Health Canada is in the process of revising Canada’s Food Guide − last updated in 2007 – and physicians have raised some serious concerns. Despite wide access to the food guide, many Canadians are still not eating enough fruits and vegetables, and consume too much sodium. In addition, an estimated 60% of Canadian adults and nearly one-third of children are overweight or obese.
A new, modern food guide is needed that goes beyond daily consumption recommendations, and addresses larger nutrition issues, such as food insecurity, changing eating patterns and cultural preferences. Here are the CMA’s six recommendations for what the new version should include.
1. The food guide must go hand in hand with efforts to increase access to affordable, healthy food
- Education efforts such as the food guide are important to public health, but what about the many Canadians who don’t have access to − or simply cannot afford − nutritious food? The government must recognize that certain groups are particularly affected by food insecurity, such as Indigenous Canadians, households reliant on social assistance and households headed by single parents.
2. The food guide must be based on sound nutritional research
- Unhealthy diets are consistently linked with chronic disease − such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes – and increasing rates of obesity. A new food guide needs to incorporate emerging research on nutrition and health, consider the links between nutrition and disease, and identify the factors that influence healthy eating behaviours.
3. The Government of Canada must assure Canadians that the revision process is evidence based
- Canadians must be able to trust Canada’s Food Guide as a source of unbiased information. The guide must not favour certain products or food groups over others and should be complemented by the government’s work in other areas, such as eliminating the marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks to children.
4. The food guide must reflect the changing eating patterns of our evolving and increasingly multicultural society
- As Canada becomes more ethnically diverse, a new guide must consider cultural preferences, such as traditional foods and eating practices. It should also promote eating as a social undertaking − recognizing the role that food has in bringing people together – and support Canadians in developing basic, practical cooking skills.
5. The food guide must encourage Canadians to reduce their reliance on processed foods
- The guide should support Canadians in reducing their dependence on ultra-processed foods and restaurant meals, which are typically higher in calories and lower in vitamins and protein. In addition, calories consumed in liquid form, such as fruit juice, should be limited, especially for children.
6. The Government of Canada must produce simple, practical products for Canadians and clear dietary guidance for health professionals
- The food guide should be practical and easy-to-use. It should help Canadians better understand food labels and portion sizes. It should also be useful to people with certain health conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension, as well as pregnant and breast-feeding women. Finally, physicians must have easy access to the latest version of the guide, complemented by point-of-care tools to support conversations with patients.
The CMA has long supported access to healthy foods as way to improve health and well-being. Apart from the food guide, the CMA has been vocal on the nutrition facts table, front-of-package labelling, a ban on the marketing of food and beverages to children, and a levy on the manufacturers of sugar-sweetened beverages.