Monday, February 05, 2007

Canada's New Food Guide - I give it a C+

So the glass half full version of this Food Guide is that it's a great deal better than the 1992 version.

Of course, the glass half empty will tell you(I guess I'm the half empty glass), that it's primarily because of how bad the 1992 version was to begin with.

So why don't we start with my crystal ball predictions?

I hit them all.

Indeed there's now a call to reduce salt intake, the words trans-fats do indeed appear a total of one time, it is in fact a slightly less ridiculous 6 pages long, it does indeed say, "Make at least half your grains whole", there is zero guidance on calories, no call to minimize red meat consumption, dairy is still a category unto itself and as far as Big Food goes - the launch of the Food Guide took place at a Loblaws Supermarket and was assisted by the Secretary of State for Agriculture, need I say more?

What did I miss that was good?

  • There is indeed a specific call to minimize junk food in our diets with Health Canada naming names as to what constitutes junk food
    "foods and beverages high in calories, fat, sugar or salt (sodium) such as cakes and pastries, chocolate and candies, cookies and granola bars, doughnuts and muffins, ice cream and frozen desserts, french fries, potato chips, nachos and other salty snacks, alcohol, fruit flavoured drinks, soft drinks, sports and energy drinks, and sweetened hot or cold drinks."
  • There is a specific recommendation that we consume two servings of fish per week (a recommendation that if followed would likely do more for the prevention of cardiovascular disease than any other intervention in public health history)

  • They took away the picture of the T-bone that used to represent the meat group despite being made up of 11 portions of high fat red meat.

  • They included a single directive aimed at helping people control their appetite (Eat Breakfast).

    That's it.

    Unfortunately the what's still wrong section is quite lengthy.

  • Much to the delight of the beef industry, they still do not recommend limiting dietary consumption of red meat - this despite reams of evidence that state that diets higher in red meat increase an individual's risk of cardiovascular disease and various cancers.

  • Dairy is still featured prominently and now with the very explicit directive of consuming 2 glasses of milk daily. What kind of milk you ask? Well any kind whatsoever. Skim, 1% and 2% are listed on the Food Guide itself, but if you take the time to click their "My Food Guide" link they'll let you have whole milk, chocolate milk and even pudding (replete with plenty of sugar and often trans-fats)! Feel free to click on the picture below to see a snapshot of their site highlighting this inanity.

  • While there is a mention of trans-fat, the directive provided is "Limit Trans-fat", this despite the fact that Health Canada's own trans-fat task force calls for the elimination of trans-fat from our Food Supply. Would it have been so hard for Health Canada to recommend, "Minimize trans-fat" or better yet, "Avoid trans-fat"?

  • Juice is featured prominently as a fruit. The American Academy of Pediatrics and any expert on the planet in adult or childhood obesity will tell you that the minor nutritional benefits of juice pale in comparison to the harm brought by the Calories associated with its over consumption.

  • Calories clearly don't count for Health Canada. Let's say you're a healthy individual with a healthy weight and you pick this Food Guide up. Let's say you were never much of a milk drinker and did not go out of your way to choose healthy fats and you read the Food Guide and followed the explicit directions to "Have 500mls of milk every day for Vitamin D" using chocolate milk (38lbs a year worth of chocolate milk) and you added the "2-3 TBSP" of olive oil (35lbs a year of olive oil), but you didn't change anything else in your diet or track calories. In a year you could gain over 70lbs!

    For those of you who might care about Calories, Shawna Hunt, BMI's registered dietitian, working directly from the new Food Guide calculated that a middle aged woman following this Food Guide to a tee would consume a minimum of 1,600 Calories and a maximum of around 3,000 Calories. If you want to see her quick calculations, click here.

    Of course, her calculations assume pretty damn good compliance along with you weighing and measuring your portions. Since the vast majority of folks won't do that, and since the human eye has a terrible habit of underestimating what we're having, you'll likely get far more than Shawna's spreadsheets suggest.

  • They still insist on providing a minimum number of "Servings" despite the fact that their own research suggests that most Canadians consider a serving to be the amount of whatever food item they put on their plate rather than the weights and measures included with the Food Guide. By providing minimums and knowing that most Canadians don't take the time to weigh and measure foods they are absolutely begging for over consumption.

    Bottom line, the big winners of this Food Guide are Canada's beef and dairy industries who with the Guide's release received a wonderful early Valentine's day present. The big losers of this Food Guide are the Canadian public who were once again reminded that politics and industry matter more to our government than their health and well being.