Back in January, the Canadian government released a new food guide. When it was first released, there was a bit of hubbub going on about it. It looked a lot different than what we were used to, so people were bound to talk about it.
Being a nutritionist, of course I saw a lot of commentary about it in my circles, which was great. People, including myself, were thankful for its upgrades and shift of focus. Even so, I’m not only a nutritionist, but a holistic nutritionist, which means food guides don’t really play a role in what I preach.
Because of my beliefs, I’m a bit on the fence with this one. I see the amount of growth this new guide shows, but I also still have a really hard time telling people to follow a rulebook. There are many reasons for this, which I outline below, but the biggest one is that guides are just guides. They don’t allow for individuality nor do they get specific.
Our new food guide has taken many strides in improving its message. A lot of research was done and the final product was based on sound scientific evidence. Besides, how specific can you get when you’re designing a generalized guide for the majority of a nation to be able to relate to and follow?
I understand the struggles on both sides of the coin, and for that I’d like to commend the people behind this new food guide for the hard work and good quality final product they created. This new guide is leagues above the last one and provides a good starting point for the average person with no dietary restrictions. It’s a place to start, a place of reference for those wanting to eat in a way that should keep them relatively healthy in the long-term.
So I’ll start here, naming what I feel are the benefits to this food guide:
GOOD BASIS FOR A HEALTHY DIET
The first thing you see when you open the new food guide is a big photo of a plate of food dissected into three portions: one for fruits and vegetables, another for protein, and another for grains. Though I wouldn’t consider these the top three macronutrients, I do believe this is a well-balanced plate. I’ll get into the missing macronutrients a little further down, but generally speaking, I’m liking what I see here.
PLANT-FOCUSED & Environmentally-Oriented
With this instalment of Canada’s food guide, there’s a bigger push for eating plant-basted food. There’s also a whole section with tips on habits to reduce waste and conserve resources. Again, it’s not an encyclopedia of sustainability, but it gets the ball rolling in the right direction by raising awareness to the following:
There are plenty of anti-inflammatory, cleaner (in many ways) protein sources on the planet to consume, rather than just meat.
Animal farming is much more destructive to our natural resources than plant farming.
Our society is typically wasteful and we’re disconnected from the source and processing of our resources by just enough to neglect the additional impact our habits have on the planet.
INCLUSION OF MIND/BODY ASPECT
On the second page of the food guide, there’s mention of ways to increase community and connection to food, and get in touch with your body, mind, and emotions as they relate to how you eat. I think this is great and is a small, but mighty step in widening the picture. Food is more than just that. It’s our connection to the earth and it affects more than our physical body. Not only that, we’re influenced by many factors external to us that affect our diet, eating habits, and body image.
DEPTH OF RESOURCES
I haven’t taken a good look at the previous food guide in quite a lot of years, but from what I can tell this updated version contains many more resources than the last. This is great, but I found them to not be deep enough. The ideas are there, but the ‘how’ behind them is lacking.
This is fine, for now. Everyone starts at a different point with food, so keeping things general can make sense for the masses. Next steps will be upon the individual to take, which looks different for everyone.
DISREGARD OF INDUSTRY INFLUENCE
The recommended amount of dairy is much more limited than before, for one. Honesty around consuming too much meat in relation to detrimental health effects is also laid out. Both of these industries have been known to monopolize the food guide in past years, but here that title belongs to fruits and vegetables. In this regard, I’m happy to see portion and ratio being addressed directly.
This guide is a good general starting point to finding a well-balanced plate, but when it comes to healing it doesn’t begin to depict the whole picture. The use of this guide will primarily be in schools, doctors and dieticians offices, and hospitals. Maybe in the home, as well. Schools, okay, kids need to know how to eat. But, when someone is sick they require a specific regimen to help them get better, not a standard protocol.
