This article was originally published in The Globe and Mail January 22, 2019.
Three years ago, when the federal government asked Canadians about their needs and expectations for their national food guide, I offered a wish list of changes in my column. Turns out, my wishes were granted this week when Health Canada revealed its overhauled Canada’s Food Guide.
Easy to understand. The guide’s dietary recommendations aren’t complicated. Eat a variety of healthy foods each day. Have plenty of fruits and vegetables. Eat protein foods. Choose whole-grain foods. Make water your drink of choice.
The picture on the front of the guide, a photograph of real food on a plate (not illustrated foods on a rainbow) is also effective. The message is pretty simple: Fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruits, one-quarter with protein and one-quarter with whole grains.
Whole foods, not nutrients. The Food Guide now directs people to whole foods, and has done away with recommending a certain number of daily food-group servings to meet nutrient needs (e.g., calcium from dairy, iron from meat).
Eating the right foods instead of fussing over individual nutrients is the way to go, because if you base your diet on whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and lentils, fish, lean meat, yogurt and so on, you’re going to be consuming plenty of nutrients.
The food guide’s new approach to healthy eating is on the mark. Get the foods right instead of fussing over individual nutrients.
If you base your diet on whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and lentils, fish, lean meat, yogurt and so on, you’re going to be consuming plenty of nutrients.
Since 2007, nutrition research has taught us that it’s the overall pattern of our diet that matters when it comes to health.
No more focus on meat. The decision to replace nutrient-based food groups with groupings of foods (e.g., protein foods versus “Meat and Alternatives”) has removed the emphasis on meat.
Lean meat is included as one of the guide’s protein foods (along with fish, eggs, dairy, beans, lentils and nuts), but it’s no longer the main attraction. And that’s a good thing.
High intakes of red meat have been tied to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer. Eating more protein from plants compared to meat, on the other hand, has been associated with a lower risk of premature death from cardiovascular disease.
Downsizing the importance of meat in the diet also reflects findings from environmental research on optimal food choices.
Advice on highly processed foods. The revised guide recommends that we don’t eat processed or prepared foods and beverages on a regular basis, to avoid consuming too much added sugar, sodium and saturated fat.
That’s important advice since our increasing reliance on ready-to-eat, ready-to-drink and ready-to-heat highly processed foods has been correlated with higher obesity rates, metabolic syndrome and unhealthy blood-cholesterol levels.
Thanks to their high content of unhealthy fats, sugars, salt and other additives, highly processed foods are intensely palatable, which can make them habit-forming. Plus, they’re low in or lacking fibre, protective phytochemicals and vitamins and minerals that whole foods contain.
Includes advice on how to eat. Over the past several decades, the way we purchase and prepare foods has dramatically changed. We eat more meals away from home, we spend less time cooking and we eat too many processed, packaged foods.
The implications: unhealthy diets, missed opportunities for kids to gain cooking skills and knowledge, and the decline of family meals, which have been associated with nutritional and psycho-social benefits for children.
Health Canada has committed to stay on top of the evidence to ensure that our food guidance is continually relevant. We shouldn’t have to wait another 12 years for an update.
At Medcan, we now offer an enhanced Nutrition Station as part of the Annual Health Assessment that provides a more personalized and targeted consult with a registered dietitian. You’ll be able to choose a relevant topic that’s meaningful to your health goals and interests, be it eating for brain health, adding more plant-based meals to your diet, ensuring you’re getting enough protein to match your workouts, or lowering your blood sugar, for example.
Meeting with a dietitian during your health assessment, and enlisting a professional for on-going support, helps make eating well a priority.
To learn more about the new Nutrition Station as part of the Annual Health Assessment, please contact email@example.com or (416) 350-3621. Our Nutrition Team’s training, skills and knowledge allow us to sift through the overwhelming amount of nutrition information that bombards us every day and translate evidence-based findings into practical and easy-to-understand diet advice.
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