Health Canada to re-examine every facet of Canada’s Food Guide

The governmental department will re-examine the science behind it, to the policies and programs that stem from it and it’s relevance to Canadians, the “changing food supply, population and demographics,” says spokesperson.

Health Canada is going to re-examine  Canada’s Food Guide. Nutrition experts want fruit and vegetables put in different categories.


Health Canada is going to re-examine Canada’s Food Guide. Nutrition experts want fruit and vegetables put in different categories.

It’s sung as Canada’s gospel of proper nutrition; a trustworthy guide dispensing sound advice on how to eat well, feel well and keep thin.

But Canada’s Food Guide is under fire — within academic circles, among clinicians, in witness testimony at a senate subcommittee investigating obesity — and now, at Health Canada, which says it has decided to review the country’s official food rules.

The governmental department will re-examine every facet of Canada’s Food Guide, from the science behind it, to the policies and programs that stem from it and it’s relevance to Canadians, the “changing food supply, population and demographics,” spokesperson Eric Morrissette wrote in an email.

It’s part of a new, “recently implemented” review process to “ensure Canada’s Food Guide and related dietary guidance, continue to be current and useful,” the statement says.

The Food Guide, a rainbow graphic of food groups and portion sizes explaining how we should spend our daily calories, was last updated in 2007 — despite a rising chorus of criticism from academics and clinicians. They say it is outdated, based on observations rather than hard science and focused on nutrients when it should emphasize whole foods.

“We need to throw out the idea that dietary recommendations can be built off nutrient requirements,” says Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, a vocal critique of the guide. “We don’t shop for nutrients, we shop for food.”

Freedhoff adds that Canada’s official food rules do little for public health, but “quite a lot” to serve the interests of the food industry.

Health claims associated with the guide, such as “low in fat” and “no added sugar,” give hyper processed foods the illusion of “health in a box,” he says.

That puts the onus on the shopper to study “poorly designed nutrition fact panels,” and try to figure out whether the package is telling truth or not, he says.

Manual Arango, director of Health Policy for The Heart and Stroke Foundation, says it’s time the guide was revised — especially in its treatment of sugar.

Health Canada makes no distinction between added sugars, which are added in processing, and “free sugars,” which exist unbound from the whole foods they come from, he says, citing juice as a prime example.

Currently, the food guide says that a 1/2 cup of juice can stand in for a serving of whole fruit.

Calling it “sugar water,” Arango says he wants Health Canada to remove the recommendation immediately.

“It’s bananas,” he says. “Pure pulp fiction.”

Criticisms of the guide range widely: fruits and vegetables should be separated into two groups because Canadians already eat enough watermelon and grapes, but not enough veggies, like beets and eggplant, experts say.

Fats are absent — and they shouldn’t be, some experts say — especially with emerging evidence showing it is not fat that’s bad, but the food it comes from.

Even the science behind it is under scrutiny’s lens, says physician and University of Toronto nutritional sciences associate professor Dr. John Sievenpiper. “A big critique right now is that we don’t measure well,” he says. “We lack the big trials … the randomized trials.”

Valerie Tarasuk, professor at the University of Toronto’s Nutritional Sciences Department, says the guide, food groupings and portion sizes, are based on “sound scientific principles” and draw attention to how a healthy diet is made up of a spectrum of different foods.

If Canadians could only follow it, they would meet their nutritional needs, she says. The controversy arises from a misunderstanding of what the guide should be used for. “It’s not a prescription,” she says. “It’s an educational tool.”

Kate Comeau, registered dietitian and Dietitians of Canada spokesperson, agrees the guide is effective at starting a conversation about nutrition — with some groups, she says. But it’s “not for everyone.”

And, says Joanne Lewis, of the Diabetes Association, it is certainly not the only factor that contributes to health, and chronic disease. The environment of eating, she says, including food labels, marketing and access to food — are all important to healthier eating, she says.

If anything, what’s broken, she says, is “the way we implement” the food guide. “I would hope that the food guide is revised based on any new evidence out there.”


Sugary drinks linked to 1,600 Canadian deaths a year: Study

Report ties sugar-sweetened beverages to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer


Liquid candy is killing us.

So say the results of a new study, which holds sugary drinks responsible for the death of 1,600 Canadians annually.

That’s more than four deaths per day, and higher than most other wealthy industrialized countries, said Dariush Mozaffarian, senior author and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston.

“We know that sugar-sweetened beverages are cause-and-effect for obesity and diabetes,” he told the Toronto Star. “There’s no intrinsic health value to it. There’s plenty of replacements. This is an easy problem to fix.

“We just have to stop drinking sugary beverages,” he added.

Those beverages include soda pop, energy and sports drinks as well as fruit beverages, sweetened iced teas and homemade sugary drinks like frescas.

The global report, published recently in the journal Circulation, evaluated statistics to estimate how many deaths were directly attributable to sugar-sweetened beverages in 2010. The conclusion: 184,000 worldwide.

The study found that diabetes induced by excessive consumption of sugary beverages was responsible for more than 70 per cent of those deaths, with cardiovascular disease and cancer trailing behind at 25 per cent and four per cent respectively.

And while 40 per cent fewer Canadians per capita die as a result of sugary drinks than in the United States, at least twice as many of us die due to the habit than in Great Britain and France, the study found.

Mozaffarian stressed the need to change the culture around soft drinks, “so that it’s not cool to drink a one-litre Big Gulp with your friends.”

He criticized sports and film celebrities for promoting energy drinks and soft drinks.

“Those movie stars would never do commercials and advertise tobacco to kids.”

Sugary drinks are the main source of added sugars in the Canadian diet, said Lesley James, a health policy analyst at the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

“Canadians are often unaware of how much sugar they’re consuming in beverage form. And the more you drink, the higher your risk is of these adverse health effects,” she said.

The foundation is pushing for a levy on sugary drink producers to force them to hike the price in hopes of scaring away customers. It says the revenue would go toward healthy lunch programs in schools across the country.

It is also calling for a legislated ban on free refills of fountain pop at chain restaurants.

“It’s liquid candy,” said Corinne Voyer, director of the Quebec Coalition on Weight-Related Problems.

A bottle of pop hits the body a lot harder than, say, a cookie, “because the sugar goes so fast into your body and your liver has to work to metabolize it all,” Voyer said. “It makes the liver very fat.”

Health Canada announced plans earlier this month for redesigned nutrition labels that will highlight added sugars and standardize portion sizes on food packaging.

“Health Canada is in the process of reviewing the evidence base for its current guidance on healthy eating to Canadians, including how the existing guidance is being used by health professionals, educators and consumer,” spokesperson Eric Morrissette wrote in an email.

Earlier this year, Ontario passed a law requiring large food chains to post calories for food and beverage items on menus.

The Tufts University study examined dietary surveys and national data across 187 countries from 1980 to 2010.