If all goes according to plan, Health Canada will unveil the newest edition of Canada's Food Guide in early 2018
Coming in 2018 is the new Canada’s Food Guide (CFG). If all goes according to plan, Health Canada (HC) will unveil the newest edition in the early part of the year.
Insight into what the final version may offer is hinged on the three guiding principles that came out of the first phase of consultations. They appear consistent with HC’s more recent nutrition messaging: that a variety of nutritious foods and beverages are the foundation of healthy eating; that prepared foods high in sodium, saturated fat and sugars undermine healthy eating; and that knowledge and skill is needed to support healthy eating.
So what’s different? In the case of the first principle, there will continue to be a strong emphasis on fruits, vegetables and whole-grain foods. Greater importance will be placed on protein foods, and in particularly those from plant sources. More emphasis will also be placed on foods with fat primarily from unsaturated fat rather than saturated fat, and water. The second principle speaks more about foods to limit or avoid. It’s no surprise that processed and prepared beverages high in sugars should be avoided, and that processed foods high in sodium, sugars and saturated fat are to be limited in a healthy diet.
One of the key messages from sector groups participating in the consultations was to keep it simple. One example is the visual proportions of the Eat Well Plate used to provide guidance on building a healthy meal based on “Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide.” Translating the goals of the three driving principles into an effective outcome is hinged on simple, sellable information about portion sizes, proportions in a meal, and frequency of daily consumption. HC is also working on mandatory front-of-packaging labelling for prepacked foods in order to help consumers select healthy food and avoid or limit foods which are high in saturated fat, sugars and sodium.
HC is actively working to classify industrially produced trans fats as food adulterants, effectively eliminating man-made trans fat from the food supply. The remaining trans fat from natural sources would not be a significant health concern as part of an overall diet. As a result trans fat is not a major discussion point in the new CFG.
A healthy diet is like a two-sided coin. On one side there are foods which are less desirable; on the other are preferred healthy foods to be consumed in moderation and proportion. Processed foods today are being vilified as unhealthy, but it seems a bigger challenge to understand what foods might be healthy, including processed foods that feature protein, whole grain and unsaturated fat. Most foods are processed to some degree, and nutrient-enriched products do have a role in a healthy diet. HC has also recently recognized the now defunct interim marketing authorizations, such as the one related to the fortification of plant-based beverages. These interim measures are needed since HC’s modernization of food fortification regulations is lagging. Food fortification modernization is an important consideration in providing healthy food choices, and is a complex area that HC needs to catch up on.
The messaging around the new CFG will need to provide guidance on selecting healthy processed foods. It will also likely emphasize preparing meals using fresh local foods, and eating with family and friends. This supports the third principle, knowledge and skills, since sharing meals is seen as an aid in supporting healthy eating habits. The new guide may also include environmental considerations, such as food waste, since knowledge and skill is necessary in order to plan and prepare meals with minimal waste.
One of the more challenging features to explain to Canadians will involve the differences between a CFG serving and a serving of stated size as part of nutrition facts. A Food Guide serving is based on the suggested proportion of food in regard to dietary recommendations. These will be modernized. A serving of stated size in a nutrition facts table is based on the amount that consumers generally consume. The new Food and Drug Regulations have been amended to provide a more uniform serving size used in a nutrition facts table. While this may still be different from a Food Guide serving, under the new regulations there will be at least more consistency.
The new CFG will most likely not be a radical change from its former version. Modernization was due, and it appears HC has carefully considered the areas to focus on modernizing. We will have to wait to see what the final version will look like.
Gary Gnirss is a partner and president of Legal Suites Inc., specializing in regulatory software and services. Contact him at [email protected]