Canada’s Food Guide is getting revamped for the first time in 10 years — and there’s lots of speculation, especially on social media, about whether meat is being given a thumbs down.
“It’s not as harsh as that, really,” said Joyce Parslow, director of consumer relations with Canada Beef.
One of the guiding principles of the new food guide is that vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and protein-rich foods — especially plant-based sources of protein — are good for the human body.
“They are looking to remove the food category of dairy and meat alternates and merge those together so that they basically become one category called proteins,” said Parslow, who is based in Toronto.
Canada’s Food Guide was created in 1942, and was last revamped in 2007. But the process of making new recommendations to the food guide started a couple of years ago with a detailed evidence review related to dietary guidance, said Hasan Hutchinson, director general for the Office of Nutritional Policy and Promotions at Health Canada.
“We were really trying to find out whether things had changed from the scientific perspective with the relationship between particular foods or particular nutrients and health,” he said.
The second thing Health Canada looked at was how things had changed with respect to how people used the food guide. They examined what people were eating, and what they are feeding their families.
“This revision is being done as part of Health Canada’s Healthy Eating Strategy,” said Parslow.
The role of the food guide is not only to provide healthy eating recommendations for the general public, it’s also used as a guideline for policy-making.
The federal government has opened the food guide up for public consultations, in its effort to be transparent about decision-making. The first stage of recommendations to the food guide was released last fall, and people could weigh in from October to December.
“They got 20,000 respondents, which is a pretty weighty contribution,” said Parslow.
The second public consultation was also online, and closed Aug. 14. Anyone, including producers, the food industry, dietitians and physicians, were able to have their opinion in the consultation.
Canada Beef is currently working with like-minded groups to monitor the food guide and what their response should be. Much of this work has been driven by dietitians working for organizations such as the Dairy Farmers of Canada and the Chicken Farmers of Canada. Canada Beef also belongs to a group called the Nutrient Rich Alliance, which includes all of the other animal protein.
Meanwhile, Health Canada professionals have reviewed the scientific basis between individual nutrients, food, and health. They have found that some topics, like fats, have changed a lot.
“In 2007, it seemed the way one could interpret the food guide was that it was really about total fats,” said Hutchinson.
But over the last 10 years, it has been found that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats, can help decrease heart disease, and lower the risk of increased cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.
In order to make this claim, staff at Health Canada reviewed the literature from organizations such as the World Health Organization, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Cancer Research Fund.
Another thing that has changed over the past 10 years is the relationship between sugar intake, weight, Type 2 diabetes, and oral health. Health Canada has also been looking at the research on sodium, and has found convincing evidence about dietary patterns that are characterized by increased vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and fish along with a decrease in processed meats, refined grains, and sugars.
“These are associated once again with what we are proposing as our guiding principles and recommendations going forward,” said Hutchinson.
Even though the process is based on scientific considerations, some people are still worried.
“We certainly have been hearing from provincial (beef) groups, asking what role they could play, and we’re going to be getting together a sort of guiding document for them,” said Parslow.
The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, Canada Beef, and other industry organizations will be meeting with provincial groups to help get the word out to individual producers who want to be involved or who have questions.
The first suite of new food guide products, which will include information for policy-makers, health professionals, and consumers, will be released in spring 2018.
The second phase will be released in 2019, and will include data from Statistics Canada about food consumption.