New health guide includes lentils and peas as protein suggestions

WINNIPEG – Health Canada has unveiled its new food guide, which switches the focus from portion sizes to a balanced diet and includes protein from sources like peas and lentils. For the Canadian pulse crop industry, it’s a narrative they’ve been sharing for years.

“(The new food guide is) also sort of a realization that there isn’t just one approach to achieving the proper nutrition that ensures a healthy outcome,” said Gordon Bacon, chief executive officer of Pulse Canada.

The updated food guide was released on Jan. 22 and focuses on eating plenty of vegetables and fruits, protein foods, whole grain foods, and drinking water. The updated guide emphasizes the benefits of plant-based foods, including pulses. In the section on protein foods pulses recommended include beans, peas and lentils.

Bacon said he wasn’t surprised by the recommendations that Health Canada decided on. Based on what he had heard from earlier discussions about the food guide he had been expecting to see pulses included. And while he said not all groups may be impressed with the food guide’s recommendations, he thinks it’s important to focus on the idea of having a balanced diet.

“I think that kind of a key message is that a healthy food item when consumed, without consideration of overall dietary requirements for things like fibre and fat and sugar, doesn’t necessarily mean (by eating) healthy food items you will end up with a healthy diet,” Bacon said.

The pulse industry is a major part of Canadian agriculture but has been facing challenges selling the crops internationally. Canadian farmers grew 2.559 million tonnes of lentils in 2017, according to Statistics Canada. However, production fell last year to 2.092 million tonnes. This was due to Canada’s largest market, India, placing import tariffs on pulses and thus reducing purchases.

Bacon expects that by pulses being included in the updated food guide will help the Canadian pulse industry by urging Canadians to think of pulses as a source of protein for their diets and eat more of them. On a larger scale, the inclusion helps push forward ideas that Pulse Canada has been working on for years.

“You can’t look at single ingredients. You don’t start building around one plate a meal that you have, you really look at how you meet all of your requirements from a dietary perspective. It is consistent with the approach that we’re taking,” Bacon said.

Bacon does think this could help change the way people think about pulses as an ingredient. For years Pulse Canada and other pulse organizations have been pushing for pulses to be included in formulations of foods like breakfast cereals. By having Health Canada include pulses in the food guide it should help to spread that idea.

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