Expect changes to the Canadian Food Guide… within the next decade.

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The latest senate review on obesity in Canada is important. It is also bold and progressive – kudos to members of the senate (primarily Conservative members) that participated in the following research on obesity. Below you’ll find a link to the full report, a link to an infographic provided by the senate, and a list of some of the more important points that I have pulled from the report.

In a quick synopsis you’ll find that the current Canadian Food Guide has provided insufficient support for managing obesity in Canada. Mandated focus on nutrients over quality, whole food must change, whereas 60% of Canadians are consuming over-processed foods, daily. This brings to question whether sugar and starch should be grouped together into one category, “total carbohydrate,” on nutrition labels, allowing consumers to recognize that processed foods – despite labels chirping the benefits of fibre, specific vitamins and natural ingredients – containing higher carbohydrate content than expected, may fall into a not-so-healthy category.

You’ll find the report, here: Senate Report Highlights: Obesity in Canada: a Whole-of-Society Approach for a Healthier Canada.

And the infographic, here: Standing Senate on Social Affairs, Science and Technology: Obesity in Canada

Obesity in Canada: a Whole of Society Approach for a Healthier Canada

1) Report Highlights – Tipping the Scales, page iv:

There is an obesity crisis in this country. Canadians are paying for it with their wallets — and with their lives.

The committee’s findings show the vast scope of this epidemic:
– Each year 48,000 to 66,000 Canadians die from conditions linked to excess weight;
– Nearly two thirds of adults and one third of children are obese or overweight; and
– Obesity costs Canada between $4.6 billion and $7.1 billion annually in health care and lost productivity.

2) Health Canada’s Role, page 3:

Governing Can. Food Guid and food labelling.

“…Both the food guide and nutrition labelling are intended to help Canadians choose a healthy diet. However, there is a lack of Canadian data comparing general consumption trends over time, or how Health Canada’s food guide or nutrition labelling have affected consumption patterns. Members were told that total daily consumption per person has risen in Canada since the 1980s by about 240 calories, although witnesses indicated that data were quite limited on specifics.”

3) Recommendation #5, point 3, page 25 and 26:

On the Canada Food Guide:

“Several witnesses suggested that Canada’s food guide has been at best ineffective, and at worst enabling, with respect to the rising levels of unhealthy weights and diet-related chronic diseases in Canada.

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Committee members heard that Brazil has recently issued a completely overhauled food guide which no longer focuses on food groups and nutrients but rather on whole foods, meal preparation and avoidance of ultra-processed items.

The newly developed Brazilian food guide14 is based on only a few basic principles: diet is more than an intake of nutrients; dietary recommendations need to be tuned to their times; healthy diets derive from socially and environmentally sustainable food systems; different sources of knowledge inform sound dietary advice; and, dietary guidelines broaden autonomy in food choices. The guide provides advice on how to choose foods and prepare meals and offers suggestions for overcoming some of the obstacles in pursuing a healthy diet. “

“The 2015 DGAC report acknowledges the lack of evidence to support the claim that dietary fat, particularly saturated fat and cholesterol, are linked to cardiovascular disease and recommends reversing decades of dietary advice by removing the upper limit for total fat consumption. The report also recommends a focus on the true drivers of diet-related disease – sugars and refined grain products.

Finally, members were told that food guides, although they may vary from country to country, too often reflect the financial interests of the dominant food businesses.”

4) Recommendation 6, page 27:

“The committee recommends that the Minister of Health immediately undertake a complete revision of Canada’s food guide in order that it better reflect the current state of scientific evidence. The revised food guide must:

Be evidence-based;

Apply meal-based rather than nutrient-based principles;

Effectively and prominently describe the benefits of fresh, whole foods

compared to refined grains, ready-to-eat meals and processed foods; and,

Make strong statements about restricting consumption of highly processed


5) Recommendation 10, page 30:

“The committee further recommends that the Minister of Health assess whether sugar and starch should be combined under the heading of total carbohydrate within the Nutrition Facts table and report back to this committee by December 2016.”

6) Conclusion, page 39:

“Despite the efforts of governments and non-governmental organizations over the past several years, obesity rates have continued to climb in Canada. Given the associated health implications of excess body weight, it is imperative that this country embark on a more comprehensive and collaborative approach to address this very complex problem.

As such, the federal government must take a leadership role in implementing a long-term, multi-pronged, multi-sectoral campaign if we are serious about getting Canadians to pursue healthier, more active lifestyles. This strategy may require many years before measurable results can be identified, much like the anti-smoking strategy.”