Canada’s New Food Guide
Health Canada has replaced the 2007 healthy eating guide, updating its recommendations and broader advice about how to live more healthily. A new simplified healthy eating plate has been created, encouraging a plate consisting of half fruit and vegetables, a quarter protein and another quarter grains and carbohydrates, accompanied by a glass of water. So, what does the food guide mean for Canadian citizens? And how does it compare to the UK’s?
Relaxed food groups
Instead of eating from more narrowly defined groups of milk and milk products, meat and alternatives, grain and carbohydrates and fruits and vegetables, Canadians have been advised to eat from more general groups: fruits and vegetables; whole grains; and proteins.
Protein includes meat, dairy and meat alternatives. Canada’s Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor recommends protein foods that come from plants, prioritising “plenty of vegetables and fruits.”
Less meat and dairy
Common throughout the western world, Canadians have long been encouraged to drink several portions of milk a day. The 2007 Canadian healthy eating guide encouraged meat and dairy consumption, with a glass of milk accompanying meals. The 2019 guide incorporates milk as a ‘protein’, instead encouraging water as a drink of choice.
This has unsurprisingly received mixed responses. Advocates for a plant based lifestyle have praised the new food guide. Dr Jenkins, the Canada research chair in nutrition and metabolism and a professor at the University of Toronto, says the plant-based direction is “the direction it needs to go.”
However, dairy Farmers of Canada have written that “there is no scientific justification to minimise the role of milk in products in a healthy diet.”
Despite the varying responses, there has been an international movement in the western world towards reducing meat and dairy consumption, for environmental, health or animal welfare reasons.
Fewer processed foods
The guide encourages fresh and minimally processed foods. However, this has been widely criticised on the basis that fresh fruits, vegetables and grain products are not financially nor practically feasible for much of the Canadian population.
Food security was expressed as a concern by Oliver de Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur, in 2013 during a visit to Canada. He identified concerns around the availability, accessibility, affordability and appropriateness of foods for low income households, indigenous populations and new immigrant families.
Thus, a healthy food guide is misguided when trying to improve healthy eating in Canada. Elyse Amend, writing that guidelines do little to help anyone in environments where it is difficult to obtain ‘healthy’ food, “or to acknowledge the structural causes of time unavailability and lack of food access that conditions poor eating habits. Instead, healthy eating is positioned solely as a matter of personal will and ingenuity.”
However, frozen goods are widely available and can provide a nutritious alternative to fresh produce.
The new food guide encourages water as a drink of choice, recognising flavoured milks and fruit juice as contributing factors towards childhood obesity. Flavoured milks were frequently used to encourage children to consume dairy, however the guide says that the sugar in such drinks outweighs their nutritional benefit.
Canada’s food guide was initially a political document, created to promote certain foods to ensure the longevity of Canadian soldiers in the Second World War.
Since, the good food guide has been revisited seven times, each time having influence from the food industry, specifically the meat and dairy industry. Health Canada found the lobbying of industries to have deteriorated the credibility of the food guide.
However, the 2019 food guide was created without representatives from the food and beverage industry. The food guide therefore acts as a health policy document influenced by science.
The new food guide recommends a variety of nutritious fresh foods. This enhances the autonomy of the consumer, to choose food loosely in line with the broad categories. This does not prescribe a certain diet to achieve maximum health, but rather encourages Canadians to be mindful of the food they put into their bodies.
The UK’s Eatwell Guide
Public Health England encourages a diet from five food groups including fruit and vegetables, starchy carbohydrates, proteins, dairy and alternatives, and unsaturated oils. It also encourages water, or lower fat and sugar-free options. Both guides discourage large quantities of fruit juice.
The Eatwell guide differs from the Canadian food guide by prescribing specific food groups. Firstly, unsaturated oils, which include lower fat oils and spreads. Secondly, the Eatwell guide removes high fat, salt and sugar foods to discourage consumers away from these foods and drinks, whereas the food guide encourages consumers to be conscious of their eating habits.
Public Health England maintains that the Eatwell Guide is constantly under review in line with scientific advancements.
Canada’s approach to a healthy lifestyle is therefore preferable. It provides a clear visual of a healthy diet, ensuring that consumers are aware of their own eating choices, without prescribing restrictive food groups. It also encourages a mostly plant based diet, which could transform the future of the environment, decreasing the devastating effect of animal agriculture and reducing worldwide ill health and malnourishment.