Guidance for confusing controversies

Is butter and bacon back?

Is saturated fat no longer a health concern?

Should I add ghee to my coffee?

Do I have to eat animal food in order to get enough protein?

Should I go keto or paleo?

Are carbs bad?

Is vegan healthy?

These questions represent some of the major nutrition controversies of today, and it has gotten to such a point that many Canadians are very confused about how to eat healthy. This is why the new Canada’s Food guide’s release is so necessary and timely. With limited influence from food industry and a commitment to stick with the latest science, the newly released Canada’s Food Guide provides timely and sound direction, guidance and clarity to Canadians seeking to navigate the murky waters of nutritional dialogue, debate and controversy.

We highlight below what light the new food guide sheds on some current nutrition controversies :

1) Certain carbs are still healthy

The new food guide is quite frank and unequivocal in it’s opinion on whole grains. It states:

Whole grain foods are good for you.”


The guide contrasts this with refined grains:

“Whole grain foods are a healthier choice than refined grains because whole grain foods include all parts of the grain. Refined grains have some parts of the grain removed during processing. Whole grain foods have more fibre than refined grains.”

So the guide does the right thing in distinguishing grains like brown rice, quinoa and whole oats from things like white bread, muffins and doughnuts. The former are whole grains while the latter are not. The food guide recognizes that not all carbs are the same.

2) High intakes of animal foods not recommended

Many Canadians still have the idea that animal protein is necessary for health and as a result they consume lots of it. This high intake of animal protein is not recommended in the new guide as evidenced by the following statements:

“Choose protein foods that come from plants more often. Plant-based protein foods can provide more fibre and less saturated fat than other types of protein foods. This can be beneficial for your heart health.”

“Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, whole grain foods and protein foods. Choose protein foods that come from plants more often.”

Throughout the guide, there is a clear emphasis on plant-based protein. In fact, there is a section on practical recommendations on how to eat more proteins from plant-sources. By plant-based protein the guide is referring mainly to beans, peas, lentils, nuts and seeds.


3) Don’t need to eat a lot of protein foods

Many are under the impression that we need to eat a lot of protein-rich foods in order to meet our protein needs. The new guide does not agree with this. It states:

“You don’t need to eat large amounts of protein foods to meet your nutritional needs.”


4) Still limit saturated fat

Despite the loud voices in recent years suggesting that saturated fat is no longer a problem, the new food guide states the exact opposite.

“Choose protein foods that come from plants more often. Plant-based protein foods can provide more fibre and less saturated fat than other types of protein foods. This can be beneficial for your heart health.”

“Choosing foods that contain mostly healthy fats instead of foods that contain mostly saturated fat can help lower your risk of heart disease.”

“Limit foods that contain saturated fat:”

Limit the amount of foods containing saturated fat, such as:

- Cream

- higher fat meats

- processed meats

- canned coconut milk or cream

- some frozen desserts like ice cream

- some desserts and bakery products

- most deep fried foods, like French fries

- cheeses and foods containing a lot of cheese

“When preparing foods, try to limit the amount of saturated oils and fats like:”

- lard

- ghee

- butter

- palm oil

- coconut oil

- hard margarine

“Some processed foods are made with ingredients that are high in saturated fat. Use the food labels to compare products. Choose those with little to no added saturated fat.”

“Preparing foods at home allows you to make healthier meals and snacks. By choosing ingredients that have little to no added sodium, sugars or saturated fat you can decrease the amount of these nutrients you eat.”

“Eating too much sodium, sugars or saturated fat can increase your risk of chronic disease.”

The guide even has a small section making recommendations on how to swap saturated fats with what it considers “healthy fats.”

Though the guide does not suggest eliminating saturated fat, it definitely does not exonerate it in the least. On the contrary, it clearly warns Canadians about the potentially deleterious health effects of saturated fat and recommends limiting it. This is important because some are now under the impression that saturated fat is the same as other fats and therefore are now eating a lot of butter, cheese, dairy, bacon, etc, thinking that it is not doing much to their health. The food guide recommends against this.

5) Paleo and Ketogenic folks may need to make adjustments

Though the current guide does not seem to mention paleolithic or ketogenic diets in particular, the guidelines may warrant many people on such diets to make adjustments. This is because when many people switch to paleo and ketogenic diets, they end up choosing to eat alot of animal foods and little to no carbohydrates, even whole grains.


The new guide recommends whole grains and less animal protein. Many keto and paleo folks do the exact opposite. So for those Canadians who want to follow the guidelines and retain their keto or paleo lifestyle, some adjustments are likely going to be necessary.

6) Plant-based eating is exonerated

Plant-based eating patterns such as vegetarian and vegan diets are clearly compatible with the new Canada’s food guide. Unlike in past guides in which the messaging suggested that Canadians had to have dairy and meat, the new guide does not. In fact, it actually promotes plant-based eating. You can be a whole foods vegetarian or vegan and be in-line with the new food guide.

Some reflections

If the Food guide is true to the science and accurately reflects a healthy eating pattern, then:

  • the days where you had to eat meat, eggs, and dairy daily to get adequate protein and calcium are essentially over.

  • the idea that “carbs are bad” is an over-generalization

  • the notion that we can now freely add ghee to coffee, and eat steak, bacon, cheese and butter with no potential health consequences, is misguided. Saturated fat, whether it is added or found naturally in foods (like animal foods), should still be limited.

  • plant-based eating is in.

Conclusion

There is alot of confusion about how to eat. Fortunately, the new guide provides clarity on some major points of contention in today’s nutrition debates. in particular, the guide suggests:

  • Whole grains are healthy

  • Plant-based proteins are preferred over animal protein

  • Alot of protein-foods is not necessary in order to meet nutritional needs

  • Saturated fat is not a healthy form of fat

  • Plant-based eating is indeed compatible with a healthy dietary pattern.

The food guide evolves with time and thus we need to be careful in seeing it as an unerring document set in stone. However, this time around, there was little food industry tampering and more focus on the scientific evidence. The result is a product that is not perfect but definitely heading in a positive direction and one that provides alot of clarity to some very murky and confusing nutrition controversies. This is why there is alot of praise for these new guidelines.

I think it provides a great resource for many Canadians who are confused about what to eat.

George Cho