According to an article published in the Globe and Mail yesterday, the new Canada’s Food Guide will have only 3 Food Groups; (1) Vegetables and Fruit (2) Whole Grains and (3) Protein Foods — and will have dropped the Meat and Alternatives and Milk and Alternatives food groups, along with dropping the recommendation for adults and children to consume 2-3 servings of meat and alternatives and milk and alternatives daily.
This draft of the new Food Guide does not recommend a specific amount of protein foods be consumed each day.
According to the article;
The proposed changes are consistent with Health Canada’s previous statements on its intentions; “the majority of Canadians don’t eat enough vegetables, fruits and whole grains.”
The draft of the new Canada Food Guide shows the 3 new food groups and under the heading Protein Foods are images of tofu, red beans & chickpeas, peanut butter, milk, fish and a pork chop, under Whole Grains are images of rice, bread, quinoa and pasta and under Vegetables and Fruit which is the largest of the 3 food groups are a variety of fresh, frozen and canned produce.
The articles published in both the Globe and Mail and on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)’s website state the same things, as do other media outlets and may have been based on the Earnscliffe Strategy Groups report titled “Healthy Eating Strategy – Dietary Guidance Transformation – Focus Groups on Healthy Eating Messages, Visuals and Brands Research Report, Prepared for: Health Canada” which contained the following images:
The proposed new Canada Food Guide should come as no surprise given that the Government of Canada has had posted on its website since 2017 Health Canada’s ‘Guiding Principles, Recommendations and Considerations’ which include Guiding Principle 1;
Regular intake of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and protein-rich foods* – especially plant-based sources of protein
Inclusion of foods that contain mostly unsaturated fat, instead of foods that contain mostly of saturated fat
*Protein-rich foods include: legumes (such as beans), nuts and seeds, soy products (including fortified soy beverage), eggs, fish and other seafood, poultry, lean red meats (including game meats such as moose, deer and caribou), lower fat milk and yogurt, cheeses lower in sodium and fat.
Nutritious foods that contain fat such as homogenized (3.25% M.F.) milk should not be restricted for young children.
The CBC article stated that Dr. Jennifer Taylor, Professor of Foods and Nutrition at the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) and who is one of the experts that was consulted on the new guide said;
“The new guidelines are evidence-based and relevant.”
and added that
“Any government in any developed country has a responsibility to have some good advice for their citizens.”
The question is, is the de-emphasis on the consumption of meat and milk in order to limit saturated fat based on current evidence? More on this below.
Meat and dairy products have been a major part of the diet of populations around the world for millennia and these are high quality proteins which have high bioavailability to the human body and are unequaled in plant-based proteins. Of course, individuals who choose to be vegetarian or vegan for religious or ethical reasons should be free to choose non-animal based protein foods consistent with their beliefs, however it is my opinion that the role of a country’s food guide is to encourage optimal dietary intake in all of its population.
"Bioavailability" has to do with how much of the nutrients in a given food are available for usage by the human body. In the case of protein, bioavailability has to do with the type and relative amounts of amino acids present in a protein*. Anti-nutrients such as phytates, oxylates and lectins which are present in plant-based protein sources interfere with the availability of nutrients in those foods. *Animal proteins (1) contain all of the essential amino acids in sufficient quantities and (2) do not contain anti-nutrients (as plant-based proteins do).
High bioavailability proteins are optimal for the body’s of growing children and youth and to preserve the lean muscle tissue and function in aging adults and a pork chop and red beans or chickpeas are not biologically equivalent in terms of the essential amino acids they provide. I believe, that as in the past the Canadian population should be encouraged to consume both Meats and Alternatives whenever possible.
Professor Taylor said that “not everyone follows the Food Guide strictly” however hospitals, long term care facilities, daycare centers, some schools, as well as prisons are required by their provincial licenses to provide food that meets Canada’s Food Guide. Will there be a different food guide for institutions with a requirement to provide a specific amount of high bioavailable protein daily? I certainly hope so as the young, the infirm, the institutionalized and the aged are amongst the most vulnerable in our society.
