Why the Development of the New Canada’s Food Guide is Taking So Long

Man shopping for groceries

The development of the new Canada’s Food Guide should have happened a lot sooner. The last updated version was released in early 2007 by Health Canada. This was over 11 years ago. If you consider how food trends have changed and new food products are regularly released every year, it is hard to see how a 10-year-old document would still be relevant or applicable.

Between 2013 and 2015, Health Canada started reviewing the evidence for a new food guide as part of their Healthy Eating Strategy. The suggested changes should make the new recommendations more accurate, clearer and easier to follow. Based on the information that was released, the new Canada’s Food Guide will be based on three guiding principles:

  1. A variety of nutritious food and beverages are the foundation for healthy eating - E.g. regular intake of vegetables, fruit, whole grains and protein-rich foods, especially plant-based sources of protein. 
  2. Processed or prepared foods and beverages high in sodium, sugars, or saturated fats undermine healthy eating - E.g. avoiding processed or prepared beverages high in sugars. 
  3. Knowledge and skills are needed to navigate the complex food environment and support healthy eating - E.g. sharing meals with family and friends whenever possible. 

In addition, the new guide will also consider the determinants of health (i.e. what factors affect your health, such as income), food culture and the environment. (For more detail please visit: Canada's Food Guide Consultation - Phase 2 What We Heard). 

This still begs the question: why did it take over 10 years for a review and update to happen? And why is it taking so long to be released?

I'm sure there are a number of reasons for this, but let me address perhaps the biggest reason below, demonstrating how Canada’s Food Guide is being pushed and pulled in all directions.

 

The food industry

Canada’s Food Guide is an influential document. Believe it or not, it's the second most requested government document after income-tax forms (#GoCanada!). The food industry knows that what is listed on Canada’s Food Guide will be chosen by more people and this could be viewed as essentially free marketing. As a result, different food industry sectors are doing what they can to have the food guide promote their products. Any changes that portray a food as unhealthy will be met with resistance from that food sector.

Take for example meat and alternatives. The 2007 Canada’s Food Guide promoted these foods. However, the new food guide is promoting increased plant-based sources of protein (e.g. beans and lentils). This may negatively impact the meat and dairy industry who are now asking for industry-friendly changes to the food guide instead.

Another example is the 2007 Canada’s Food Guide promoting fruit juice as an equivalent to whole fruit and chocolate milk as similar to white milk. This has been criticized by various health experts. The province of New Brunswick made a strong attempt to ban juice and chocolate milk in schools back in June of this year. This ban was reversed recently for fear of reduced funding to support extra-curricular activities by the food industry.

Whether we want to believe it or not, the food industry has influence over Canada’s Food Guide. This is a particularly hard decision because Health Canada has to decide between the food industry that employs thousands of workers, or the health of Canadians that follow the food guide.

Personally, I think Canada’s Food Guide should be free from private sector influence. As a document created with the intention of improving public dietary health and behaviours, it should strictly follow current food and nutrition research, and not be riddled with misleading or unclear information.

What do you think?