Healthy Eating: Is the Canada Food Guide Wrong?

Are the food guidelines put out by the Canadian government and other major health organizations leading us astray?

Credit: Curb Ivanic

Shop around the perimeter of the grocery store to get the healthiest foods

With all our technological advances, why does healthy eating still seem so complex?

Governments and major health organizations such as the Heart and Stroke Foundation put out guidelines that supposedly tell you how to eat a healthy diet.

Thankfully, the Government of Canada’s outdated Food Guide was recently updated to list fruits and veggies as the main food group.

Canada Food Guide As the secondary major food group, their guide lists processed carbohydrates such as breads, pasta and cereal.

In the past, the processed carb group was listed as the primary food group, so at least they corrected this by listing fruits and vegetables first.

But they still have it wrong.

For optimum health benefits processed carbs should not form a major component of your diet.

Not only is that my opinion, but it’s also the opinion of many nutrition and health researchers.

In the last few years there have been a number of prominent papers and letters written in research journals criticizing the public food guides. Most of these were published in American journals and took aim at the U.S. government’s dietary recommendations. But there is enough similarity between the American guide and the Canadian one that these criticisms can apply to our own government’s dietary guidelines.

The most recent criticism was published in the October 2010 in the journal Nutrition. This report concluded:

“The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) Report does not provide sufficient evidence to conclude that increases in whole grain and fiber and decreases in dietary saturated fat, salt, and animal protein will lead to positive health outcomes. Lack of supporting evidence limits the value of the proposed recommendations as guidance for consumers or as the basis for public health policy. It is time to reexamine how US dietary guidelines are created and ask whether the current process is still appropriate for our needs.”

Lack of Evidence for Nutritional Guidelines

The main criticism in this report, as well as others, is that public nutritional recommendations are put together based on shoddy science.

And I fully agree. There are too many interest groups that have a say in the final design of the food guides.

The CBC did a great report a few years ago that showed the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s “Health Check” label was basically for sale. (I’d give you a link to the episode but it’s no longer online).

I’ll put it to you simply. The healthiest food choices don’t scream at you how healthy they are. They don’t need a sticker or label to list ingredients.

I took the picture for this post from a recent trip to the grocery store. I was picking up a few things we needed. Most of the items came from the perimeter of the store: fruit, salad, fresh halibut, nuts, full-fat organic yogurt, cream for our morning coffee and almond milk that I use for my smoothies. Not too much label reading required.

Nutrient Timing

I’m not completely against breads and pastas. These types of food can be eaten in moderation.

More importantly, there is a specific time when these types of foods are best eaten. Processed carbohydrates like these are best eaten after exercise or other vigorous physical activity.

So if you’ve worked out go ahead and have some pasta. But if you haven’t, skip the spaghetti dinner and eat some veggies and protein instead.

My recommendations to you for a food guide would be to mostly eat food that our ancestors would recognize as food. Use the 80/20 rule: 80% of your food should be “real” and 20% should come from a box or a can and even then, look for minimal ingredients.