Canada Food Guide Snapshot: Limit Real Whole Food or Ultra-Processed?

Note: This article is a combination of a Science Made Simple article, with the references below and an editorial which provides my opinion.

This past Monday, Health Canada released the Canada’s Food Guide “snapshot”[1] in 28 languages which is not intended to be a stand-alone resource, but to be used as a tool to guide people to the Canada’s Food Guide website.

Canada’s Food Guide includes Canada’s Dietary Guidelines[2], the healthy eating recommendations[3], and all of the other resources and information on the Canada’s Food Guide website. Links to the guidelines and healthy eating recommendations are available in the References, below.

The “Snapshot”

Canada Food Guide "Snapshot"The main message of the “snapshot” is that “healthy eating is more than the foods you eat” ⁠— which I think is an excellent way of summarizing the guidelines and recommendations and encouraging the public to want to learn more. From that point of view, the snapshot is successful in that it is likely to guide people to the website.

The main points on the Snapshot are;

  1. Be mindful of your eating habits
  2. Cook more often
  3. Enjoy your food
  4. Eat meals with others
  5. Use food labels
  6. Limit foods high in sodium, sugars or saturated fat*
  7. Be aware of food marketing

Each of these points link to the sections of Canada’s Food Guide which address those points and in my opinion are all very helpful, except for one elaborated on below.

For example, under “Be mindful of your eating habits” is and encouragement for Canadians to be aware of;

  • how you eat
  • why you eat
  • what you eat
  • when you eat
  • where you eat
  • how much you eat

Being mindful can help you:

  • make healthier choices more often
  • make positive changes to routine eating behaviours
  • be more conscious of the food you eat and your eating habits
  • create a sense of awareness around your every day eating decisions
  • reconnect to the eating experience by creating an awareness of your:
    • feelings
    • thoughts
    • emotions
    • behaviours

As the Snapshot re-iterates, these are factors that are “more than the food you eat” and helpful for people to keep in mind.

My only issue with the “Snapshot” is the use of the image for “Limit foods high in sodium, sugars or saturated fat“, circled below.

Snapshot with “Limit foods high in sodium, sugars or saturated fat” circled

Here is that image by itself;

What I see when I look at this image is ultra-processed food (what I refer to in a previous article about the NOVA Food Classification System as “food-like products“.

These are not whole, real food, but are creations of the food industry that are intended to displace real, whole food from the diet (you can read more about that by clicking here). These are products that are “branded assertively, packaged attractively, and marketed intensively”.

In fact, this picture shows some of the most addictive foods listed in a 2015 study including chocolate, muffins, pizza, pastry and soda pop[4].

Fifteen Most Addictive Fast Foods

If the intention is for Canadians to “limit foods high in sodium, sugars and saturated fat” (not that I think there is solid, scientific evidence that healthy individuals need do so with all sources of saturated fat and sodium), in my opinion the following photo would be a more accurate reflection of the principle;

Real, whole foods that are high in sodium, sugars or saturated fat

Cheese, eggs and meat are high in saturated fat, and cured meats are high in sodium and saturated fat, and dates are certainly very high in sugar, yet are not ultra-processed foods. Are these really foods that all Canadians should limit?

Is there irrefutable scientific evidence that healthy people should limit eggs, real cheese and whole fresh meats and poultry? Is it “unhealthy” for metabolically well folks to eat dates, which are very high in sugar? Or are we conflating whole, real food with ultra-processed food?

Using the NOVA food classification (outlined in the article linked above) that foods such as cheeses, cured meats and olives or anchovies are minimally processed foods that have been processed to make them ore durable and palatable, but they are not “ultra-processed foods” akin to hot dogs, pizza and pop!

I don’t believe that it is helpful to lump “ultra-processed food” and whole, real food that are high in saturated fat, sodium and sugar, together.

In my opinion, it would far better for the image in the Snapshot to read like this;

It makes good sense to advise Canadians to limit ultra-processed food⁠ because they are high in refined carbohydrates and refined fats, and low in nutrient density ⁠— but when ultra-processed food is labelled with the advice “limit foods high in sodium, sugar or saturated fat”, whole, real foods are conflated with food-like products which displace real, whole food from the diet.

Ultra-processed food is not the same as whole, real foods high in sodium, sugars or saturated fat

More Info?

If you would like more information about limiting ultra-processed foods, while including whole, real foods that are both plant-based and animal-based, I can help.

You can learn more about my services under the Services tab or in the Shop. If you have questions, please feel free to send me a note using the Contact Me form above and I will reply as soon as I can.

To your good health!

Joy

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References

  1. Health Canada Snapshot: https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/?utm_source=canada-ca-foodguide-en&utm_medium=vurl&utm_campaign=foodguide
  2. Health Canada, Canada’s Dietary Guidelines, https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/guidelines/
  3. Health Canada, Healthy Eating Recommendations, https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/healthy-eating-recommendations/
  4. Schulte EM, Avena NM, Gearhardt AN (2015) Which Foods May be Addictive? The Roles of Processing, Fat Content and Glycemic Load. PLoS ONE 10(2); e0117959. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0117959

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