In practice and in life, I don’t count calories, follow nutrition labels (ingredient labels, yes!), or preach diets. This way of eating just doesn’t resonate with me, and that includes suggesting that a person follow a food guide. Sure, as mentioned above, our new food guide is a much more reliable tool than it used to be and I don’t think it should be disregarded. I just want you to know your health is more important and individual to you than to use one plan of action that also applies to everyone else.
With that said, here are the hindrances I feel are most present in the new food guide:
INDIVIDUALITY & alternative diets
This food guide is all well and good, if:
your diet isn’t restricted in any way for health reasons
you’re not vegan, vegetarian, or on any other restrictive diet
you understand what your unique body needs and can’t tolerate
But how do you account for those who are struggling to find out their relationship with food, or have chosen one that suits their beliefs and/or culture? I’m not saying this is an easy task, it’s not. It would, however, be nice to see some mention of the more popular alternative diets in our society and how to adjust for them.
little mention of quality
Quality is of great importance to me. Not in an upper class, make everything pretty sort of way, but such that if quality is lacking, then the whole idea of healthy eating goes out the window.
I think they missed the mark on quality here. It isn’t mentioned often. Instead, the word “healthy” is thrown around a lot without a lot of guidance as to what that means. Where are people to know where to start? There are also some foods that are recommended (like vegetable oil, canned fruit, and margarine) that are of poorer quality or heavily processed, and other that are said to be avoided (like ghee, butter, and coconut oil) that are perfectly fine to eat regularly.
TIPS ARE TOO GENERAL
As mentioned above, there’s a lot of resources that come along with this guide, which is really nice to see. However, the tips within feel a bit vague and lacking in context. The ideas are there, which get you thinking and asking further questions (awesome!), but where to next?
FATS ALL WRONG
There are a few things that I noticed could have been addressed differently here:
Fat is still made out to be the enemy and I’m not sure why. This is a category where quality ranks high, which makes this conversation more dynamic than it usually is. Quality and type of fat are important and I don’t think the research used to form this guide provided the full picture.
Low fat recommendations are mentioned often. Again, I’m not sure why, especially if it’s to help people lose weight. Full fat from a true source (i.e. not adulterated or heavily processed) can help your body lose weight, not gain it.
Saturated fat is not the enemy it’s made out to be. It’s not the only fat you want to be consuming, but it certainly has its benefits like being heart-protective when eaten as part of a well-balanced, high quality diet that’s anti-inflammatory and more plant-based than not.
There are a lot of good jumping off points in this guide, lots of points raised that instigate asking further questions. Who should you ask those questions to? Your doctor? Dietician? Nutritionist? Grocer? Naturopathic doctor? You need to know where to look for the answers and without further guidance, you may become frustrated enough to stop asking questions in the first place.
The resources in this guide just scratch the surface. Granted, food is a very complex conversation that should be had with professionals on a one-on-one basis. You just need to know where to look and I didn’t see anything in the guide that helped with that.
By the way, food, nutrition, and diet questions are what I’m here for! Reach out if you need to know where to find the answers you’re looking for.
There’s a whole section on food labels that I’ve only scratched the surface on. I’ll save this talk for another day, but I’d just like to say a couple of notes to this:
When I look at a food label, all I care about is the ingredient list. If it lists whole ingredients I’m happy. If it lists things I can’t pronounce, don’t recognize, or have come to know as dangerous, I put it back.
Recommended daily values are great, but tend to be too low to begin with and can be misleading if, say, a product is highly processed, in which that nutrient may be denatured or outweighed by poor quality ingredients that do more damage than good.
Nutrition labels don’t consider quality and that’s definitely something to keep in mind.
It really is worth your time to read this new food guide. It’s much more deep and gets the ball rolling in the right direction, helping bring awareness to the dynamic of how important food is in relation to overall health.
But don’t stop with the guide. Keep asking questions. Reach out to people whose jobs it is to focus on nutrition as it relates to the body, mind, and soul. Think about food as one part of the big picture and ask how else you can keep your health in check. This is a good start, but there’s so much more to explore.