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Canada's New Food Guide: Yay or nay?

Canada's Food Guide Recommendations 2019

Although it has been a whopping 12 years since Canada's Food Guide was last updated, Health Canada finally released a new one. Better late than never as they say!

As many other nutritionists will admit, the old guide was in dire need of a face lift. White bread and sugar-filled drinks were wrongfully considered part of a healthy diet and the amount of food people were advised to eat was needlessly high. Additionally, its one-size-fits-all approach didn't pay attention to any form of diversity.

But how does the new guide measure up? And is it really worth following?

The New Guide: An Overview

  • Gone are the days of recommending specific serving sizes. Rather, the new guide talks about proportions, stating that half your calories should come from fruits and vegetables, a quarter from protein sources, and another quarter from whole grain foods.

  • While the old guide emphasized eating meat as a source of protein, the new guide places an emphasis on plant-based protein sources instead like tofu, legumes, and beans.

  • The old guide specifically recommended that at least two servings of "milk and alternatives" should be included in a person's daily diet. Dairy is downplayed in the new guide and water is touted as being the "drink of choice."

  • Consumption of unsaturated fats founds in foods like fish, nuts, and seeds is emphasized versus saturated fats from meats, dairy products, and more.

  • Consumption of processed foods high in added sugar and salt is discouraged, along with drinking alcohol.

  • An emphasis is placed on cooking at home more, eating with friends and family, and becoming educated about how to read a food label.

To read more about the recommendations, click here.

What do Canadians think?

A study done by Dalhousie University and the University of Guelph revealed that more than half (52.4%) of Canadians say they face barriers adopting the new guide. Their reasons?

  • More than 25% said it's too expensive

  • 20% said it doesn't fit their taste preferences

  • 20% say it doesn't reflect their dietary needs or that preparing meals in accordance with the guide would be too time-consuming

Here's what I think about these critiques:

For starters, following the new guide actually saves people money—about 6.8% for a family of four—in comparison to the old guide. Nonetheless, prices of certain foods associated with the guide are expected to go up in the next couple of years, which is why people are making a stink.

But to be perfectly honest, people who say "eating healthy is too expensive" drive me nuts. Don't get me wrong, eating healthy is an expense, but what bugs me most is that the majority of people making this argument are the same people who are consistently sporting the newest iPhone, eating out for lunch every day, and spending hundreds of dollars on alcohol and/or cigarettes a week.

I have done seven years of post-secondary education so I'm very familiar with what it's like to be a broke student. While there were certainly periods of time where living off of Kraft Dinner was the only option, most of the time I truly did follow a clean diet. That's solely because I prioritized eating clean. Did this mean I didn't buy any new clothes for a couple years? Yes. Did this mean that I had to say "no" to quite a few outings to stay within my budget? Yes. But when people say that "eating clean is too expensive," I think the underlying message is actually, "I would rather spend money on other stuff." Fine, you do you. But stop using this as an excuse.

(Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to downplay that there are certain individuals or families who are truly struggling financially and simply cannot do this. But I truly believe that most of the people making this critique fall into the former category I mentioned, not the latter.)

And as for the 20% of people who say it's too time consuming? You're right! Cooking takes time! It's slower than getting Uber Eats to come to your house so you can eat some fried chicken coated in some artificial crap designed to fry quicker. But this, to me, reflects a level of entitlement that comes with this generation. Being healthy is a lot of work, but hundreds of thousands of people in this country are choosing health over obesity every single day and it can be done. Don't blame the food guide.

My Thoughts as a Nutritionist

I think creating a guide that can appeal to an entire nation is actually impossible. But I'm actually fully on board with the new guide. I like that many of their recommendations are aligned with the Mediterranean Diet—such as emphasizing unsaturated fats and fish—which has years of supportive research to back it up. I like that water is made the drink of choice. I like its emphasis on cooking, eating with others, and meal prepping. Is the new guide maybe a little too simplistic? Sure. But is it better than being prescriptive like the last one? It sure is.


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