House Call with Carol Hughes

Canada Food Guide gets a makeover

The long-awaited update to the Canada Food Guide has arrived and it bears little resemblance to its predecessor. In many ways the guide is catching up to the leaps in research that have increasingly singled out highly processed food and sugar as drivers of the obesity epidemic and the growth in chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The new recommendations emphasize proportion instead of portions and reduce the familiar four food groups into three while also advising Canadians make water their choice of beverage and even try to eat together more often.

The new guide views the formerly separate categories of meat and dairy as proteins which also includes plant-based options like chickpeas and tofu. Objections from the meat and dairy sectors were understandable, but they are not being singled out as much as reconsidered as part of a healthy diet. Sugary drinks didn’t fare as well and despite heavy lobbying, the guide now warns against them including fruit juice, which was previously seen as a healthy drink. This change reflects the department’s own study that found all sugary drinks combined are the top source of sugar consumption for Canadians.

The upgraded guidelines have been well received and could help Canadians adopt healthier eating habits, but there is still a lot the government can do to support this goal and also make it more accessible. One challenge is the cost of eating well and the fact that many Canadians can’t afford to follow the guide’s nutrition recommendations.

According to research from the University of Toronto, over 4 million Canadians, including 1.15 million children, live in homes that struggle to put food on the table. The government could dramatically reduce this food insecurity for children by working with the provinces and territories to guarantee universal access to nutritious meals for children in Canadian schools. Canada is currently the only G7 country that doesn’t have a national school food program.

In addition to that, more could be done to help consumers make healthy choices. That’s why New Democrats are calling for the implementation of effective front-of-package labeling requirements that will help consumers choose products that are lower in sodium, sugars, or saturated fat. The detrimental health effects of tobacco products are clearly labeled on packaging while highly processed foods are allowed to display their nutritional information in small type on the back of packaging. It is said that the new guide doesn’t reflect the influence of lobbying, but clear front of packaging labeling would show that Canada’s commitment to public health on this front is firm.

A healthier population is an obvious goal for any country and the growth on chronic diseases related to our diet required a response. Based on 2015 information, the rates of diabetes in Canada are expected to rise 44 percent by 2025 while the costs of treatment are projected to increase by 25 percent at the same time. The revamped food guide’s recommendations are intended to help people better understand the choices they make every day and to remind them of the connection between well-being and diet. This update will help Canadians pursue healthier diets based on the 40 years of research that has taken place since the prior recommendations were developed.