The Canada Food Guide is one of the government’s most popular downloaded documents, second only to Income Tax forms. It has been seriously flawed since its inception in the 1940s and the current 2007 version is no exception. The next revision is expected in 2018-2019.
Although it was originally designed to ensure Canadians would meet their “nutrient” requirements, this focus on nutrients played straight into food industry hands. In many instances companies are allowed to advertise the presence or addition of specific nutrients on the front of their product packaging to imply the contents are healthful.
More serious has been Health Canada’s direct inclusion of food industry representatives in the creation of the Guide. Take for instance, the 12 member Food Guide Advisory Committee who played an important role in shaping the current guide. A quarter of these members came from industry. Every wonder how Milk became a food group of its own?
The BC Dairy Foundation’s mission statement is “to increase consumption of milk in BC” Their “nutrition education manager, Ms Massey was asked by the CBC about a study in the International Journal of Cancer that concluded that increased dairy consumption was associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer. Her flippant response was that wearing skirts was also associated with breast cancer but this didn't prove that they caused breast cancer. Dairy boards in BC and across Canada spend millions on pushing milk into Elementary school programs to brainwash new generations that it is an essential food group.
The executive director of the Vegetable Oil Industry of Canada (who also sat on the Advisory Committee) also had a big win when the Guide created a special box stating “include a small amount 30-45ml of unsaturated fat each day” . This adds over 35lbs of calories per year to an individual diet. Another member of the committee was the director of scientific and regulatory affairs at the Food & Consumer Products Manufacturers of Canada, who represented the interests of corporations such as PepsiCo Frito-Lay and Coca-Cola. Who hasn’t heard the message that it is OK to drink Coke and eat fast food as “part of a balanced diet”?
The Brazilian food guide, released in 2014, is an excellent example of what a food guide ought to be. It is based on the notion, and sound scientific evidence, that a diet based on home-cooked foods and minimally processed food is going to be healthy overall. The Brazilian guide moves beyond just food advice and provides lifestyle suggestions such as cooking at home as much as possible, eating with friends and family and being wary of food marketing.
Launched in 2015, the Swedish food guide is unique in the world. The Swedes have revised dietary guidelines to take into account the health of the planet and the impact of the human diet on the environment. It counsels its citizens not only to eat healthy, but to eat foods in season and from sustainable sources.