Canada’s new Food Guide is bold and courageous. Canadians should be proud of the unwavering commitment that the guide represents to improving the food environment in Canada, so that it is easier for us all to make healthier choices.
The advice has been met with support from the majority of dietitians in Canada; it reflects the feedback we gave to Health Canada during its extensive consultation process. As Minister Petitpas Taylor noted at the launch of the Food Guide, food is more than nourishment. Food has the potential to enhance lives and improve health and the new Food Guide recognizes this by talking about not only about what we should eat but how we should eat.
What is striking is the robust, evidence-based and thoughtful document called “Dietary Guidelines for Health Professional and Policy Makers,” released along with the beautiful graphics and mobile-friendly website that were prominently featured in hundreds of news stories over the past week.
Through these guidelines, Health Canada has reached beyond that scope of what individuals should eat to avoid disease or deficiency and addressed critical policy issues, such as what should be sold in publicly funded facilities, the impact of our food choices on the environment, and how fad diets and food marketing have shifted our (mis)understanding of health.
The new dietary guidelines recognize the profoundly negative impact of residential schools on the culture and food skills of Indigenous peoples and emphasize the importance of traditional foods, calling for more support of hunting and fishing. Dietitians know that increased access to traditional foods improves the quality of diets for many Indigenous peoples. We are pleased to see the variety and diversity of food choices, including traditional foods, represented in this Food Guide.
Opposing view: Did Canada’s new Food Guide get it right? No
Health Canada’s acknowledgement that food choices can have an impact on the environment also provides important policy direction for the future. Scientific evidence drives the recommendations to eat more plant-based foods, including protein-rich foods that were formerly called “alternatives,” while still including animal foods, such as fish, poultry, eggs, lean meats, and lower fat milk, yogurt, and cheeses. The conservation of natural resources and reduction of food waste will support a long term and reliable food supply for future generations.
The recommendation to choose plant-based protein foods more often suggests a change in eating habits for some Canadians. On the other hand, beans, lentils, tofu, nuts and seeds are preferred foods for many different cultures, which Canadian farmers already grow.
Dietitians, home economists and others in the food and nutrition industry have supported many to learn to cook with these foods, for example, in cardiac rehabilitation, diabetes education and other community programs. We are ready to bring this knowledge and skill to the mainstream, alongside the great recipes and tools consumers can find in the new Food Guide website.
Despite the impressive breadth of the dietary guidelines, it is unrealistic to expect one policy document to address all issues related to food and nutrition.
One such issue is food insecurity. There has been criticism this past week that the Food Guide is unaffordable or unrealistic for all Canadians due to the emphasis on vegetables and fruits. While rates of food insecurity in Canada are significant, particularly in northern communities, it is misguided to suggest that these recommendations for patterns of healthy eating will be more expensive overall and add to the burden.
THE BIG DEBATE: For more opposing view columns from Toronto Star contributors, click here.
Yes, we are concerned about the 1-in-8 Canadian households who do not have enough money to purchase safe and nutritious food — that’s why Canadians must continue to pressure government to implement effective and sufficient poverty reduction strategies. Food insecurity is caused by poverty and requires income-based solutions.
Another unfounded criticism relates to concerns about meeting requirements for certain nutrients. The tools that make up Canada’s Food Guide are designed to provide practical guidance for healthy Canadians, two years of age and older. Health Canada clearly acknowledges that individuals with specific dietary requirements may need additional guidance or specialized advice from a dietitian.
Canadians should take the time to fully explore the impressive resources in the new Food Guide. For many, there will be affirmation they are on track, while others can consider shifting what and/or how they eat. Not sure where to start? You can always ask a dietitian.
Nathalie Savoie, dietitian and CEO of Dietitians of Canada.