Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Why industry shouldn’t have special input into the food guide

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With the recent public consultation on the new Canadian “food guide” just coming to an end I’ve been noticing a lot of push-back from industry. There was a letter from a MP voicing concern about the new food guide as the new guiding principles seem to be steering people away from animal-based sources of protein and encouraging the consumption of more plant-based proteins. “I am concerned that the guiding principles released by Health Canada for Canada’s new food guide may have significant negative impacts on Canada’s meat and dairy sectors, and also the health of Canadians,” said Miller.

There was also a news clip featuring a spokesman from the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association voicing “concern” that Canadians will be nutrient deficient if they replace meat with chickpeas.

There’s been an entire website set-up by Canadian Dairy Farmers entitled “Keep Canadians Healthy” with the message being that people need to drink more (cow’s) milk and that the new food guide is going to “discourage Canadians from consuming dairy and meat products”. They go on to say that, “Left unchecked, Health Canada’s recommendations will not only cripple an important Canadian industry, but have long-term health consequences for all Canadians.” 

These examples are exactly why so many of us dietitians, doctors, and others have been complaining about the direct involvement of industry in developing previous iterations of the food guide. I can understand why those whose livelihood depends on the sale of dairy and beef would be concerned that the new food guide will (likely) not continue to serve as free advertising of their products. Although nobody really pays the food guide much heed anyway when they’re deciding what to put in their mouths.

The purpose of the food guide is to help Canadians to eat healthy. The food guide should be based on the best possible evidence. If you think that the dairy and beef (or any other food industry for that matter) has your health at heart you are sorely mistaken. Their goal is to make more money by selling more product.

As a dietitian, it’s my professional goal to help people to eat better. I don’t have any products to sell. I consume dairy products and meat (although I don’t consume much meat). I’m not trying to destroy the beef or dairy industries. I can honestly tell you that most Canadians would benefit from consuming less meat and that it’s not necessary to drink milk to meet specific nutrient needs. Most of us could stand to consume more plants and more plant sources of protein. It’s highly unlikely that anyone in Canada is going to suffer from nutrient deficiencies because Health Canada finally grew a backbone and stopped allowing industries to shape the food guide. Also, the food guide is not going to be telling people to become vegan or vegetarian, it’s hopefully (and rightfully) going to encourage people to consume less meat and more plants.

No food guide is ever going to be perfect. It’s never going to satisfy everyone and I’m sure that I’ll find something wrong with it when it’s released. However, as I’ve said before, it’s a guide, not a bible. It’s a tool to help people to make healthier choices. By using current evidence to inform the content, we’re already a step closer to a better tool.

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Putting the “twit” in twitter: a look at kale

I was taking a break from trying to figure out what to blog about and reading my twitter feed when I was inspired by a tweet: “Fun stat: Kale has more iron in it than beef and Kale chips are YUM. Also a good source of protein,calcium,and fibre. More calcium than milk”. Was this tweeted by someone with any sort of nutrition background. Nope. I love that the Internet gives everyone a voice. Unfortunately, that’s also the downfall of the Internet. Misinformation is easily spread with the click of a button. What’s wrong with this tweet in particular? It’s not that kale isn’t great. Kale is awesome and probably the most nutritious of all the leafy greens. The problem is that the facts provided in this tweet are misleading. Let’s look at a comparison of the iron in kale and beef: one serving of kale (1/2 cup cooked) contains 0.62 mg of iron, one serving of beef (75 g cooked steak) contains 2.06 mg of iron. You don’t have to be a math whiz to figure out that the beef clearly has considerably more iron than the kale. It’s also important to bear in mind that the form of iron in meat (i.e. heme iron) is more easily absorbed than the non-heme iron found in plants. That means that you’ll absorb a greater percentage of the iron in the beef than you will of the iron in the kale (or any other plant-based source of iron). Now what about the other nutrient claims in this tweet… Is kale a good source of protein? 1.3 g. Not too bad, also important to keep in mind that it’s not a complete protein, it doesn’t contain all of the essential amino acids. That means that you need to include other sources of protein to get all of the amino acids your body needs. Is kale a good source of calcium? 49 mg. Not too shabby, right? Well, the recommended daily intake of calcium for adults between 19-50 years of age is 1, 000 mg so you still need a LOT more sources of calcium in your diet. Is it more calcium than milk? One cup of milk has 316 mg of calcium. Even if we go measure for measure, milk has way more calcium in it than kale does. How about fibre then? 1.4 g. That’s okay. At the lowest end of fibre recommendations it’s about 6% of what an adult should be getting in a day.

I don’t want to come across all down on kale. I truly love kale and I think it’s a great food. I just don’t want people to read one misinformed tweet and think that kale is a magic food providing them with practically all of the nutrients they need. As I’ve said before; there are NO super foods! You need to consume a variety of foods to obtain all of the nutrients that your body needs to function at its best.