August 9, 2016

Food For Thought

Dinner table - food for thought

Written for Carol Hughes, MP

The proof really is in the pudding since evidence shows Canadians are good at following the recommendations set by the national Food Guide. But could this be the real reason for the continuous rise in our obesity rate? This is a compelling question as new studies are surfacing about the effects of sugar and trans fats, which may mean it’s time to revise Canada’s Food Guide.

It might be surprising for some that this rainbow-coloured graphic of food groups and recommended portion sizes is the second most requested governmental document after those dreaded tax forms. But, some people are saying what should be a trusted guide providing sound advice on how to eat well and be healthy, may be steering us in the wrong direction regarding our health.

More and more studies are finding flaws in the Food Guide’s teachings. Most notably, in the relationship between fats and heart disease. Some researchers are suggesting that it isn’t how much fat you’re eating, but what kind of fat. Trans fats contribute to cardiovascular disease while saturated and unsaturated fats may not. In fact, unsaturated fats could have the opposite effect and some research suggests it can lower the risks of cardiovascular disease. But it might not be fat at all.

Canada’s Heart and Stroke Foundation is finding that all the added sugar we consume is what’s contributing to heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and much more. More so, dairy has not been found to provide any benefits or risks to the health of humans and we should be neither encouraged nor discouraged from consuming it.

When you think about the fact that Canada’s Food Guide equates a glass of fruit juice with a serving of real fruit or that they consider deli meat on par with chicken breast, it may not be so hard to understand that it isn’t the most up-to-date model. It shouldn’t be surprising that a cup of sugary cereal is not exactly the same as a serving of whole grains. A study showed that the most consumed vegetable in Canada is the potato, but what the Food Guide seems to disregard is that most of the potatoes we eat aren’t just plainly baked.

Something to consider is that when determining caloric value or portion sizes, the Canadian Food guide is based on something called the 1997 Nutrient File. With the advent of genetic modification and improvements in farming and food production, it’s not a secret that many things have changed in the last couple of decades. The size of the typical fruit or vegetable is a lot bigger than it was almost 20 years ago. This means that their suggested serving could actually be a lot more than it should be. It also may be true that while the size of a suggested serving of meat is about the size of a deck of cards, most people are in fact putting about three times that amount on their plates.

On average, the Canadian Food Guide launches a new version every 8 years. With our current version dating back to 2007, we are coming up on the ten-year mark and an overhaul is overdue. Our American neighbours revisit their national dietary guidelines every five years and this may be one situation where we should be following in their footsteps.