Food Guide and You

Sometimes things that happen “up there” remain, at least for a time, largely abstract for most of us. Sometimes they are of immediate concern for us, as they touch on something significant, with which we deal on daily basis. And what can fit that description better than food?

In December of 2016, a group of almost 200 Canadian Physicians and Allied Health Care providers sent an open letter to Health Canada, urging to rework the dietary guidelines. The letter suggests making an emphasis on real food, on actual scientific evidence and, well, common sense. To illustrate just how far from common sense current recommendations are, let me quote from the letter:

  “Canada’s dated food guide is no longer effective in providing nutritional guidance to Canadians. Fruit juice, for instance, is presented as a healthy item when it is little more than a soft drink without the bubbles.”

Hopefully, their message doesn’t remain unheeded. Remember, this is largely the same guidelines that have been adopted in the USA in 1977 with the low-fat mantra in mind. Next, this happened:

Rates of obesity in the US

(Chart courtesy of

Meanwhile, I wanted to concentrate on another angle. Reading through the 13 “points for change” in the letter, I thought that 11 of them each of us can and should implement on a personal level, not waiting for Powers That Be to issue a directive. Decades of a bad nutrition guidance from the authorities created a lot of myths and misled scores of people about what healthy eating is. fair warning: Reading through the points below, you are likely to see some suggestions that will surprise you. They go against the advice that was promoted as non-arguable for so long that it became ingrained in our collective mind as absolute truth – yet there is scientific evidence that it’s anything but. Feel free to ask a question about those! Healthy discussion instead of dogma is exactly what we need to right this ship.

Here are the 11 points:

The Canadian Dietary Guidelines should:

1. Clearly communicate to the public and health-care professionals that the low-fat diet is no longer supported, and can worsen heart-disease risk factors.

3. Eliminate caps on saturated fats.

4. Be nutritionally sufficient, and those nutrients should come from real foods, not from artificially fortified refined grains.

5. Promote low-carb diets as at least one safe and effective intervention for people struggling with obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

6. Offer a true range of diets that respond to the diverse nutritional needs of our population.

7. De-emphasize the role of aerobic exercise in controlling weight.

8. Recognize the controversy on salt and cease the blanket “lower is better” recommendation.

9. Stop using any language suggesting that sustainable weight control can simply be managed by creating a caloric deficit.

10.Cease its advice to replace saturated fats with polyunsaturated vegetable oils to prevent cardiovascular disease.

11.Stop steering people away from nutritious whole foods, such as whole-fat dairy and regular red meat.

12.Include a cap on added sugar, in accordance with the updated WHO guidelines, ideally no greater than 5% of total calories.

Another part of the letter that I would like to quote here cites a few examples of real food vs. “fake” food. See if you have enough of the real ones and avoid/limit the processed ones:

 Real Food Examples

Fats & Proteins – Eggs, sardines, mackerel, salmon, beef, chicken (with skin), lamb, pork, liver, kidney, heart, avocados, olives, full-fat cheese, full-fat yoghurt, cream, almonds, macadamia nuts, brazil nuts, walnuts

Carbohydrates – Broccoli, spinach, green beans, bell peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, cauliflower, courgettes, onions, carrots, butternut squash, wild blueberries, strawberries, apples, oranges, lemons, parsnips, beans, legumes, potatoes, fermented breads, whole grains (rice, oats, bulgur, wheat berries, quinoa etc).

Drinks – Water, tea, herbal tea, fruit tea, coffee, whole milk, heavy cream

Oils – Beef tallow, butter, coconut oil, ghee, duck fat, lard and cold-pressed olive oil

Fake processed food examples:

Fats & Proteins – Low-fat cheeses, low-fat yogurt, low-fat margarine, beans in sauce, flavoured nuts, canned whipped cream

Carbohydrates – Sugary cereals, refined breads, refined pastas, potato chips, biscuits, cakes, sweetened and dried fruit

Drinks – Sugary soft drinks, fruit juices, low-fat milk, sugary milkshakes, pre-packaged smoothies

Oils – Sunflower oil, corn oil, vegetable oil.

While governing bodies think that through (and we know how quick they can be in adopting sound policies, right?), let’s take these suggestions to heart and modify our own diet on our own accord.

 The letter in its entirety can be read here or downloaded as PDF.

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