Canada’s Food Guide is on the verge of a giant update. This is good news, as this is the first update since 2007, and nutrition books written in 2012 are now considered to be outdated.
This food guide may be leading your life more than you think, as it is often the resource for nutritionists, doctors and teachers. It can be the first voice in your head on what makes up a balanced plate, and those first voices can be hard to shake. (Mom? What do you think about this article? Mom?)
The first publication was 75 years ago, and its most common criticism is that it hasn't changed enough over such a substantial amount of time. There is speculation that dairy may be eliminated as a food group in the updated version, and there may be more emphasis on plant-based sources of protein over animal protein as part of a healthy diet. At the moment, the "milk and alternatives" column suggests 2 servings for adults between the ages of 19 and 50. This can include canned evaporated milk, fortified soy beverages, kefir, milk, cheese or yogurt (where is the almond milk?) Canada's guide also suggests looking for lower fat milk alternatives, even though the present science seems to still skew in favor of full fat dairy.
The US Food Pyramid, in contrast, does not suggest “milk alternatives” at all. Although the pyramid is simpler, it is also vague. 2-3 servings of milk, yogurt and cheese does not take into effect age, lactose tolerance or dietary preference. Their current food pyramid was considered to be the basic guideline for Americans until it was replaced by MyPlate in 2011.
In age of gluten fear, the emphasis on grains in both guides is also extremely interesting. Canada’s guide suggests between 6-7 servings of grains per day for women, and 8 for men. This can include ½ a bagel, which means that three bagels a day could technically constitute healthy eating. The US pyramid suggests between 6-11 servings, which includes such tasty (and questionably healthy) cartoons of a baguette, a bowl of spaghetti and saltine crackers.
The US also has a reference to simplify things for those who do not want to figure out the exact servings of vegetables they should be consuming per day (3-5 servings of vegetables for Americans as well as 2-4 servings of fruit, 7-10 servings of both for Canadians). MyPlate divides a plate so that there is room for fruits, grains, vegetables, protein and dairy. It offers no indications of the importance of whole foods (a hot dog is a valuable protein source), recommends dairy at every meal, and does not distinguish between leafy green vegetables and potatoes.
Food culture has changed significantly over the last 75 years, and we want to know more about where our food comes from and how it best serves us. Right now, both guides focus on food serving size and do not seem to allow room for cultural variation.
It appears we have a long way to go before we get a guide that accurately reflects us as a nation, while remaining simple in its format.
What would you want to be in our new food guide?