The Canada Food Guide – We’ve all grown up with that colourful document that tells us how much of the four food groups we should be eating.
Now, as the country grapples with a growing obesity problem, Ottawa says it’s giving the guide a facelift and bringing in new food labeling rules.
But is it enough? Not nearly, says nutrition specialist Dr. Michael Lyon, who says the whole program needs to be torn down and rebuilt from scratch.
LISTEN: Simi Sara and Dr. Mychael Lyon boil down what needs to change in the Canada Food Guide
Start from scratch
Dr. Lyon works as the Medical Director at the Medical Weight Management Centre in Coquitlam and as an adjunct professor in University of British Columbia’s school of food, nutrition and health program, and says we’re facing an impending diabetes crisis.
He says the problem is getting so bad, tinkering around the edges of how people eat won’t work anymore.
Instead, he says we need a fundamental change in the way we look at food.
“Those of us that are in the science of nutrition and we’re clinically in the nutritional field with nutritionally related disease- we believe the Canada Food guide needs to be dumped. Just dumped. Because it’s a document that has evolved over years and years of bringing stakeholders into the discussion to create a discussion to create a document that does not compromise industry around food production and food making. And that’s the problem.”
Rather than a guide which advocates X portions of Y foods each day, he says we need a program developed by nutritionists that helps people base their diets around whole foods and cooking from scratch.
Lyon says those particularly at risk tend to be lower income, in a society where unhealthy food is cheap like Kraft Dinner and pop. Under the current food guide, for example, you could look at that KD as a portion of grain.
“The problem is in context it still favours foods that are more processed.”
“For some individuals it might mean that they really need to cut back on things that they think are fine but are not. Juice for instance. You’re raising a child, and you think that giving them apple juice is a reasonable alternative to giving them an apple. And it’s not. Apple juice is pop.”
He says a new food guide should instead teach people how to make inexpensive and healthy things on a budget, for example stocking up on bulk pulses and legumes.
One size doesn’t fit all
Lyon says the other major flaw is the Guide’s advocacy of portion sizes, which he calls a “preposterous” one size fits all solution.
“Some people, if they follow the Canada food guide to a T will gain a lot of weight and other people will shrivel away to nothing. So it doesn’t really address the needs of individuals very well at all.”
Lyon says the same goes for how many portions we’re eating.
“‘We’ is not a definable thing,” he says noting you can’t put an athlete and an overweight person on the same footing.
“It’s really hard to create a “we” out of the Canada Food Guide, because “we” are not we. We are each and everyone individual, different lifestyles, different metabolisms.”
He says instead of trying to provide people with a detailed and specific road map, health officials need to be educating people about the principles of healthy eating and giving people the resources to incorporate it into their daily lives.
That may turn out to be a big ask. But in the meantime, Canadians are being asked to weigh in on what’s in the new-look food guide. You can participate online until December 8th.