Hungry for a better Canada Food Guide
Eat dark green vegetables, avoid saturated fats and be sure to get your calcium: the advice handed out by yesterday's new Canada Food Guide seems a bit simplistic. The new guide--which is the first major overhaul that Health Canada has put together in 15 years--may have cute pictures of such multiculti foods as bok choy and paneer, but whether it will really help Canadians make healthier food choices isn't that clear.
As pointed out by the CBC, corporate agricultural interests participated in the roundtables that helped form the new guide, which poses quite a few dilemmas. "We are the No. 2 beef producer in the world," Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, who treats obesity at the Bariatric Institute in Ottawa, is quoted as saying by the CBC. "I imagine that may well impact or handcuff in some way, shape or form to make appropriate recommendations about beef consumption." Perhaps similar reasoning is behind the recommendation to "make at least half of your grain products whole grain each day." As far as I knew, refined grains were empty calories all of the time--delicious, but just about junk food. Something smells a little bit fishy...
In a recent article titled "The Age of Nutritionism," the entertaining and informative food journalist Michael Pollan (if you're remotely interested in this topic, start reading his The Omnivore's Dilemma right now) points out that the nutritional advice most needed by consumers of an affluent Western diet isn't about what we need to add to our diets--what we really need to learn is what to take out. The bottom line is that most of us could stand with less meat and dairy going into our bodies. But less is a lot less fun (and a lot less profit), so somehow we're being told to eat more foods, just the low-fat ones. Hence the recommendation for skim, 1% and 2% milk, a recommendation that farmers' market expert Nina Planck vehemently disagrees with. Can we all just please stop demonizing fat? It keeps our joints loose, it keeps our eyes working and some scientists theorize that saturated animal fats is what fed our brains during the most crucial parts of our evolution into human beings. Yes, too many French fries are bad for you, but there is absolutely a place in a healthy diet for natural fats. In fact, trans fats, which are just about the scariest fats of all, are the result of trying to engineer lower fat foods. We've done the Americans one better, as yesterday's release does recommend that Canadians consume a "small amount" of fats each day, but nowhere is that "small amount" qualified.
My last rant concerns a major aspect of "healthy" eating that doesn't even appear in the guide at all--organic and sustainable foods, and the chemicals we're unwittingly ingesting every day. There's a section on "Genetically Modified (GM) Foods & Other Novel Foods that lets you know the Health Canada definition of such, and informs you of all of the GM foods they've approved for your consumption lately (mmm, I can't wait to try Monsanto's new Glyphosate Tolerant Soybeans). I'd feel a lot more secure about trusting them if they were telling me which Novel Foods they weren't slipping into my food system. The words "organic" or "sustainable" don't seem to appear on the site at all--ok, so this is about eating, not farming, but as Pollan and a whole lot of other people (Thomas Pawlick's The End of Food is a Canadian look at industrial farming) have pointed out, the foods we're eating today have a lot less nutrients and vitamins than the same foods just a few decades ago, thanks to the deteriorating soil quality that's the result of monoculture farming. Maybe if the Food Guide took notice of organic or sustainable farming, it wouldn't have to recommend all of those supplements, which many say aren't as effective as eating naturally vitamin-rich foods anyway.
So thanks, Health Canada, for trying. But until I feel sure that corporate interests aren't telling you what to tell me about what to eat, I guess I'm just going to have to navigate the confusing world of healthy eating on my own.
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