Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Is Canada’s Food Guide making us fat?

Oh goodie. Nina Teicholz is at it again (still at it?). In an article in the National Post the other day she purportedly claimed that the cause of obesity in Canada is our strong adherence to Canada’s Food Guide.

See, that might be a remotely good argument if Canadians were actually following Canada’s Food Guide (even then, the causal relationship is unlikely). However, we’re not. Not even close. Only one quarter of the population (two years of age and over) met the minimum recommendation for vegetables and fruit according to one study. Similar results are consistently found through the CCHS (Canadian Community Health Survey administered by Stats Canada). We don’t eat enough vegetables and fruit, we don’t get enough milk (or alternatives), we eat too much meat…

Even if it were true that we were all following Canada’s Food Guide there are significant flaws with this logic. One, it’s a spurious correlation. You know, like the correlation between the number of people tripping over their own feet and dying and the number of lawyers in Nevada.

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Just because two things happen to correlation doesn’t mean that there’s a connection between them. Just because obesity rates have been rising since the latest incarnation of CFG doesn’t mean that the CFG caused the rise in obesity.

Two, what about the rising obesity rates across the planet? Does Teicholz mean to suggest that Brits, Americans, and Australians are all strictly adhering to the Canadian Food Guide? Who knew our guide was so popular!?

Three, obesity rates were quite likely rising before we adopted Canada’s Food Guide. Both in Canada, and around the world. It’s impossible to say what the trend in obesity would have been if Canada’s Food Guide hadn’t been adopted in the 1980s. It’s possible that the trajectory would have been the same. Maybe it would have been even more rapid, slower, or dropped. There’s probably no causal relationship between the adoption of our national food guide and the increase in obesity rates.

Fortunately, there’s a voice of reason. Unfortunately, it comes in at the end of the article (after most people have likely stopped reading). Lyons says what I’ve said all too often, that we shouldn’t be demonizing or glorifying any foods. Rather than go all-in on saturated fat, we should be consuming fat from a variety of sources (save for man-made trans-fat). Rather than go from low-fat to high-fat we should consume a variety of foods. Let’s not sweat the small stuff so much.


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Should Canada take a page out of the Brazilian Food Guide?

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Examples of Brazilian lunches from the Dietary Guidelines for the Brazilian Population used under a Creative Commons Licence.

I was reading this article about The best and worst nutritional advice from around the world today (yesterday if you’re reading this on the day it’s posted, but that’s neither here nor there) and the criticism of Canada’s Food Guide got under my skin.

If you’ve been with me for a while then you’ll know that I’m no great fan of our Food Guide. However, it doesn’t feature chocolate milk or pudding. In fact, it doesn’t mention them at all. There is an accompanying site from Health Canada called My Food Guide. This interactive tool allows you to personalise the guide by inputting your age and sex and selecting from lists of foods that you enjoy. Chocolate milk and pudding are a couple of the foods included on the milk and alternatives list. Unfortunate, certainly. I’d still argue that they’re not present on Canada’s Food Guide, let alone “featured”. In my mind this is Canada’s Food Guide:

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What do you think? Is the print version of Canada’s Food Guide The Food Guide or does the online interactive My Food Guide constitute Canada’s Food Guide? Maybe it’s just semantics.

This all lead me to think more about the comparisons of the various food guides and I don’t really think that they’re fair comparisons. I’m not even sure how valid the criticisms of the “worst” guides are. Is it really so terrible that the Italian food guide includes things like salami and biscuits? I think it’s good that they’re providing recognition of realistic eating patterns and including foods that can be part of a healthy diet. As long as the intent and interpretation don’t lead people to believe that the Italian government is recommending that people eat more cured meat and cookies.

The criticism of the Japanese food guide is that grains are recommended as the foundation of the diet. Again, not necessarily a terrible recommendation. We need to acknowledge that there are cultural differences and that there is no definitive “right” or “wrong” diet. Grains can be the foundation of a healthy diet. In Canada when I was a kid the Food Guide actually featured grains as the dominant colour in the rainbow. This was switched to vegetables and fruit because they provide us with more nutrients for fewer calories as obesity became a growing concern in our country. This doesn’t mean that a healthy diet can’t contain plenty of grains, this was just an easy switch to make on the food guide to encourage weight loss. Not that it’s made an iota of difference.

Okay, so the “worst” advice isn’t really all that terrible. How great is the “best”? It is pretty great. From a professional standpoint. The Brazilian guidelines are 80 pages. The Swedish are 26. Both documents are very thorough and take a whole food approach rather than focussing on single nutrients. Excellent but not exactly something that you can easily handout to a patient or client or stick to the fridge.

Considering that about half of our population struggles with low literacy, how useful would it be for us to have an 80 page food guide? Even if people could read it I’m highly doubtful that many would. I copied and pasted some of the text from the Brazilian guide into Hemmingway app and it came up at a grade 15 level! That’s not exactly easy reading.

Yes, our Canadian Food Guide could certainly use a make-over. We could take a page from Brazil. I don’t know about all 80 though. Comparing it to these lengthy documents is like comparing apples to oranges or chocolate milk to plain kefir.


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The relationship between dietitians and the Food Guide

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I spend a lot of time explaining the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist to people. I’ve done it on this very blog. I was doing this recently when someone jumped in to say that dietitians go by the Food Guide. It’s funny because I would never think to mention Canada’s Food Guide when explaining the difference between RDs and RHNs to anyone. It’s true that we are taught about the Food Guide during our degree but it’s not something I’ve used much in practice. I can understand why RHNs (and others) would sound a little disdainful when claiming that dietitians follow the Food Guide. After all, I’ve voiced disdain toward the Food Guide myself.

Perhaps some dietitians use Canada’s Food Guide as a bible but I think that most of us, if we use it at all, it’s as a guide. It’s a tool, albeit not a great one; designed to help people make healthy food choices that will meet their nutrient needs. Unfortunately, the government allowed industry to have a voice at the table when the Food Guide was being developed. Industry has the goal of boosting profits. This is generally incompatible with the goal of boosting Canadians health.

Dietitians have many different roles and I certainly can’t claim to speak for all members of the profession. However, in addition to being taught the Food Guide in University we were also taught to think critically. I would hope that this would translate into the Food Guide not being a factor when comparing dietitians and nutritionists.


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Follow Friday: Survey on Canada’s Food Guide

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Okay, readers… Here’s your chance to submit your thoughts on Canada’s Food Guide. Everyone can participate, not just those who use the Food Guide in their work. Most of the questions are multiple choice but at the end you can submit comments. A great opportunity to say that you would be more onboard with the CFG if it were based on scientific evidence and the food industry was not allowed at the table. Or whatever you want!

The survey closes on May 17th so you have a week to complete it. It only takes about 5 minutes. Please share it with others so that as much useful feedback can be submitted as possible.


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Dietitians of Canada remove themselves from corporate sponsors back pockets!

Exciting news: at the close of Nutrition Month it seems that Dietitians of Canada has heard the pleas of many of us Canadian dietitians. As of next year they will no longer be accepting sponsorship from the food industry! This means members will no longer receive coupons for such products as bologna, nutrition posters prominently featuring pork, or fact sheets developed by multinational soft drink companies. This also means that Nutrition Month will be about improving the nutrition of the general population as it will no longer be driven by the agendas of sponsors such as Dairy Farmers of Canada and Hellman’s Mayonnaise. In the long-term it may even mean the elimination of Milk and Alternatives as a food group on Canada’s Food Guide. Imagine the possibilities that can be explored by a national dietetic body driven solely by scientifically proven nutrition research and common sense!

 

 

April Fools! If only it were true…

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