New Canada Food Guide – carbohydrate estimate of the sample plate

There has been some discussion on Twitter that the macronutrient estimated in the previous article of an average ~325-350 g of carbohydrate per day based on a 2000 kcal per day diet for the new Canada Food Guide was “too high”, so in the interest of determining whether it was accurate, I’ve evaluated the carbohydrate content of the illustrated plate.

Actual Number, Standard Cup Measure and Scale of Reference

Since no portion sizes are provided with the new guide, both scale of reference or when available, the actual number of items was used.

The actual number of chickpeas, kidney beans, nuts and seeds were used and determine in terms of the portions of a standard cup measure.

For items such as vegetables and fruit, actual portions were measured using a standard set of stainless steel measuring cups.

For any remaining quantities, since a quarter of an egg is featured on the illustration of a healthy plate and a large sized egg is the standard on which nutrient analysis is based and this is of a known size, I used the 1/4 of a large egg as the scale of reference for other items,when the actual number was not available.

Carbohydrate Content of the Protein Group

The protein group contributed~37 g of carbohydrate to the sample plate.

Carbohydrate content of the protein group on the sample plate

Carbohydrate Content of the Whole Grains Group

The whole grains group contributed more than~58 g of carbohydrate to the sample plate.

Carbohydrate content of the whole grains group on the sample plate

Carbohydrate Content of the Vegetable and Fruit Group

The vegetable and fruit group contributed more than~53 g of carbohydrate to the sample plate.

Carbohydrate content of the vegetable and fruit group on the sample plate

The sample plate used as an illustration for the new Canada Food Guide has close to 150 g  of carbohydrate on it and this is for only one meal. The carbohydrate content of lunch and dinner (the two generally mixed meals of the day) already totals as much as 300 g of carbohydrate — and there’s still breakfast to add! Whether it’s a couple of whole grain toast (30 g carbs), 2 tbsp unsweetened nut butter (6 g carbs) or some whole grain cereal (30 g carbs) and 1/2 cup of low fat unsweetened yogurt (6 gm carbs), there’s another 42 g of carbs (plus the carbs for the milk or nut or soy milk to pour on the cereal); bringing the average for the three meals alone to 337+ g of carbs which is exactly what it was estimated as in the previous article — as between 325 – 350 g carbohydrate per day.

And this is just for 3  MEALS.

What about snacks?

Yes, snacks are mentioned  TWICE on the first page under the link for “eating habits” in the section on “how to make a meal plan and stick to it”;

Recommendations for meals and snacks

Assuming a person eats a “healthy whole grain” muffin without any dried fruit in it for coffee break in the morning (~50 g of carbs) and a single piece of fruit like an apple or orange mid-afternoon (15 g of carbs), these add another 65 g of carbohydrate to this day, bringing the average total to over 400 g of carbohydrate for one day.

UPDATE (January 26, 2019) Given the sample plate is there to demonstrate proportions, not portions — looking at the grain group alone, the proportion of grain is 1/4 of the dietary intake. Based on a 2000 kcal/day diet, that's 500 calories per day / ~125 g of carbohydrate from the grain group alone. Add in the carbohydrate from the largely plant-based protein group, that's another ~100 g carbohydrate per day, on average. Since half the plate should be vegetables and fruit and both starchy vegetables such as squash, yam, potato, peas and corn contain 15 g of carbohydrate per half cup, as does the same amount as fruit, it is reasonable to assume that on average, half of the vegetable servings will be comprised of a mixture of starchy vegetables — along with the fruit servings and the other quarter of the plate of non-starchy vegetables. That is, 1/4 of the vegetable and fruit side of the plate will be carbohydrate-containing, adding another ~125 g of carbohydrate per day to the diet. Of course, there will be days where people will eat lower carbohydrate grains like quinoa and lower carbohydrate plant-based protein such as tofu, but equally there will be days where vegetable servings are starchy ones such as peas and corn along with plant-based proteins that are higher in carbohydrate, such as legumes like kidney beans. So, the numbers above are averages

Whether one uses the portions on sample plate as a basis for estimating the carbohydrate content or uses the proportion of the diet that is carbohydrate, the results fall in the same range of an average of 325 - 350 g carbohydrate per day, based on only 3 meals (without snacks). 

Real Life Meals

Despite there being no “portion sizes” in the new Canada Food Guide, some insist that a “serving of pasta is 1/2 cup” because that is what is illustrated on the sample plate. Okay, let’s go with that for the sake of argument.

If a person ate twice that amount of pasta (instead of also eating some wild rice or rice or bread, for example), this is what the size of that portion would look like (of course it would be “whole grain”):

1 cup of cooked pasta – size of a tennis ball

I’ve been in private practice a long time and in my experience only children and women who are portion restricting eat pasta in amount the size of a tennis ball.  More than 90% of my clients report eating servings of pasta that are significantly larger than that. In fact, the usual ‘smaller-sized’ servings are about a cup and a half when eaten along with salad or a cooked vegetable (bigger if eaten alone). What does a cup and a half of pasta look like? It looks like this;

1 1/2 cups of whole grain pasta

…and this amount of pasta without sauce has 45 g of carbohydrate in it which is still less than the 53 g of carbs illustrated in the Canada Food Guide sample plate.

Naturally, no one is expected to eat exactly like the “sample meal”, but whether one eats their “whole grains” as all brown rice, wild rice, Bulgar wheat or something else, 1/4 of the plate all have the same amount of carbohydrate per 1/2 cup serving as pasta. 

