March 11th, 2015 ~ Vol. 85 No. 10
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Last year the Brazilian government introduced a new set of dietary guidelines that have garnered praise from nutrition and health experts around the globe. The guidelines are simple, encouraging citizens to eat mostly home-cooked meals, to avoid processed foods and to be critical of food advertising. There is no mention of food groups, portion sizes or calorie counting. While the recommendations are surprisingly simple— eat food in good company and enjoy meals in a pleasant atmosphere, for example— they are revolutionary when compared to the guidelines that we follow here in Canada.
Nutrition is a booming business and more time and money are being spent on nutrition research than ever before. While there are still divisions among professionals about the specifics, what we do know is that there is not one diet that is suitable for everyone. What is nourishing to one may be poisonous to another. This idea is not compatible with Canada’s Food Guide, which focuses on portion sizes and food groups that are the same for all members of a specific age group and sex, regardless of health status. For example, a 45-year old man is supposed to eat 8 servings of grains per day according to the guidelines, but for a 45-year old man with diabetes, consuming that many carbohydrates in one day can have serious health consequences.
The health risks of consuming excess amounts of carbohydrates cannot be overstated. Carbo-hydrate foods include sugar in all its forms, from fruit to refined sugar to grains. Canada’s Food Guide, for example, includes fruit juice in the fruit and vegetable food group, which has been shown to spike blood sugar levels as much as a can of soda. Frequent blood sugar spikes can lead to impaired hormone functioning, hypoglycaemia and even diabetes. Fruit juice has no place in a healthy diet and is not a substitute for eating a piece of fresh fruit. Sugar is not only implicated in diabetes but countless other health conditions as well. A recent study from Ohio State University has shown that increased carbohydrate intake can cause saturated fat to be stored in the blood, leading to increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Grains, refined and whole, have also been found to be irritating to people who suffer from digestive disorders, ranging from IBS to celiac disease. Including 6-8 servings of grain in the diet of someone with these disorders can actually be dangerous. Mass diet recommendations ignore the complexities of a person’s individual health status.
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As someone who works with people suffering from all kinds of food intolerances and allergies, I find the food groups proposed in the guide to be very limiting. Let’s look at the dairy food group as an example. The recommendation to eat at least 2 dairy products per day is obviously not viable for someone who is lactose intolerant. In the list of suggested foods in this category, soy milk is proposed as the only alternative to dairy. Processed soy products such as soy milk, soybean oil and tofu (also recommended in Canada’s Food Guide) have been shown to be among the most allergenic foods to humans, and pose a plethora of other health and environ-mental problems.
Soy contains enzyme inhibitors, compounds which hinder the breakdown of macronutrients in the digestive tract and can lead to malnutrition and digestive distress. Soy also contains substances known as goitrogens, which depress the function of the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland regulates metabolism and body temperature. An under-active thyroid can lead to weight gain, fatigue, elevated blood cholesterol, a low body temperature, diminished sex drive, menstrual irregularities and depression, among countless other symptoms. Soybeans also contain phytic acid, a powerful anti-nutrient that blocks the absorption of essential minerals into the intestinal tract, such as magnesium, iron and zinc. Those who consume large amounts of soy in their diets are therefore prone to severe mineral deficiencies and their associated conditions. Soy also has one of the highest contamination rates from pesticides, wreaking havoc not only on our livers and endocrine systems but on the environment as well. The list of the dangers of soy goes on and the inclusion of soy in the recommendations for healthy eating is both outdated and irresponsible.
Along with soybean oil, the guide lists other “healthy” fats to be included in the daily diet. This list includes canola, corn, flaxseed, olive, peanut, and sunflower oil, as well as margarine. With the exception of olive oil, research has shown us time and again that these oils contribute to in-flammation in the body that can lead to heart disease, obesity, acne, arthritis and even some cancers. The guide recommends limiting saturated fats such as butter, coconut oil and lard, even though research has shown these fats to be extremely nourishing to the body.
While the potential health problems posed by Canada’s Food Guide are many, I am equally concerned with how the guide was created. Corporate influence plays a major role in what we as consumers choose to eat. This can clearly be seen in food advertising but it is also hidden behind Health Canada’s doors. Of the 12 members of Canada’s Food Guide Advisory Committee, the group that created the food guide, one third of them were representatives from the food industry. This means that dairy, grain and canola producers had a say in how many dairy, grain and canola-laden products we should be consuming everyday. The food industry’s main priority is raising profit margins and therefore it has no place in creating a guide to healthy living. Brazil’s new guidelines warn citizens to “be critical of the commercial advertisement of food products.” This is a simple step in reducing consumption of processed food products and one that we would all benefit from implementing. Unfortunately, with the food industry’s hand in its pocket, Health Canada avoids this basic yet crucial recommendation.
In my practice, I advocate abandoning calorie counting and measuring grams and servings. I work with my clients to find the foods that are the most nourishing for them as individuals. I en-courage them to eat in a way that makes them feel good and to embrace the enjoyment of eating and the pleasures of cooking. It is these simple guidelines that inspire people to make healthy food choices, not the stress of monitoring every bite of food that goes into their mouths. Brazil’s new guidelines may seem simple, but implementing them here in Canada may just be the solution to our ever-expanding health crisis.
March 11th ~ Vol. 85 No. 10
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