In light of this draft of the new food guide, here are some questions that I believe we, as a society must address;
Do we really NOT want to encourage parents to provide children and youth to be with a specific amount of high bioavailable protein daily?
Do we NOT want to encourage pre-teens and teenagers to eat the most bioavailable protein available to support optimal growth?
Do we NOT want to encourage seniors to consume a specific amount of high quality, bioavailable protein every day to reduce their risk for sarcopenia (muscle wasting)?
The new Canada Food Guide’s shift away from regular consumption of meat and dairy is based a perceived need to avoid foods that contain saturated fat — seeing it as a negative component of the diet. Yes, saturated fat is known to raise LDL-cholesterol however such a finding is meaningless unless it is specified which type of LDL-cholesterol goes up. There are small, dense LDL cholesterol which easily penetrates the artery wall and which are associated with heart disease [4,5,6,7] and large, fluffy LDL cholesterol which are not [8,9].
Eight recent meta-analysis and systemic reviews which reviewed evidence from randomized control trials (RCT) that had been conducted between 2009-2017 did not find an association between saturated fat intake and the risk of heart disease [10-17] and the results of the largest and most global epidemiological study published in December 2017 in The Lancet  found that those who ate the largest amount of saturated fats had significantly reduced rates of mortality and that low consumption (6-7% of calories) of saturated fat was associated with increased risk of stroke.
As Canadians we must ask where is the current evidence that eating foods with saturated fat is dangerous to health?
I believe that Health Canada needs to provide this evidence — evidence which is not based on proxy measurements that saturated fat raises total LDL cholesterol. There needs to be a clear differentiation between small, dense LDL cholesterol (which are associated with cardiovascular risk) and large, fluffy LDL cholesterol (which are not).
I believe that it is inadequate for Canadians to not be encouraged to eat meat and milk without the government providing current, scientific evidence that eating saturated fat raises small, dense LDL and/or leads to cardiovascular disease. Where is this evidence?
Finally, Canada is in the midst of an obesity and diabetes epidemic. According to Statistics Canada, one in four Canadian adults were overweight or obese in 2011-2012 . That’s about 6.3 million people and that number is continuing to increase. In 1980, only 15% of Canadian school-aged children were overweight or obese. This number has more than doubled to 31% in 2011  and 12% met the criteria for obesity [21,22,23].
How will Canada’s overweight and obesity crisis be addressed by a new Canada Food Guide that de-emphasizes regular consumption of milk and animal proteins which increase satiety (feeling of fullness) while encouraging Canadian children, youth and adults to eat more vegetables, fruit and whole grains?
I believe Canadians deserve these answers before Canada’s Food Guide is changed.
The Office of Nutrition Policy and Promotion is the federal department that is responsible for developing and promoting dietary guidance, including Canada's Food Guide. If you have concerns about the proposed changes to Canada Food Guide, they can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To your good health!
UPDATE (January 10, 2019) This new article summarizes the report on which the media stories about the new Canada Food Guide draft are based and includes very interesting focus group reactions.
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- The Globe and Mail, Ann Hui, Canada’s Food Guide poised to shift focus from meat, dairy to vegetables, protein, published January 8, 2019, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-new-draft-of-canadian-nutrition-guide-drops-to-three-food-groups/
- CBC News, New food guide will shift recommended diet from meat, dairy to fruits, veggies says expert, published January 8, 2019, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/prince-edward-island/pei-canada-food-guide-jennifer-taylor-1.4970072
- Government of Canada, Guiding Principles, Recommendations and Considerations, https://www.foodguideconsultation.ca/guiding-principles-detailed
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- Hooper L, Summerbell CD, Thompson R, Reduced or modified dietary fat for preventing cardiovascular disease, 2012 Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 May 16;(5)
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