Food guide furor

Canada’s meat and dairy producers say they will continue to promote the nutritional benefits of their food in the wake of Canada’s Food Guide recommendations to eat more plant-based protein.

The revised food guide released last week shifted away from the four food groups, serving sizes and numbers of servings to which Canadians have become accustomed.

Instead, it offers a simple illustrative approach: a plate half-full of fruits and vegetables, one-quarter whole grains and one-quarter protein. It explicitly encourages the consumption of more plant proteins.

Lee Finnell, a Dairy Farmers of Canada dietitian, said the guidelines from Health Canada direct people to make healthier choices but aren’t policy.

She said eating plant protein is fine, but quality is a concern.

“There is high quality protein in milk,” she said.

Milk products are still in the food guide, although as only one possible choice in the protein category along with meat, eggs, tofu and beans.

Finnell said DFC supports Health Canada but is waiting for the full recommendations for health professionals and policy makers to come out later this year.

She said people would be surprised how much plant protein they would have to eat to get their daily requirements.

The Canadian Meat Council said a 75-gram pork chop contains 25 grams of protein and 130 calories. To consume the same amount from plants, a person would need more than three-quarters of a cup of almonds, at 687 calories, and 2.5 cups of chickpeas at 490 calories.

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association also said a small amount of lean beef provides high quality, readily available protein.

“We trust as they move forward beef will be profiled as it should, as a nutrient dense protein as much or more than plant-based options,” said Jill Harvie, manager of public and stakeholder engagement.

“All proteins are not created equal. Beef is a considerable bang for your buck in terms of calories, taste and nutrition.”

The food guide also recommended people cook more of their own food, reduce saturated fat, sugar and sodium and make water their top beverage choice.

Canadian Pork Council nutritionist Mary Ann Binnie said emphasizing food preparation is positive.

“Get away from the screen and enjoy food with others,” she said.

“It is addressing the whole mindful eating, along with recognizing many Canadians over-consume the highly processed foods.”

The Canadian Sugar Institute said in a statement that it is broadly supportive of the food guide’s approach to healthy eating and consuming a variety of foods. It also noted that Canadians have been reducing their sugar intake for years.

“In 2015, the average daily total sugars consumption from all foods and beverages was 101 grams for children aged 2 to 8, 115 grams for children aged 9 to 18 and 85 grams for adults, which demonstrates a reduction of three, 13 and eight grams, respectively, compared to 2004,” the institute said.

It noted that although the food guide suggests most sugar should come from intact or cut fruit and vegetables and unsweetened milk, its data shows fruit is the greatest source of total sugar and that consumption of unsweetened milk has declined across all age groups.

Food policy expert Sylvain Charlebois from Dalhousie University said that while few people might actually follow the guide, everyone is aware of it.

He told the Saskatchewan Beef Industry Conference that the new food guide is historical because it moved away from the food groups that have been part of the guide since its inception in 1942.

Health Canada officials told reporters that the guide is based on the latest scientific research and evidence. However, Charlebois observed that 13 nutritionists and dietitians who share the same philosophy developed it. The department came under criticism earlier for not meeting with the agricultural industry while the work was underway.

“What concerns me the most is there is no scientific rigour,” Charlebois said. “You cannot tell the Canadian public this is science-based. It is based on the one side.”

He also called the approach “elitist” because it doesn’t talk about food security, prices or budgets.

Charlebois encouraged beef producers to look for partners to keep their products on dinner plates.

“Saskatchewan grows a lot of pulses. What’s wrong by encouraging Canadians to prepare meatloaf with beef and lentils? You’re basically offering a healthy option.”

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture said it is disappointed the food guide doesn’t promote Canadian agri-food as a core recommendation.

“However, the diversity of foods outlined in the food guide are all agri-food products that Canadian farmers grow and produce daily,” said president Ron Bonnett. He said buying Canadian food products supports Canadian farmers.

Charlebois, on the other hand, said the guide has “gone urban” and no longer illustrates the country’s agricultural know-how.

In a commentary, he said the government can’t continue to say it unconditionally supports supply management when it clearly doesn’t. Dairy, poultry and egg producers are the biggest losers in the guide, particularly if domestic consumption drops as a result.

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