Canada’s Food Guide (CFG) has been a staple educational and assessment piece throughout my education and practice. However there has been numerous concerns about this tool – it is outdated, promotes overeating,ect. Should we be following it?
When I go over CGF with the cancer class I teach, I often get comments that it seems impossible to meet the required fruit and vegetable servings that the CFG recommends. What is the issue here? Portion distortion. CFG illustrates that a serving of fruit and vegetables is 1/2 cup, but is this what the public considers a serving? Likely a lot more than that. Almost every piece of produce is more than one serving. If you are eating a large apple such as a Mutsu apple, you may be getting 2-3 CFG servings.This leads to problems.
Someone can pick up a CFG and just aim for their minimum required servings of each food group. As CFG does not reflect how we actually eat this can lead to overeating. Yes the portion sizes are listed right on the guide, but again this is not how we’re used to eating. CFG is not meant to promote weight gain and is meant for weight maintenance – for example, a sedentary adult woman should get 1,800 calories daily. However, as illustrated above, it may not be the most practical tool for this – an adult woman who roughly followed the food-guide recommendations based on real world servings, would probably consume about 3,300 calories instead of 1,800 calories.
How did Health Canada create the CFG?
They used the 1997 nutrient file to determine the size and calories in various foods. In that file, a slice of bread (one serving) is 65 calories. However most breads on grocery store shelves in modern times have a much higher caloric content – around 120 kcals. So, if you eat the recommended six servings of grain products, you may actually be consuming 10 servings or more. The same is true for many foods; even your average orange is a lot bigger than it was in 1997.
Another issue with CFG is that it doesn’t take into account “other foods” that are not included in the four main food groups. This includes many condiments that we add onto foods listed in the four food groups. Does everyone actually eat a baked potato plain?
In the real world, these other foods account for 25 per cent of all our calories.
Any Positives to the CFG?
It is a guide. I am not a fan of prescriptive diet plans therefore would much rather give a patient a loose set of guidelines that allows them freedom to choose different foods within categories. It does emphasize that fruits and vegetables should be the most of what we eat in a day and meats and alternatives should be the least.
My Conclusion – take simple messages from CFG, as mentioned above, but this tool may not be the most practical tool when evaluating your food intake. I think the CFG should be revamped to one that is useful in the real (obesogenic) world, not just the laboratory.