Canada’s Food Guide – an Epidemiological Experiment Gone Terribly Wrong?

In 1972 the prevalence of obesity (BMI > 30) in those over 19 years old in Canada was only 10% but by 2011, it was 26%. In 1972 <8% of men were obese whereas obesity rates have TRIPLED in men since then and also increased for women. In this blog I tackle how changes in the recommendations of Canada's Food Guide has paralleled these huge increases in obesity statistics.

Health Canada released a statement this past Tuesday (May 19, 2015) implying they may change Canada’s Food Guide recommendations. Their statement came just a week after a Canadian Medical Association Journal released a report a week earlier (May 11, 2015) summarizing some of the criticisms of the Guide made by healthcare professionals who presented at the Canadian Obesity Summit in Toronto at the beginning of May.  One of the criticism included Health Canada’s current endorsement of 100% juice as equivalent to a serving of fruit.

Canada’s Food Guide (officially called Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide) recommends that Canadian adults consume up to 10 servings of fruit and vegetables a day (depending on age and gender) and with a half-cup of juice counting as a single serving, it’s easy to see how a person might drink a few cups of fruit juice a day in order to try and meet that requirement.  The problem arises that even a single glass of orange juice can put you over the daily sugar limit recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

In March, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report entitled Guideline: Sugars intake for adult and children where it concluded that the world was consuming too much sugar and recommended that people cut their intake of sugar to the equivalent of just six to 12 teaspoons per day.

Many popular brands of 100% orange and apple juice sold in Canada contain as much as five teaspoons of sugar per serving so it’s easy to see that if the public is trying to meet their 7-10 servings of fruit and vegetables by drinking juice, they will be way over the WHO’s daily sugar limit.

A study from the UK that was just published 2 weeks ago in the European journal Diabetologia linked daily consumption of sweetened drinks including so-called “healthy” beverages like sweetened milk and fruit juice with increased diabetes risk. The study found that for each 5% increase of a person’s total energy intake provided by sweet drinks (even so-called “healthy ones” like chocolate milk and 100% juice) that the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes could rise by 18 %. The study also found that by replacing one sweetened drink with water or unsweetened tea or coffee per day could help cut the risk of developing diabetes by as much as 25%.

This most recent statement from the director of the Office of Nutrition Policy and Promotion Hasan Hutchinson said the department is currently “reviewing the evidence base for its current guidance” to Canadians and that “depending on the conclusions of the scientific review, guidance for consumption (quantity and frequency) of various foods, including juice, could be updated in the future”. In my opinion, consumption of 100% fruit juice as equivalent to a serving of Vegetables and Fruit is not the only aspect of Canada’s Food Guide that Health Canada needs to re-evaluate.

Shift to a Carbohydrate-based Diet; how has that worked out?

Prior to 1977, Canada’s Food Guide recommended no more than 5 servings of bread or cereal per day for adults and now recommends 6-7 servings per day of Grain Products for women and up to 8 servings of Grain Products per day for men. In 1961, Canada’s Food Guide recommended only 1 serving of citrus fruit (as fruit) or a serving of tomatoes daily & only one other fruit.  Now adults can have any of the recommended 7-10 servings of Vegetables and Fruit per day as fruit (or juice). Even as actual servings of fruit, current recommendations can be chosen as 4-5 times the amount of fruit as in in 1961.

Since 1977 and in ever increasing amounts, Health Canada has shifted their recommendations away from healthy fats and low carbohydrate diets, towards diets where carbohydrates form the main source of calories.  Current recommendations are for 45-65% of calories to come from carbohydrate and only 20- 30% of calories from fat.  Our society has become “fat phobic” thinking all sources of fat are “bad”. People drink skim or 1% milk and eat 0% yogourt and low fat cheese; all the while making sure to have “enough’ carbohydrates; 6-8 servings of Grains Products (including bread, pasta and rice). Hidden as Vegetables are even more carbohydrates as the 7-10 servings of Vegetables and Fruit which are recommended for an adult to eat makes no distinction between starchy vegetables (like potatoes, yams, peas and corn) and non-starchy vegetables (like salad greens and asparagus or broccoli). People can literally eat all their Vegetable and Fruit servings as carbohydrate laden starchy vegetables and fruit and “meet” Canada’s Food Guide!

Canadians are encouraged to fill themselves up on toast or cereal for breakfast, sandwiches or rice for lunch and pasta or pizza (with “healthy toppings”) for supper; all in an effort to “meet” Canada’s Food Guide.

At the same time, people have been conditioned to avoid fats because they believe that fat is “bad”; while making no distinction between healthy fats from avocado, nuts, seeds and fatty fish and fats from chemically cured bacon and nitrite- laden sausage.

What Has Happened to Canada’s Obesity Rates since 1977?

In ever increasing amounts, Health Canada has recommended that we avoid fat and get 1/2 to 2/3 of our calories from carbohydrates? How has Canada’s obesity rate changed since then?

In 1978, only 15% of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.

By 2007, 29% of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.

By 2011, just the obesity prevalence for boys was 15.1% and for girls was 8.0% in 5- to 17 year olds.

What about adults?

The prevalence of obesity [body mass index (BMI) ≥30 kg/m2] in Canadian adults increased two and a half times; from 10% in 1970-72 to 26% in 2009-11.

In 1970-72 7.6% of men and 11.7% of women were considered obese.

In 2013, 20.1% of men and 17.4% of women were considered obese.

And looking at waist circumference rather than BMI, 37% of adults and 13% of youth are currently considered abdominally obese.

So how has Health Canada’s recommendations of a high carbohydrate low fat diet been working out?

Certainly there must be a better way?

There is.

More in my next blog.

In the meantime, if you would like to learn a better way to think about food why not contact me?

I can help you begin to tackle overweight or obesity in a way that encourages eating healthy fat and which are supported by current research literature.

I can also help you learn which sources of carbohydrate provide the best nutrition to meet your daily recommended nutrient intake for vitamins and minerals as well as how to eat in a way that can begin to tackle one of the main issues associated with being overweight; that of insulin resistance.

Click on the “Contact Us” tab above, to send me a note.


References

Canadian Medical Association Journal, Early Releases (May 11, 2015), Food Guide Under Fire at Obesity Summit, www.cmaj.ca/site/earlyreleases/11may15_food-guide-under-fire-at-obesity-summit.xhtml

http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/canada-food-guide-s-listing-of-juice-as-a-fruit-serving-called-bananas-1.3080658

http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/will-fruit-juice-be-cut-from-canada-s-food-guide-1.2380960

Janssen I, The Public Health Burden of Obesity in Canada, Canadian Journal of Diabetes, 37 (2013), pg. 90-96

Nutrition Division, National Department of Health and Welfare (1961). Rules out – guide in. Canadian Nutrition Notes, 17(7):49-50 (cited in Health and Welfare Canada. Action towards healthy eating: technical report. 1990).

O’Connor, L, Imamura F, Lentjes M et al, Prospective associations and population impact of sweet beverage intake and type 2 diabetes, and effects of substitutions with alternative beverages, Diabetologia May 6, 2015 [Epub ahead of print]

Statistics Canada, Overweight and obese adults (self-reported) 2009, http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2010002/article/11255-eng.htm

World Health Organization, Guideline: Sugars intake for adult and children, March 2015, http://who.int/nutrition/publications/guidelines/sugars_intake/en/

Note: Everyone's results following a LCHF lifestyle will differ as there is no one-size-fits-all approach and everybody's nutritional needs and health status is different. If you want to adopt this kind of lifestyle, please discuss it with your doctor, first.

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