As Samantha mentioned in her post a few weeks ago Canada’s Food Guide (CFG) was given a recent overhaul in 2007 (the first update since 1992). While the guide has been met with a lot of praise it has also been met with criticism. So where do I stand on Canada’s Food Guide? Well, I have a few issues with it.
My first concern is the inclusion of juice in the Vegetables and Fruit category. In my practice I have had many interactions with clients who drink juice on a daily basis (many even multiple times a day) because they feel it is nutritionally the same as eating a piece of fruit or even a vegetable. It isn’t. It is nutritionally closer to a can of pop than it is to a piece of fruit. By juicing a fruit or vegetable we remove all of its fibre (even if the pulp remains) and concentrate its sugar. Sip by sip juice is basically calorically equivalent to drinking soda, albeit with vitamins and minerals, of which pop has none. Continuing to include juice on Canada’s Food Guide promotes the idea that juice is the same as fruit. Yes, the food guide does recommend that you have fruits and vegetables “more often” than juice. Okay? This is a pretty vague statement. What does “more often” mean? I don’t know, do you? Drinking juice is not the same as eating fruits and vegetables but Canada’s Food Guide makes it seem like it is.
Let’s stay in the Vegetable and Fruit category for a bit longer. The Guide also recommends that you have at least one dark vegetable and one orange vegetable a day. So, if I eat some spinach salad at lunch with some orange pepper on it, according to this statement, I am done with my vegetable intake for the day. I could then have some fruit and juice at my other meals to meet my food guide serving recommendations. Why is this a problem? Vegetables are not only full of vitamins and minerals and disease fighting properties, they are also lower in sugar than both fruit and juice, and therefore lower in calories. In a society where overweight/obesity is often dubbed an “epidemic” shouldn’t we be recommending a higher intake of vegetables and not telling people that just having two a day is enough?
Ok, enough with Vegetables and Fruit, let’s move on to Grain products. I love grain products. I am not a proponent of any “low carbohydrate” type diet. But, not all grain products are created equally. Canada’s Food Guide does a good job of advising us to consume more whole grain products than refined products, but I feel they fall short by only recommending 50% of your grains be whole. This recommendation is too low. In my opinion a recommendation of 75% would be more appropriate.
Now on to Meat and Alternatives. Here we see vague language showing up again. The CFG recommends that you “have meat alternatives such as beans, lentils and tofu often”. While I am very happy that the CFG makes mention of consuming beans, lentils and tofu as an alternative to meat, that pesky “often” word weakens the recommendation. How “often” should I be replacing meat with alternatives? Every day? Once a week? Once a month? I have no idea.
And finally my biggest issue with Canada’s Food Guide is that it does not provide caloric recommendations. As Samantha mentioned, Canada’s Food Guide was not designed to be a “diet”, and rightfully so. But caloric information isn’t just needed for weight loss. It is also important for weight maintenance, and for weight gain. Every Canadian can fall into one of these 3 categories. Also, with the amount of misinformation out there about dieting and caloric needs, shouldn’t Canada’s Food Guide be the perfect vessel for us to provide Canadians with evidence-based caloric recommendations? No, calories aren’t everything, but they are a very important piece of the health puzzle.
So am I recommending that you stop using Canada’s Food Guide as a tool for healthy eating? No, I think eating according to Canada’s Food Guide is a good place to start. It is a simple tool that is easy to distribute to many people. But it is far from perfect. The guide needs another set of revisions. Hopefully we won’t be waiting another decade.
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