Canada’s Food Guide Gets Major Revamp With Less Focus on Milk and Meat

Photo: Deryn Macey on Unsplash

I can bring to mind the Canada’s Food Guide to which I was introduced in primary school.

There were darling illustrations of food, divided into four colour-coded quadrants. A chicken — and what I assumed was her egg — in one section, a whole loaf of bread featured in another, an entire segment dedicated to dairy, and, included with the produce group, a bi-coloured fruit that I can’t place to this day.

In the middle of this grid, a smiling sun reassured me that this was diet at its happiest.

It was reported last week that the food guide is in the process of a revision, to be finalized and released later this year. It will mark the eighth iteration since launching  as “Canada’s Official Food Rules” in 1942.

The latest version is described as favouring plants and plant-based protein over meat and dairy. The guide is also said to be going from four to three food groups; “vegetables and fruits,” “whole grains,” and a new “protein foods.”

Dedicated meat and dairy groups will be no more.

Instead, they will be folded in with other protein sources like newcomers tofu and chickpeas.

Since autumn of 2016, Health Canada has been consulting with regular Canadians as well as stakeholders who they define as “participants who are interested in or affected by Health Canada’s healthy eating initiatives.” That wouldn’t include food industry lobbyists, the agency promised.

But big meat and big dairy are doing some airing of grievances.

Isabelle Neiderer, the director of nutrition and research at Dairy Farmers of Canada, told the Globe and Mail, “Putting all those foods together in one food group sends the wrong message that these foods are interchangeable.” She insists that milk products provide nutrients such as calcium that average Canadians are often lacking.

And Alberta Beef Producers representative Tom Lynch-Staunton also expressed concern about the new protein group, telling the Globe and Mail, “That can be dangerous, especially if people think that they’re getting the same nutrient equivalency when they eat a serving, of, say, black beans, as beef.”

But, as CBC News reported, a review Health Canada did in 2015 stated: “Less than half the food choices in the dairy group were ‘in line’ with food guide guidance.”

As for meat, according to the same review “more than 60 per cent of the choices in the meat and alternatives group failed to match food guide recommendations.”

And Health Canada appears to be standing its ground, if diplomatically.

In an email, spokesperson Geoffroy Legault-Thivierge told CBC News: “As indicated in the proposed guiding principles, the new food guide will continue to recommend Canadians choose a variety of nutritious foods and beverages, which includes lower fat milk and yogurt, and cheeses lower in sodium and fat.”

I, for one, am looking forward to seeing the treatment tofu gets on this new, nutrition-first guide — the kid in me is rooting for a spongy wedge of the soy-based protein alternative sporting a gracious grin.