On January 21, 2019, Health Canada released it’s long awaited update on the Canada Food Guide. And they got it right, for the most part. Now, it’s time for the grocery industry to step up and do likewise.
For years, integrative, science- and evidence-informed healthcare practitioners, like Naturopathic Doctors, have had to explain to their patients that the Canada Food Guide was a dinosaur; a vestigial remnant of a time long past. Due to heavy political interests driven by an economy struggling post-war-time, and heavy lobbying from the dairy industry, the Food Guide was developed with, frankly, little science, or even observational data, by politicians and economists, rather than doctors, scientists and researchers. I can say from my over-a-decade in practice, that there were certainly times that the Canada Food Guide has hurt people more than it’s helped them. But that’s changing.
My biggest applause to Health Canada regarding the new Food Guide is its attention to proportion - the relative amounts of the different types of foods that contribute to a health-promoting diet - rather than portions (ie. servings). A nutrient-dense, health promoting diet is about eating more of the good stuff, and a diversity of foods to ensure adequacy for all macro- (think carbs, fats & proteins) and micronutrients (think vitamins & minerals). Previously, if you were getting your 1-2 serving of dairy products each day, at least you were doing “something” right, even if you didn’t get any vegetables or fruits in. And that’s probably why North Americans have historically had amongst the highest rates of osteoporosis in the world, despite consuming amongst the highest amounts of calcium, and the most dairy products, per capita.
Highlights from the new Canada Food Guide:
Attention to relative proportion of foods, rather than portion (servings) - more vegetables and fruits relative to everything else;
Whole-food, diverse plant-based diet - consume a variety of colourful vegetables & fruits at each meal to promote a high nutrient-density diet;
Protein adequacy from various sources, including some meat & animal products;
Differentiation of types of fats, and adequate consumption of health-promoting fats like Omega-3s;
Good hydration: but don’t chug fluids with, or immediately prior to meals;
Less reliance on dairy, and high-carbohydrate (ie. sugar) foods including grains;
Awareness and pragmatism around mindful eating, marketing, political, corporate and environmental pressures and trends
If I have one criticism of the new Food Guide, it is that it still fails to distinguish diet from nutrition. It’s not good enough to just eat well - Just eating healthfully doesn’t ensure that your body is acquiring (ie. absorbing) or utilizing those nutrients at the cellar level. Diet does not equal nutrition.
Now I want to see the grocery industry step up. I want to see grocery stores making organizational and structural changes in how they display their food and design their store layouts.
Here’s what I’d like to see done:
Contribute to nutritional awareness and education: Provide us with dietary information about our produce (especially) - specifically about macronutrient ratios and micronutrient content.
Go more local and wear it on your sleeve. Tell me more about how far this produce has travelled, when it was picked from the vine, and how long it sat in transit.
Post the new Canada Food Guide on your shopping carts and baskets, so I’m reminded of all the things I mentioned earlier in this article when I am shopping.
Involve local healthcare practitioners: Bring in doctors, Naturopathic Doctors, registered dieticians and other regulated health professionals to give information sessions about diet, nutrition, functional foods, supplements and nutraceuticals.
Adjust your product placement to provide less proportional space for packaged, processed foods, high-carbohydrate, low nutrient-density products including grains and dairy products - Your store’s proportional layout should proportionally represent the Canada Food Guide. You don’t need an entire aisle of f*cking cereal.
Refrain from putting processed foods on sale. It’s not like the shit goes bad with all those preservative chemicals in it anyways.
Thank Yous (More Praise):
I also want to take a moment to thank the many people, but in particular my Naturopathic colleagues, Drs. Lowell Greib ND, Iva Lloyd ND and Andrew Krause ND for their tireless work, experience and expertise in contributing to this process over the years. You all deserve much more than this virtual high-five for your work here - Thank you for collaborating with our healthcare industry peers to find the best balance for Canadians and deliver it in a practical manner.
What do YOU think?
What else should we be challenging grocery stores to do in light of the new Canada Food Guide?
What, if anything, will the new Canada Food Guide encourage you to change in your diet and/or lifestyle?
Dr. Jason Marr BScH ND is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor, Performance & Productivity Coach and Expert Wellness Speaker in downtown Vancouver, BC. He arms urban professionals with pragmatic tools to overcome burnout, manage stress and anxiety and create Urban Resilience.