Add to the pasta the vegetables and fruits above on the sample plate (or corresponding assortment of a mix of starchy, non-starchy vegetables and fruit) and that adds up to 100 g of carbohydrate …and we still haven’t added any protein into the meal, yet.

Add another 37 g of carbohydrate for an assortment of legumes, nuts and seeds as well as a bit of meat and “low fat” cheese for the pasta sauce (because after all, we are encouraged to eat animal protein “less often”) and that totals more than 135 g of carbs for just this one “real life” meal. Eat a meal like the one in the sample illustrations, it adds up to 150 g of carbs!

The question I’ve been asked is if it is “healthy whole grain”, then what’s the concern?

For metabolically healthy adults, none. For metabolically healthy adults, the new Canada Food Guide is a huge improvement from it’s predecessor! It eliminates refined carbs, sugary drinks including fruit juice and encourages eating whole foods, cooked at home as much as possible. 

The problem is, most adults are not metabolically healthy.

Majority of Adults Metabolically Unhealthy

As mentioned in the previous article research indicates that as many as 88% of Americans[1] are already metabolically unwell, with presumably a large percentage of Canadians as well. That is, only 12% of the adult population would be considered metabolically healthy [1]”.

Metabolic Health is defined as [1];

  1. Waist Circumference: < 102 cm (40 inches) for men and 88 cm (34.5 inches) in women
  2. Systolic Blood Pressure: < 120 mmHG
  3. Diastolic Blood Pressure: < 80 mmHG
  4. Glucose: < 5.5 mmol/L (100 mg/dL)
  5. HbA1c: < 5.7%
  6. Triglycerides: < 1.7 mmol/l (< 150 mg/dL)
  7. HDL cholesterol: ≥ 1.00 mmol/L (≥40 mg/dL) in men and ≥ 1.30 mmol/L (50 mg/dl) in women

Given the slightly lower rates of obesity in Canada (1 in 4) as in the United States (1 in 3), presumably there is a slightly lower percentage of Canadians who are metabolically unhealthy. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that there are TWICE as many metabolically healthy adults in Canada, which would mean that only slightly over 75% of adults are metabolically unhealthy.  Since Canada’s Food Guide is intended for a healthy population in order to reduce the risk of overweight and obesity as well as chronic diseases manifest as the markers above, that means that the new Canada Food Guide — as beautiful as it is, is only appropriate for ~1/4 of the adult population.

For the other 75% of adults that are presumably metabolically unwell, a diet that provides 342 g of carbohydrate per day for meals alone (based on a 2000 kcal per day diet) and as much as 400 g of carbohydrate per day with 2 "healthy" snacks is not going to address the large percentage of adults who are already demonstrating symptoms of being carbohydrate intolerant.

Carbohydrate Intolerance

As outlined in detail in a previous article, based on a large-scale 2016 study that looked at the blood glucose response and circulating insulin responses from 7800 adults during a 5-hour Oral Glucose Tolerance Test, 53% had normal glucose tolerance at 2 hours but of these people, 75% had  abnormal blood sugar results between 30 minutes and 60 minutes  demonstrating that they were already hyperinsulinemic, although it went undetected on standard assessors that only look at glucose and insulin responses at baseline (fasting) and at 2 hours.

These people are already exhibiting symptoms of not tolerating a normal carbohydrate load of 100 g.

How does it make sense to encourage adults that already have abnormal glucose response to eat 150 g of carbohydrate per meal when these people already have an impaired first-phase insulin response? How will eating “whole grains” and the “added fiber from plant-based proteins” improve their first-phase insulin response (which likely results from dysfunction in the release of the incretin hormone GIP (Glucose-dependent Insulinotropic Polypeptide) from the K-cells?

For these people, continuing to eat a diet high in carbohydrate, irrespective of the amount of fiber or the glycemic load will not restore their insulin response, and in time is likely to make it worse. This is my concern.

Canada Food Guide is for a healthy population to avoid the risk of chronic disease and based on these statistics most adults are not metabolically healthy.

Final Thoughts…

For the ~1/4 of adults that are metabolically healthy, I think the new Canada Food Guide is beautiful and focuses on real, whole food, preparing food at home, avoiding refined grains and avoiding high sugar beverages such as fruit juice (formerly seen as “healthy”).

For the high percentage of adults that are already metabolically unwell and who already demonstrate abnormal glucose responses, I don’t see that advising them to eat a diet that is between 325-350 g of carbohydrate per day (meals without snacks) helps them to avoid the progression to Type 2 Diabetes.

If you are part of the majority of Canadians that are already struggling with overweight and/or being metabolically unwell and would like to know more about how I may be able to help you achieve a healthy body weight and restore metabolic markers then please send me a note using the Contact Me form, on the tab above.

To your good health!

Joy

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References

  1. Araújo J, Cai J, Stevens J. Prevalence of Optimal Metabolic Health in American Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009–2016. Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders Vol 20, No. 20, pg 1-7, DOI: 10.1089/met.2018.0105
  2. Crofts, C., et al., Identifying hyperinsulinaemia in the absence of impaired glucose tolerance: An examination of the Kraft database. Diabetes Res Clin Pract, 2016. 118: p. 50-7.

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Author: Joy Kiddie, MSc, RD

Joy Y Kiddie MSc., RD - I'm a Registered Dietitian in private practice in British Columbia, Canada that provides low carb and ketogenic services in-person in my Coquitlam office, as well as by Distance Consultation (using Skype / telephone).