Here’s Why The New Canada’s Food Guide Is Not For Everyone

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It’s finally here! The new Canada’s Food Guide. As a dietitian and nutritionist, this kind of stuff excites me! To be completely honest, I was nervous not knowing what to expect, especially since there were so many problems with the old version. I have already provided some of my input for Yahoo News and Global.

Here’s what I like about the new Canada’s Food Guide:

  • Uses the plate model, which can be simple to follow for some

  • No more confusing serving sizes, which no one actually followed

  • No more food groups, which isn’t always relevant to everyone

  • There is an emphasis on drinking water as the main beverage of choice

  • Some info on how we should eat (i.e. eat with others, cook more, read labels etc)

All in all, I think it’s a good guide to get people to start thinking about eating healthy. You can say it provides general nutrition recommendations, for some.

Here’s the thing though, as a dietitian who is a visible minority with a diverse background, one of my main goals is to help others eat healthy without eliminating their cultural foods. As a Canadian, I love that we celebrate diversity. However, I don’t see the diversity reflected on the new food guide.

Here’s what I don’t like about the new guide: 

  • The plate image lacks cultural representation. I mean sure, there are some chickpeas and lentils in the protein section but they’re not in any cultural context.

  • The veggies are very eurocentric. Where is the okra, eggplant, bok choy, the veggies that people of different cultures actually cook with? This side of the veggie plate could’ve looked great with a variety of ethnic veggies, but instead it’s limited to the simple broccoli, carrots, and spinach, which people already think of when they think “healthy”. And then get turned off because who wants to eat that for the rest of their lives.

  • The whole grains section is limited. I’m still trying to teach most of my clients how to pronounce quinoa. It is also an expensive grain, which not everyone can afford. The five options depicted don’t do justice to the variety of whole grains people are familiar with.

  • Fruits and starchy vegetables are a part of the same half as non-starchy vegetables. All vegetables are not equal and people need to learn that. For instance, if someone decides to eat a half a plate of sweet potato wedges and then strawberries with their meal in addition to the whole grains and maybe a plant based protein, that’s a whole lot of carbs at one meal. One of the most common eating patterns I see with South Asian people is eating roti with a curry that has potato in it, which equals carb + carb. I don’t blame the average person either, it’s hard to know what veggie should count as a veggie and when it should count as a carb. Not to mention that South Asian people are at high risk of diabetes, which means they should be more aware of all the carbs on their plate.

The Canada’s Food Guide website does have extra resources to support the one page document, and this is what I found: 

  • Tips section: This section aims to simplify healthy eating by covering a variety of topics. I did not see anything related to eating healthy according to different cultures. No examples or guidelines on how to adapt.

  • Recipes section: This section has a variety of breakfast, lunch, and snack recipes. There is some diversity here, but in a very subtle way. I mean, there was no mention of cultural foods anywhere on the website, but then all of a sudden I’m seeing eggplant curry and Morrocan stew (Harrira) under recipes. Not quite sure what to make of that. It would also be nice to know where these recipes came from and if anything has changed to make it healthy or if it is completely authentic.

People can eat healthy without giving up their cultural foods. As a someone that lives and breathes nutrition, I can look at the new food guide and make healthy eating choices that incorporate my cultural and personal preferences. I worry that someone that doesn’t have an extensive background in nutrition might feel like they have to give up a lot of their foods just so they can eat healthy.

Overall, I’m not against the Canada’s Food Guide at all, in fact I think it’s a great resource and starting point to get people to start thinking about healthy eating. However, I do think it’s important for nutrition professionals to talk about healthy eating that doesn’t look so eurocentric.

Being ‘Canada’s’ Food Guide, there was an opportunity to really represent Canada and its values. As a country that is multicultural, I think we missed our mark by not catering to all that want to eat healthy. However, it is important to note that despite my criticism I do commend Health Canada for starting to head in the right direction as this guide is far better than the one before it.

How do you feel about the cultural representation in the new food guide? Tag me on Instagram and Twitter and let’s chat @NutritionbyNaz – I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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