Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Another hot take on Canada’s new food guide

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You all know that I can always find something to bitch about. I’m that girl who’s always the one to find a bug in her freshly picked raspberries or the bone in her piece of fish. My mum will attest to that. It was a running joke in my family that if there was anything weird to be found in the food, I would be the one to find it. So, it should come as no surprise that I have lots to say about the new food guide. But… it may come as a surprise that I don’t actually have anything negative to say about it! In fact, I think it’s pretty fucking great.

In no particular order, here are the changes that I’m most excited about:

  • The addition of food skills (and food literacy). This is literally 85% of my job and it feels really good to have Health Canada supporting it as an important part of healthy eating.
  • The removal of juice as a serving of fruit. It’s going to be so nice not to have to deal with that terrible piece of advice anymore.
  • The removal of serving sizes and recommended number of servings. They confused people and it’s impossible to make recommendations that will work for the entire population. I can’t wait to no longer hear “I can’t eat ALL that” again.
  • I’m glad they got rid of the meat and alternatives and milk and alternatives food groups and lumped them into a proteins group from which they encourage plant-based sources of protein.
  • I appreciate the inclusion of Indigenous foods and ways of eating and the acknowledgement that many people in remote communities and on reserves may struggle to meet the recommendations in the food guide.
  • Following from that, I also appreciate the recognition that external factors, in particular, many social determinants of health, can affect the ability of people to follow a healthy diet.
  • I’m glad that water is recommended as the beverage of choice, again bye bye juice and chocolate milk 👋🏻👋🏻👋🏻
  • I like that the emphasis is on promoting health and only once is weight mentioned. As I’ve ranted about in the past, the food guide is not supposed to be a weight loss diet plan.
  • The photos included in the guide are really appealing. They look way more appetizing to me than the old cartoonish images did. Plus, they’re all about full meals and not just random foods.
  • The overall focus is on a healthy pattern of eating, not just individual nutrients. Much more in-line with how we actually eat. Plus it’s advised that we enjoy (wow!) our food.

My one concern (aside from a couple of very minor things) is that apparently Health Canada does not plan on making the resources for the general public available in print. I think this is a huge mistake. Not everyone has ready Internet access. Also, the old food guide was used in schools and other educational settings (including the food literacy classes I teach) as a teaching tool. I work in public health and we get MANY requests from schools, organizations, and individuals for copies of the food guide. I’m not sure how we’re going to educate people and incorporate the food guide into our programs if we don’t have a print resource available. I hope that Health Canada will reconsider this decision so that everyone has equal opportunity to benefit from the new food guide.


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Six by Sixteen: Education or marketing?

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Image by Rob on Flickr. Used under a Creative Commons Licence

Six by Sixteen is a “new” initiative by the Ontario Federation of Agriculture to get kids cooking. The idea is that all children should be able to cook at least six things by the time that they’re sixteen.

It was much lauded when it was announced last year. Then their website sat as a placeholder for some time. Last week it was finally populated. There are some videos, links to where to find local food, and a section on healthy eating (which just takes you to links on where to find local foods, what local foods are in season, and Canada’s Food Guide). Essentially the website is a repository of links to pre-existing sites and materials.

I’d like to be excited about this. I think that food skills are very much lacking in our society. I want to applaud any effort to increase the profile of food literacy. I hope that OFA is successful in doing that with this site. However, I think that this initiative could be so much more than it is.

As this is an initiative to promote food literacy I think that more than producers should be involved. There should be dietitians and chefs involved, at the very least. Healthy eating is so much more than knowing where to find local food and having a copy of Canada’s Food Guide. Food literacy is about so much more than being able to boil an egg.

I really hope that OFA will start working with other groups to expand the content and reach of this initiative because it could be really great. As it stands, it’s underwhelming and seems to be more of a marketing tool for its partners than as a truly educational resource.


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Don’t do the crime if you can’t stand the cold food in the kitchen

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In the news last week was an exposé of prison food in British Colombia. Allegedly, prisoners have become ill after eating food distributed to prisons from a central kitchen. Sometimes prisons have run out of food before all of the prisoners have been served, leaving inmates to go hungry. Based on the comments, it seems that most people believe that prisoners should suck it up. After all, they’re criminals and are lucky that they’re getting food from our tax dollars. How dare they ask for food that’s safe or even nutritious. Just a taste of some of the comments:

Just looked at their menus they eat better than I do! Ohh and I work and pay taxes! These bums have a lot of nerve complaining. Try working for a living, try feeding your children and being a good parent. They blame society inequality and drugs for all their problems… The reality is there’s only one person to blame the one in the mirror! Do inmates children on the outside have enough to eat? Are they warm at night? Theses looser bring children into the world and forgo their responsibility…

Don’t like the food? Don’t put yourself in a position where you may go there.

Cry me a river. A murderer complaining that his prison food is not to his liking.

I know, I know “never read the comments”… I did it for you!

I think that many people are missing the point. Everyone deserves access to safe and nutritious food. If our prisons are intended to rehabilitate people who have committed crimes (which they ostensibly are) then nutritious food is an important component of that process. A number of studies have shown that nutrition affects cognition and behaviour (1, 2, 3). I’m sure that most of us have anecdotal experiences of the effects of poor (or good) nutrition on mood and behaviour. I know that I felt pretty crappy after the weekend I survived on primarily poutine, coffee, and beer. And that was one weekend! Imagine the effect that long-term malnutrition can have on mood and behaviour. I’m not saying that prisoners should be eating gourmet meals every day. However, if we want to rehabilitate inmates and have more of them re-enter society as contributing members then we need to provide them with the tools they need to do so. Good nutrition, and the ability to prepare nutritious meals upon release, is one of these tools.


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More on the return to home ec.

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I’ve been hearing a lot about the push for home economics (especially food skills) to return to high schools (as a mandatory course) in Ontario. I’m completely behind this idea. That being said, we were talking about that back when I worked in public health and that was more than two years ago (and I’m sure that the conversation predated my time). I’m not going to hold my breath.

 

I also think that we need to go further than reintroducing a re-vamped sexier home ec. in high schools. We need to catch kids when they’re young. Many elementary schools now have gardens which are a great way to teach children about growing, harvesting, and preparing food. They’re also great places for teaching children about math and other core subjects. I think that food literacy should be one of these school subjects. Children should receive more education about food and nutrition than the occasional food guide or guest dietitian presentation in health class.

 

If we want children to develop healthy habits for life then we need to show them what healthy living is. It’s not enough to ban cookies in the cafeterias. Our goal should be that no student should finish their school without knowing that carrots have green tops, they don’t come in cans, how to grow vegetables with or without a yard, how to prepare basic nutritious meals, how to slice and dice. We have to eat every day and we shouldn’t be allowing any more children to grow-up without the skills to feed themselves.


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Food literacy

A recent article posted by the CBC discussed how many Canadians have a poor understanding of calories. The gist was that many people don’t know how to read nutrition labels, don’t know how to estimate the number of calories in restaurant meals, and don’t know how much physical activity is necessary to burn off calories. To counter this, doctors are calling for better nutrition labels as well as labeling on menus. This is all well and fine but I think we need all of these things and more.

We need to improve food literacy. We need to get food education into schools. If kids are educated on label reading and other food skills, such as cooking, gardening, and nutrition, hopefully they’ll be better equipped to make healthy choices. They might even bring this new knowledge home and share it with their parents. Simply changing the information available is not going to be enough to change behaviours. Education and awareness are key and where better to start than with the captive audience of the next generation in schools.