Canada’s Food Guide: potential impact of the new guiding principles

We’re getting a new Canada’s Food Guide—and the food industry isn’t happy about it.

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Health Canada recently published its What We Heard report, summarizing its findings from its public consultation last summer on proposed updates to Canada’s Food Guide.

The current version of Canada’s Food Guide was released in 2007, and has drawn much criticism from consumers and professionals alike. Concerns range from confusing serving sizes and types of foods featured—why is kefir listed as part of the milk and alternatives group, but not cottage cheese?—to infrequent updates and industry influence.

Health Canada has tried to address the latter problem by not consulting directly with industry for the next edition of Canada’s Food Guide, though industry members were allowed to participate in the public consultations. In these consultations, Health Canada asked for feedback on its proposed guiding principles, which will serve as the basis for this update.

While the vast majority of Canadians seem to agree with the guiding principles, those who identified as members of the food and beverage industry seem less enthusiastic about the proposed changes. It should be noted, though, that out of more than 6,000 respondents, only 98 identified as working in the food and beverage industry, which may have skewed the results below:

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The dissent does not really come as a surprise. During the consultation process, representatives from Dairy Farmers of Canada and the Canadian Meat Council have gone on record to speak out against the guidelines, which encourage choosing more plant-based sources of protein and limiting foods high in saturated fat. There are also rumours that the milk and alternatives group and meat and alternative group will be lumped together as a single “protein” group, which is a concern for dairy farmers.

Still, others argue that the agricultural industry may benefit from some of the proposed changes. In an interview with Maclean’s magazine, farmer and Ontario Bean Growers research chair Mike Donnelly-Vanderloo argues that an increased emphasis on plant-based foods could benefit pulse, soybean and other crop producers.

Though the guiding principles include statements that encourage Canadians to limit intake of some prepared foods and have more meals and snacks that are prepared at home, the restaurant industry appears less concerned.

In an email statement to Eat North, Restaurants Canada emphasized its support for other guiding principles in the document, stating, “Restaurants Canada supports providing restaurant guests with nutritional information for those that are interested in doing so. […] Nutritional preferences might differ, but restaurants will continue to be the gathering place for friends, families, and communities across Canada.”

A Dietitian’s Take

Contrary to popular belief, dietitians do not base all their recommendations on Canada’s Food Guide, nor are we “required” to do so despite being a regulated profession. In fact, most of my colleagues—myself included—rarely use the food guide in our practice.

Still, given that Canada’s Food Guide is often used as a starting point for conversations around nutrition and health, many of us are interested to see the results of this years-long updating process. As to whether a person should “follow Canada’s Food Guide”, my best answer is, “Wait and see what works for you.” Once the tools and resources start rolling out, you can then make your own decisions about whether they are recommendations that you want to include in your own lifestyle.