Sarah Remmer: The Non-Diet Dietitian


Nutrition News: Health Canada is Revising & Updating Canada's Food Guide!

A new food guide as well as improved nutrition labels will hopefully make it easier for Canadians to eat better

Health Canada Guidelines

Many Canadian Dietitians (including myself) have opted not to use Canada's Food Guide as a nutrition teaching tool over the past 10 (or more) years. In fact, since opening my private practice doors in 2007, I don't think I've ever given out a copy of the food guide (to be honest, I developed my own), and here's why: 

  • The recommendations are too simplistic (and yet confusing,) and don't take into account someone's personal lifestyle, life stage (ie. pregnancy) or specific dietary needs.
  • I disagree with some of the food serving recommendations and food placement within the food groups (ie. in my mind, vegetables and fruits should be in their own groups and potatoes belong in the grains and starches group vs. the fruit/vegetable group). 
  • Certain foods (ie. fruit juice), in my mind, should not even make the cut when it comes to "food groups."
  • There should be more education around added sugars. 
  • Canadians should be encouraged to consume more whole foods vs. processed foods (in a bigger way).
  • The recommendations should be based on current evidence (ie. fat is not the enemy!)
  • The food guide should be more user-friendly, so that it's easier for Canadians to implement into their daily lives. 
  • Food serving recommendations for older babies and younger toddlers, as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women should be included. 

The good news is, there are changes coming. Health Canada announced today that they will be releasing a revised and updated Food Guide in 2018-19, to better meet the needs of Canadians, health professionals and stakeholders.  In fact, you can submit YOUR input here: Online Questionnaire For Canada's Food Guide. Testing of a new policy and consumer tools will take place in 2017-18. 

Not only will Health Canada be releasing a new and (hopefully) improved food guide, but they have said that they will also be making much needed tweaks to nutrition and ingredient labelling (including sugars and food colours!), reducing sodium in packaged foods, eliminating processed trans fats from food products and — my personal favourite — placing new restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children.

This is good news! Here's a breakdown of what Health Canada plans to change:

1) A New and improved Canadian Food Guide: 

The new food guide will communicate two points in particular (that they say are supported by the newest research): that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats will lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and that a higher sugar-sweetened beverage intake is associated with obesity in children (I think this is just scratching the surface). It will also take into account the fact that Canadians, on average, are consuming way too many foods that are high in saturated fats, sugar and salt and not consuming enough nutrient dense foods, in particular foods high in calcium and fibre. They also plan to make the food guide more user-friendly and personalized. 

You can read a report that summarizes Health Canada's evidence review for dietary guidance. New guidance will reflect the latest scientific evidence on diet and health. More information is available in the backgrounder on the Revision of Canada's Food Guide.

2) Stronger nutrition and ingredient labelling, which will include sugars and food colours

Nutrition labels on packaged and processed foods will be updated, to help Canadians better understand and use this information to make healthier choices in the grocery store.  Food packages will have more simplified labelling, providing easier-to-understand information on three ingredients in particular: sugar, saturated fat and sodium. 

Health Canada proposes that they will be:

  • Regulating serving sizes on packaged foods (to better compare one product to another),
  • Providing more information on sugars in the nutrition facts table and the ingredients list
  • Identifying ALL food colourings by their common name 
  • Making the list of ingedients and allergen information easier to read
  • Allowing a new claim on the front of certain food packages that communicated that diet rich in fruits and vegetables lower the risk of heart disease. 
  • Health Canada will finalize the proposed changes to the nutrition labelling regulations by the end of 2016.
  • In addition, Health Canada will engage the public and stakeholders over the coming weeks to seek feedback on a proposed front-of-package labelling approach aimed at helping Canadians make healthier and more informed choices, particularly on sugars, sodium and saturated fat.

3) Reducing sodium (salt) in foods

In 2012, Health Canada published sodium reduction targets for 94 food categories and asked industry to meet those targets by December 31, 2016. This month, Health Canada held a symposium to discuss the progress with industry and stakeholders, as well as discuss next steps.  They plan to release a report of the outcomes of this symposium as well as publish a full evaluation of the food industry's voluntary efforts to meet the targets. In Spring 2017, Health Canada, along with stakeholders, will establish new targets for sodium (salt) in processed and restaurant foods. 

4) Eliminating processed trans fat  

There has been quite a bit of progress made in reducing trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils) in the Canadian food supply, however not enough--Canadian's continue to consume more than the daily maximum that the World Health Organization recommends. This Spring, Health Canada reached out to the food industry to find out why hydrogenated fats are still being used, and plans to take that feedback to move forward with the plan to eliminate processed trans fats from our food supply. 

5) Restricting marketing to children 

The commercial marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children is — not surprisingly — out of control. Health Canada has committed to consulting with the public, stakeholders and the government to implement new restrictions on marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to kids. 

6) Nutrition North Canada

Isolated northern communities will have better access to nutritious perishable foods and will have access to more funding for culturally appropriate nutrition education initiatives. This will hopefully increase knowledge of healthy eating, develop skills choosing and preparing healthier foods and strengthen food retail partnerships in these communities. 

I'm hopeful that these changes (and more) will be implemented in the coming few years (although we might be looking at 5-10 years realistically), and that this will have a positive impact on the nutritional intake, and status of Canadians (especially our kids!). What do you think? What's your biggest beef with Canada's Food Guide (or our current nutrition labels) now? What changes would you like to see in the new version of the Food Guide? 

I'll keep everyone updated on these changes over on my Facebook page (where I also post free nutrition tips for kids and families daily!)

 RELATED: Why We Need to Start Eating Like Our Babies and Toddlers