Is Canada’s Food Guide Wrong?

Lately I have read a bunch of articles about the problems with Canada’s Food Guide and how it needs to be updated to help combat the obesity problem.  My clients explain that they struggle to lose weight even though they are eating healthy; when I ask what their typical weekly diet looks like, everyone pulls out low-fat salad dressings, canned vegetables, low-fat cheese and milk and other foods commonly thought to help combat weight gain.

My clients’ complaints and diet woes gave me an idea to look into the Food Guide and see what people are actually being told is the healthy way to eat.  In this 3 part blog series, I will review what’s right and what’s wrong with different sections of the Guide and provide you with some guidelines on how to build a health supportive diet.

After reviewing the Food Guide, upon first glance, it seems to be giving people a generally good idea on what foods to eat for health.  You don’t see any packaged, processed junk like chips, chocolate, granola bars or soft drinks.  The Guide generally recommends whole foods.  So what’s wrong with Canada’s Food Guide and how are these recommendations leading to an increase in obesity?

About 40-50 years ago, doctors and dieticians started thinking that fats led to cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, high blood triglycerides, diabetes and other degenerative diseases.  This began the sweep of recommendations to choose low fat foods and the proliferation of processed, low-fat commercial products found in today’s grocery stores.  Ironically, not coincidentally, as the consumption of low-fat food products increased, so too did the waistbands of North Americans.  This low-fat craze to lose weight and be healthier ultimately backfired!

Okay, so it seems to make sense – reduce one’s body fat by not consuming too much fat.  That should work, right?  Wrong!  What’s happening is that these lower fat options are filled with sugars and sweeteners that your body then harbours as excess fat because it cannot adequately burn off or use them.  Sugar has zero fat, so many companies advertise their sugar-laden products are ‘fat free’!  True, but sugar is not a whole food nor is it full of nutrients your body will use; in fact, sugar has zero nutrients, so your body has to detoxify it and it ends up stored as fat. The added salt from these processed ‘foods’ plays havoc with your internal sodium regulator, leading to fat cell dysfunction, insulin resistance and inflammation.

Canada’s Food Guide’s biggest error is their recommendations on the use of fat in the diet.  First, they recommend only 2-3 tbsp of fat per day AND tell people to choose unhealthy options like margarine, vegetable oils, salad dressings and mayonnaise (unhealthy because they contain artificial colors and sweeteners, chemicals, emulsifiers, and toxins)!

The Guide explicitly states to avoid butter, too, which is slightly healthier than margarine because it contains a short-chain fatty acid called butyric acid, which is important for a healthy intestinal lining and may help reduce your risk of colon cancer.  Margarine actually contains very few essential fatty acids and competes with the EFAs consumed in other foods; margarine also contains toxic molecules such as aluminum and nickel.

Other indications that the Food Guide has it wrong about fat include the statement to “select lower fat milk alternatives”, most of which contain added sweeteners to keep some semblance of taste.  The Guide recommends limiting sauces and spreads, presumably to limit one’s potential exposure to fats, and the Guide also says to cook with little or no added fat or salt. Just as too much salt can mess with your body’s sodium regulator, too little salt activates the hormones that tell the kidneys to hold onto salt, and when this hormonal system becomes overused or stressed, the fat cells begin to hold onto fat and not release it as energy.

Your body needs healthy fats to survive.  Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are two substances needed to sustain many of your body’s natural processes.  The two EFAs required are Linolenic Acid (LA, or omega 6 fatty acids) and Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA, or omega 3) fatty acid.  It’s from these two fatty acids that other substances are created to ensure a healthy body.  Omega 3 fatty acids from flaxseed, pumpkin seed, hemp seed and walnuts help reduce inflammation in the body.  Omega 6 fatty acids from safflower, sunflower, corn and sesame oils are good for health but too much can be pro-inflammatory.

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Other fats that are important for health include olive oil and nuts, which slow digestion, help you feel full longer and powerfully lower risk for heart disease.  Saturated fats found in butter and coconut can raise protective HDL-cholesterol levels. EFAs help to lower blood triglyceride levels, too.

So, the Food Guide does need to add some information about the use of fats.  Healthy fats found in raw nuts or nut butter, nonrefined oils and grass-fed, antibiotic free butter will help promote a healthy body.  Unhealthy fats found in chips, processed or refined vegetable oils, or commercially raised meat promote inflammation and obesity.  Knowing which fats to choose will go a long way to helping people combat weight issues in this country.

Stay tuned for the next installment discussing problems associated with the Food Guides milk and alternatives recommendations!

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