A Saskatoon dietitian says the current Canada Food Guide does not reflect modern diets after a recent senate report called for a revision of the outdated source.
Brooke Bulloch, owner of Saskatoon nutrition consulting company Food to Fit, believes it is important to have some sort of government guidance when it comes to food.
“But is a food guide useful? I don’t know. When I look at healthy Canadians it really comes down to our food environment. If our food environment is a ratio of 10 or 20 to one fast food restaurants to healthy food vendors, that’s a problem,” she said.
The senate committee report found “that Canada’s Food Guide has been at best ineffective and at worst enabling with respect to the rising levels of unhealthy weights and diet-related chronic diseases in Canada.” Bulloch said she wouldn’t necessarily blame Canada’s growing obesity rates on the food guide, but believes there are aspects of it that need to be changed.
The biggest overhaul should be switching to meal-based examples instead of fulfilling nutrient amounts through recommended servings, Bulloch said.
“It’s not user friendly. I guarantee you anyone who has a child is not going through saying ‘oh yeah, my child had two servings of milk and alternates today.’ Nobody is counting the servings of food groups that their children are eating; it’s not a realistic approach.”
She said basing a food guide on serving amounts also teaches people to ignore their hunger and fullness “cues.” There’s nothing wrong with someone eating only four to five servings of fruits and vegetables in a day if it matches their optimal caloric intake, Bulloch said.
“I think they’ve taken a big message in trying to ensure that if you eat like this you’re going to meet all your micro-nutrient needs and your macro-nutrient distribution, but they’re trying to oversimplify it and it’s become very ineffective and confusing for people.”
Bulloch said that confusion over serving sizes can result in overeating. For example, the food guide indicates that a 35 gram slice of bread equals one serving, but she points out most bread slices are 45 grams or more.
The food guide also recommends that only half of the daily grain products a person eats should be whole grains. Bulloch said that leads people to believe it’s okay for the other half of their grains to be refined and processed.
She also takes issue with 100 per cent fruit juices being included in the fruits and vegetables group. Fruit juice should not replace whole fruit, she said, adding it’s unrealistic to think people will only drink the daily recommendation of 1/2 cup.
She suggests potential changes to the food groups could include emphasizing vegetables over fruit and replacing the grains category with “starches.”
According to Bulloch, the Canada Food Guide has not been updated since 2007.