and Lots of Milk - Don't worry about all that research that suggests that in fact it might not be so good for you.

    Yesterday: All Meat is Good, and Please Eat More of it - Beef farmers rejoice, Health Canada recommends Canadians eat more beef and still doesn't tell us fish is a healthier choice.