Health Canada, after many delays, finally released its new food guide for Canadians this week. While it hits the mark in some specific areas, it still depends on shaky evidence in many other areas.
Recommendations to drink water rather than sugar-laden fruit juices and sports drinks is certainly evidence-based. Sugar as an addictive substance that is a major contributor to obesity. Eating meals in a deliberate planned social environment and celebrating our cultural traditions is also very good advice. Careful meal planning that includes real unprocessed foods and eating out less often is also wise advice.
However, advice to avoid saturated fats is completely baseless. There has never been evidence that saturated fat is harmful. In fact more and more evidence suggest that societies that consume more fat and less carbohydrates are healthier and live longer. The 4 decade old advice to avoid fat has meant Canadians consume more carbohydrates. This has clearly been harmful to our population and has resulted in the current “Diabesity” epidemic with all its many consequences. In addition to advice to continue to reduce saturated fat, Health Canada has sided with plant-based diet advocates and reduce less red meat and dairy. There is no evidence that plant-based diets are healthier than balanced diets with meat and dairy. Evidence supports dairy consumption is associated with better health. Evidence against red meat is very weak and yet meat is the best source of essential fatty acids and muscle building amino acids.
Canadians are recommended to get the majority of their protein from plant-based sources, but in order to get enough protein, this means consuming high amounts of carbohydrates-rich vegetables which further contributes to the ongoing problem of weight gain and obesity. These vegetables, such as legumes, are healthy but to get enough protein have to be consumed in large carbohydrate-laden quantities. Vegetables need to be part of a balanced diet with meat protein included.
Another problem is including all Fruits and vegetables together. Fruits are completely different than vegetables, and some have compared fruit to “nature’s candy”. Our ancestors only had access to fruit in certain times of the year and usually used it to build fat stores before periods of privation before the lean winter months. Fruit is now available 365 days a year, and so we are constantly in feast mode, preparing for lean times, but we never experience famine to burn our fat stores off. Remember, geese are fed over-ripened fruit to create a fatty liver, foie gros, not fat! Fruit, particularly high sugar containing tropical fruits, need to be consumed with care and should not be considered in the same category as green leafy vegetables.
Finally, not all vegetables are the same. Starchy vegetables need to be consumed with care and limited in quantities. Similarly, grains, particularly highly processed ones, and used to make bread and pasta, contribute excess carbohydrate and also need to be eaten with care.
In short, the new food guide has moved in the correct evidence-based direction for some of these recommendations but where it strays away from evidence it contributes to misconceptions and will contribute to the ongoing obesity epidemic.
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