Let's be honest, nutrition can be quite confusing with the plethora of easily accessible information at our fingertips and not to mention the continual debunking that is going on in the field as we continue to discover new insights into food and health.
This is only made worse by food advertising driven by large corporations.
The Food Industry continues to profit off the consumption of highly palatable foods but which are severely lacking in nutrition. This is a big issue when it comes to the global health crisis we are experiencing around the world.
What's more, advertising is increasingly targeted towards children of young ages by promoting enticing images of foods that are nowhere near what we can find in nature. Unfortunately, we are now witnessing the Food Industry exert a higher degree of influence on public health than health practitioners and the educational system.
As a result fruit and vegetable intake is consistently below the recommended amount in Canada and the U.S (1)(2).
It then comes as no surprise that we have a population that is as confused as ever about what they should be eating.
When it comes to nutrition we would do well to go back to our roots.
So is the food guide still necessary?
According to the Government of Canada, dietary risks are one of the three leading risk factors for disease burden amongst Canadians (3).
Chronic diseases impacted by diet—such as cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer, diabetes, and breast cancer—are among the leading causes of premature death in Canada.
This means we have a health crisis that is mainly derived from the makeup of our plates.
It is fair to say that as a population we could use a reminder about what a healthy meal should ideally look like and how to implement healthy eating into our daily habits.
Where can you start?
Canada's Food Guide helps to decipher what should be included in your daily meals as part of a balanced diet. The Food Guide places an emphasis on the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables paired alongside animal or plant sources of protein and whole grains.
The dietary guidelines are based on supporting healthy eating in general with foods that are found in their closest form to nature.
As the guidelines evolve and change over time, we have seen a recent shift towards recommending more whole food plant proteins over animal protein. In addition, instead of having its own category dairy became lumped into the protein category.
The shift towards more plant foods encourages increased fiber consumption with a lower intake of saturated fat and processed meats which have been associated with numerous health concerns (4)(5).
Processed and packaged products are cautioned against as they tend to be high in sodium, sugar, and saturated fat and include foods such as processed meat, deep-fried foods, sugary breakfast cereals, biscuits and cake, confectioneries, sugary drinks, and many ready-to-heat packaged dishes.
In addition water is emphasized as the main beverage of choice and high sugar consumption is discouraged as a recent report from Statistics Canada actually found sugary drinks to be the top source of sugar intake for Canadians.
Eating a variety of foods is one of the main factors in achieving a healthy balance of nutrients in the diet which is why it is encouraged to eat with the seasons and rotate different foods on a daily basis instead of eating the same thing every day. This also reduces any potential reactivity to foods and risk of nutrient deficiencies.
Though the recommendations may seem quite obvious and straightforward to some, the reality is our current western diet is rarely resembling these guidelines.
I believe that the Food Guide is a good place to start if you are feeling confused about what you should be eating and how to create a balanced nutritious plate.
The visual breakdown makes it easy for people to understand and translate directly onto their plate and should be shared amongst families.
But it's not just about health, Canada's Food Guide also addresses the environmental impact of our food. This is mainly addressed by promoting a more plant-based approach of eating and minimizing food waste in the home.
Overall the current Food Guide in Canada encourages more plant based eating, whole foods over packaged and processed products, reading labels and developing awareness around food advertising, participating regularly in home cooked meals, and choosing water as your beverage of choice.
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