I have heard the debate about Canada’s Food Guide and whether it’s causing obesity. My initial thought about this (or any guide for that matter) is to remind myself that this tool is a guide. It is not a diet plan. It is not a prescription. It is not a meal plan. It’s a guide. A guide needs to be used like a guide, you know for guidance. The Apple dictionary’s definition of “guide” is “a thing that helps someone to form an opinion or make a decision or calculation”. If you want it customized for you, then make an appointment with a dietitian to make sense of it.
If you have ever created a nutrition-related handout for a subset of the population, it inevitably morphs into a more daunting task with the many permutations and combinations of considerations even if it’s intended for the most homogenous group of people. I like to remind myself that Canada’s Food Guide was created for over 30 million Canadians from the age of 2 years old and up, while the Food Pyramid in the US was created for over 300 million Americans. How different is its application in one household, let alone on one city block, yet this guide was designed for most of us from coast to coast to coast.
Put that nutritional nugget in your noodle folks. One food guide created for different ages and stages: growing children from toddlers to teens, adults aging, an array of cultures with varying beliefs and practices, likes and dislikes, living in urban or rural areas with different food availability, activity levels and more. I sometimes wonder why governments even go to such great lengths to create such guides. They are perfect fodder for the media, that I’m sure we can all agree on because inevitably there’ll be a nuance (or 10) someone doesn’t agree with….
I was surprised by the seemingly collective buy-in of Brazil’s Food Guide. For simplicity sake “The Brazilian” is broken down into 10 steps, as follows:
- Prepare meals using fresh and staple foods
- Use oils, fats, sugar and salt in moderation
- Limit consumption of ready-to-eat food and drink products
- Eat at regular mealtimes and pay attention to your food instead of multitasking
- Eat with others whenever possible
- Buy food in shops and markets that offer a variety of fresh foods
- Develop, practise, share and enjoy your skills in food prep and cooking
- Decide as a family to share cooking responsibilities and dedicate enough time for healthy meals
- When you eat out, choose restaurants that serve freshly made dishes. Avoid fast food chains.
- Be critical of food-industry advertising.
Headlines touted its simplicity with marvel and applause. It felt like a good start to me but I experienced that “good from far, but far from good” feeling, niggling in my gut. In fact, I had one of those “Emperors New Clothes” moments. Over the years I have helped people make sense of many kinds of diets and guidelines. I feel that if I was counseling someone using The Brazilian guide I’d face some push back because inevitably the overwhelmed client will look me straight in the eye and say “That’s all well and good, but what am I supposed to eat?” Consumers, especially the shoppers in the family, demand details!
I have written about and strongly believe that we should do all that the Brazilian guide outlines. I have articulated many times that HOW you eat is as important as WHAT you eat. But at some point a Food Guide needs to map out what and how much food to eat so the user isn’t groping in the dark. One of the things this guide is lacking is well, guidance on that. It reads more like a proclamation than a guide and could be considered the “Brazilian Food Commandments” of sorts! Consumers need specifics about food choice and serving sizes to ensure nutritional balance is achieved. If it doesn’t I’ll wager there’ll be another food-related epidemic looming right around the corner.
Perhaps we need to step back and figure out who is actually using this tool and how they interpret it. We certainly do live in different times. Alas, undertaking the redevelopment of this may be passé given current issues that have leached through our culture.
Back to the original question: does the food guide make my butt get fat? I have heard Dr. Diane Finegood make this exclamation many times about obesity “It isn’t rocket science. It’s more complex!” There are plenty of potential causative factors, such as:
• highly processed, cheap food being available everywhere you look
• the emergence of mindless eating
• eating patterns that have morphed with the insurgence of snacking
• eating out and using convenience foods have become routine
• serving sizes, food packages and dinner ware have burgeoned
• the proliferation of calorie laden beverages lining miles of aisles at the grocery store
• product reformulation to tantalize consumers bliss point making some highly processed, low nutrient dense food addictive
• cooking skills have done a disappearing act in people’s repertoire while traditional family recipe use is fading
• the rise of celebrity endorsed unscientific diets, products, fads, cleanses and supplements have infiltrated people’s lives like a bad boyfriend you can’t dump
• consumers adopting freakish foodie foible eccentricities and proclaiming them like a cult
• the built environment with the expansion of suburbia
• insidious marketing strategies that have permeated our lives
• featuring the “food demon du jour” by media adding to consumer fear and confusion
• society’s inception of the “busy contest” often resulting in a heightened degree of stress with negative metabolic consequences for some
• the multitude of everyday energy saving conveniences
• then there’s that other global epidemic, sitting disease.
Big sigh. Somehow it would seem the movie Wal-ii is coming true in technicolour…. good grief.
After considering this laundry of issues, somehow the aged and rusty Food Guide seems like it’s the least of consumers’ worries in the obesity department. Perhaps future iterations need to come with a consultation with an RD Life Coach and a side order of The Brazilian. Food for thought…