You may have heard in the news lately that Health Canada is working on updating Canada’s Food Guide, with a new version anticipated to launch in 2018. This update is long overdue – not only is the current guide 10 years old, it is a poor representation of current nutrition research, heavily influenced by various industries, and isn’t necessarily promoting health among Canadians (this article sums it up quite well). Our neighbors in the United States produce their own document called the Dietary Guidelines, which is updated every five years; the most recent one was released in 2015 and can be found at this link. These Dietary Guidelines are a much more detailed document compared to Canada’s Food Guide, as it serves as a resource for health professionals, government, and other influencers – however, it still contains valuable information for the general public. For example, there are several tables in the Appendix that demonstrate various healthy eating patterns, including a Mediterranean dietary pattern and a vegetarian dietary pattern.
There are a lot of rumors floating around about what our new Canadian food guide will actually look like. Health Canada has been very transparent about excluding food industry and other biased stakeholders from the discussion. I’m hoping this means that our new food guide will truly be evidence-based and representative of the best nutrition research we have available. I also anticipate that the focus on meat and dairy will decline – nutrition research is consistently showing that decreased meat consumption can greatly improve health, and that the inclusion of more plant-based alternatives such as beans and legumes are a beneficial trade-off for our health and the environment. There is also talk that the food groups will disappear all-together in favor of a more holistic health model – something that has already been done in Brazil.
Many people, including myself, are hoping the new Canada’s Food Guide will follow in the footsteps of Brazil, who have totally revolutionized the idea of dietary guidelines. Brazil’s Dietary Guidelines (the full document can be found here) perfectly encompass the importance of not only consuming quality, nutritious foods, but practicing mindful, social, and environmentally sustainable practices related to our food consumption. Based off the Dietary Guidelines document, Brazil has summarized “10 Steps to a Healthy Diet” – regardless of how Canada’s new food guide turns out, I think we can all benefit from following these 10 guiding statements from Brazil. They are as follows:
- Make natural or minimally-processed foods the basis of your diet
- Use oils, fats, salt, and sugar in small amounts when seasoning and cooking natural or minimally-processed foods and to create culinary preparations
- Limit consumption of processed foods
- Avoid consumption of ultra-processed foods
- Eat regularly and carefully in appropriate environments and, whenever possible, in company
- Shop in places that offer a variety of natural or minimally-processed foods
- Develop, exercise, and share cooking skills
- Plan your time to make food and eating important in your life
- Out of home, prefer places that serve freshly made meals
- Be wary of food advertising and marketing
The exclusion of food groups is one of the most note-worthy characteristics of Brazil’s Dietary Guidelines. I personally think this is fantastic – Canadian’s have suffered from the scientific concept of “reductionism”, where the individual nutrients in food are the main focus, not the food itself. For example, I’m sure you’ve heard news articles make claims, such as ‘lycopene in tomatoes can prevent cancer’, or ‘phytosterols are heart-healthy’. Although this research is important has a place of value, it reduces our focus to individual nutrients as opposed to whole foods. Dr. T. Colin Campbell discusses the concept of reductionism science in his book Whole, which I highly recommend reading!
“The problem is that we are asking the wrong questions – questions based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the wholistic nature of nutrition. We’re asking, “How much vitamin C are we getting?” when we should be asking, “What foods should we be eating to support our bodies’ ability to maintain health?” – T. Colin Campbell
Because of this, it is vital that we consider our whole dietary pattern as opposed to measuring the individual nutrients we are consuming. Brazil’s Dietary Guidelines demonstrate this extremely well, while also considering the importance of having a sustainable, social, and mindful dietary pattern. I know people generally like recommendations for very specific things, such as eat a certain food or exercise X amount, but I really think that the holistic approach of Brazil’s Dietary Guidelines is a realistic, simple, and all-encompassing way to eat in a more wholesome, healthful way. We tend to over-complicate things, and these 10 statements prove how simple it really can be.
I hope you all find this helpful and inspiring! I highly suggest keeping these guidelines in mind when moving towards a more healthy eating pattern – maybe print it out and hang it on your fridge! What are your thoughts of Brazil’s Dietary Guidelines? What do you hope to see (or hope not to see!) on the new Canada’s Food Guide? Let me know!! You can reach me in the comments below, here, or on Instagram and Twitter.
Have a great week and talk soon friends!