Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Registered dietitian on how Food Guide "servings" are stupid.

Indirectly anyhow.

You see most people have no idea what a Food Guide "serving" is and most of those who do probably don't pay them too much attention.

Health Canada actually did some research that suggested that the majority of Canadians didn't know what a "serving" was and that many simply thought it was whatever amount they put on their plates. While that research may no longer be found on their site (gone since roughly the time I started pointing it out) I did find this statement from a summary of regional meetings Health Canada held during the consultation phase of designing the new Food Guide,

"Confusion about serving sizes and serving ranges was identified most often as the concept that consumers have difficulty grasping."
And this one from the executive summary of the 2007 Food Guide coast-to-coast consultation,
"Survey results reveal that most respondents agree with the idea of removing the term “serving” from the Guide. Sixty-two per cent of respondents agreed that not using the term “serving” will help Canadians understand the difference between the amounts they eat and those shown in the Food Guide, and only 25 per cent disagreed (13 per cent were unsure)."
A shame that Health Canada didn't bother paying attention to their own research and surveys as it seems pretty clear - Canadians don't understand what "servings" are and the allied health professionals consulted coast-to-coast gave them a big thumbs down.

Well yesterday in the Hamilton Spectator Registered Dietitian Vicki Edwards explained the challenges of the Food Guide's rather arbitrarily sized "servings" by explaining to her readers why in fact it's easier to get those 7-10 servings of fruits and vegetables each day than they might think,
"often a single piece of produce is larger than one Food Guide serving, and just a few items can quickly add up over the day."
And that can be said to be true about all the categories in the Food Guide - really unless you're actually weighing and measuring everything, if you're aiming for the minimums, you're liable to be getting far too much.

Vicki rightly notes,
"If you are eating a large fruit such as a Mutsu apple, you may be having two to three servings in that one piece of fruit.

A medium potato can be compared in size to a small computer mouse. Some baking potatoes would count as two or more servings.

One Food Guide serving of salad or leafy greens is 250 mL or one cup. Visualize an open hand for each serving amount. A plateful could count as several servings

A Food Guide serving of juice or fresh apple cider is 125 mL or half a cup. That hot mug may give you two or more servings
Easy-peasy, right?

What I'm getting at is that if someone were to pick up the Food Guide and try to get minimums, putting aside all of my other concerns regarding the obesigenicity of the Food Guide, if that person hits their minimums, without actually weighing and measuring every single thing that they eat, they're probably going to eat far too much.

Doesn't strike me as a particularly great plan in a country where obesity is a major public health concern. You think maybe it's even a stupid one?