As a child, I took the information provided in USDA’s Food Pyramid without question. Every time I had a bowl of cereal or yogurt, I believed I was growing strong bones and a healthy body. The United States government spent years feeding me the mantra, “milk does a body good,” so why would I doubt them? Governments have a lot of power over the dietary choices of average citizens. Unfortunately, most governments also have a hand in the meat and dairy industry, so their advice is often biased.
Recently, Health Canada–the department of the government of Canada with responsibility for national public health–decided to revise Canada’s National Recommended Food Guide System in order to strengthen its recommendations for healthy eating. It all started in the fall of 2016 when Health Canada reached out to Canadians for input on what they expected from a revised National Food Guide. The Canadian government received almost 20,000 responses and used that input to develop the newest list of recommendations for healthy eating. But why is this such a big deal?
Health Canada’s newest draft of the Food Guide System removes the archaic method of cherry-picking food groups and instead focuses on guiding principles to build a foundation of healthy eating that reduces the risk of nutrition-related chronic disease. This Food Guide specifically reinforces the importance of “consuming whole grains and protein-rich foods, especially plant-based sources of protein” and eliminates any mention of dairy, instead encouraging citizens to regularly consume water.
The government’s recommendations do not just come from the responses of everyday citizens. Health Canada has used a systematic approach to gathering and analyzing data applicable to dietary guidance called the Evidence Review Cycle for Dietary Guidance or ERC. The ERC seeks to ensure that recommendations from Health Canada are scientifically sound, current, and practical. A scientific and well-documented approach helps ensure that future generations continue this approach to developing dietary guidelines.
In addition to making these dietary suggestions, the draft also addresses the environmental implications of supporting the animal-based industrial system. The document states, “Diets higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods are associated with a lesser environmental impact.” Statements like these encourage people to take the long-term view that plant-based and sustainable foods are better for our bodies and the planet.
Never before has a government made such significant changes in the name of public health. The Canadian government is making a targeted effort to positively influence the dietary patterns of millions of citizens. Instead of a confusing food pyramid or plate, the guidelines give explicit instructions. This straightforward advice is exactly what people need to make informed decisions about food.
The major reason Health Canada’s efforts have been successful in the initial stages is that industry-commissioned reports were excluded from consideration during the revision process. However, as you can see in this video created by the Dairy Farmers of Canada, the meat and dairy industries will not take this lying down.
There is still more to be done. Health Canada is soliciting contributions to their online consultation, which will help finalize the recommendations into consumer messages, tools, and resources for rollout in early 2018. The deadline to contribute is August 14, 2017. Let’s use our collective power to change the world, one meal at a time.
How have your attitudes about food been shaped by governmental guidelines? Has your approach to nutrition changed over the years?
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