Canada's New Food Guide: How to Teach It?- Part 1: Background

A Guide for Teachers: How to Teach the New Food Guide...and Create Critical Thinkers Too

2019 saw a seismic shift in the government of Canada's approach to presenting Canada's Food Guide. Having studied nutrition and exercise for the first part of my life as a teacher candidate I am now embarking on a journey within the classroom teaching it. I am very excited to be teaching this new food guide as it has used evidence-based epidemiology to provide recommendations to the public about how to eat healthily and sensibly. True, many will argue that they may not be able to afford more vegetables and fruits on their plate but then this is your turn as a teacher to help your students critically think about what they eat, how they can become savvy shoppers and promote healthy eating at the same time. For instance, while teaching my kids about the food guide they worked on a project to budget and eat meals. I taught them how to calculate food based on price per gram (bulk vs. box vs. tub), how to use applications such as Flipp to shop and save, create lists and manage food for weeks at a time. Here's so more info about the Food Guide itself with some comments I have made within the text.

Simple and Easy to Follow:

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Canada's New Food Guide (Courtesy Health Canada)
This food guide is quite simple and easy to follow as rather than focusing on food groups it emphasizes literally half of your plate to be either fruits or vegetables (with preference given to vegetables) and 25% of the plate being devoted to some form of protein with the other 25% a grain product of some type. While this may sound vague, truthfully it allows for the average individual to remember the actual values as a percentage or divide the plate into quadrants with 50% of the plate being veggies or fruits. I remember trying to learn the old food guide in school and I kept forgetting each food group and the number of daily portions. This way you just cut up the plate into quarters with two quarters for fruits and veggies, one for protein and one for carbohydrates. Look you even get a math lesson out of this, gotta love cross-curricular connections :) 

Influence of Industry:

Since it's inception during World War II the Food Guide as we know it was quite heavily influenced by lobby groups and supply chain managed industries. Dairy products had numerous servings (3-5 daily) with meat and alternatives being promoted as primary sources of proteins. We Canadians love supporting our Chicken and Beef farmers and will continue to do so, but we are also an educated bunch who are also now aware of the impact of factory farming and large scale animal-based food production. The food guide is not saying to stop eating meat! It is simply saying make sure that if you are to have it, do so in moderation with more fruits and vegetables at each serving to be consumed.  A recently published article in the Lancet entitled "Food in the Anthropocene" encourages us to eat more fruit and vegetables and less processed foods. Some meat products are heavily processed which include the process of curing, smoking and fermenting.  Processed meats have been linked by the International Agency for Research in Cancer (IARC) as probably carcinogens for certain cancers.

Ethnicity and Changing Diets:

Many South Asians and South East Asians are lactose intolerant, and may not be able to consume Dairy products. Thus other products found in Asia such as almonds, legumes and seeds not found traditionally in Canada helped provide many of the protein requirements we all need on a daily basis to survive and thrive. Similarly, a large proportion of South Asians are vegetarian and receive many of their nutrients from the vegetarian diet supplemented with or without dairy. Changing food patterns and demographic shifts also helped fuel the shift in the way the food guide has been delivered. Veganism is another example of how dietary patterns have changed, with many Canadians choosing actively not to have animal-based products in their diets. The introduction of the Whole Foods chain has brought forth a great change in access and availability of "organic" fruits and vegetables which has led some consumers to become more cognizant of what they are eating. Documentaries such as Future of Food and Cowspiracy have heightened consumers knowledge base (although this can be disputed) such that they have entirely changed what they eat based on what multinational food corporations are doing to our food supply (i.e. mergers, acquisitions, GMO crop use, food additive abuse, non-transparency etc.) 

Food Literacy and Healthy Relationships

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Understanding Food Labels is Crucial to Improving Health Literacy
The new food guide emphasizes eating with families while informing the consumer of deceptive marketing practices. It emphasizes drinking water at meals instead of fizzy sodas we see on many commercials while watching TV over dinner time. The idea is that a more informed consumer will be able to choose more nutrient-rich foods that will be able to nourish the body. Teaching the food guide also requires us to take an in-depth look at our relationship to food. Do we use food as a reward in our classrooms? Do we place emphasis on certain foods and not others? Can we learn about food from other cultures? Exploring micro and macronutrients should also be considered. I like to use a project-based approach and I will discuss this soon. Health and food literacy come from the ability to take in vast amounts of information and process it to make informed choices. Food labels help us understand what is in our food and why we may choose to eat that particular product based on its nutritional value and content.

At one point many Canadian families used to sit at the dinner table together and eat and actually have a conversation. This concept of the family eating together and creating meaningful relationships with friends and social groups is being emphasized more and more in this technologically engulfed world. Yes, that means no tech at dinner!

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Drinking More Water with Meals is Encouraged in the New Food Guide
Canadian obesity and diabetes rates have influenced many researchers to determine what could be at the root cause of this problem. Many would argue the relationship between highly processed foods, along with added sugar and physical inactivity as being common culprits of problem. Portion sizes increased substantially in the 1980's and 90's with food companies now being pressured by activists and academia to decrease those sizes for the sake of the future of humanity. Many will argue there is no correlation with sugar and obesity, many would argue that your sugars should be obtained from your diet and to limit refined sugars. Further, with your group, you teach you may want to explain that sugar is sugar regardless of what source it is. For instance, brown sugar is no healthier relative to white sugar. There are many sugars which are being marketed as low glycemic; which means the body does not have to secrete as much insulin to absorb this type of sugar but do not be deceived the alternative sugars will have just as many calories as white table sugar. Foods may say no sugars added and then add xylitol which is a sugar-alcohol derived from the fermentation of wood products. While xylitol will not activate the insulin pathway it still packs calories. 
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I would even argue that we should have warning labels for foods that contain high levels of sugar (greater than 5 grams per serving) and that has been processed or refined (Industry would not agree to this).  The most recent revelations of the sugar industries direct relationship with Ivey league universities, who published data favouring more sugar than fat in the diet, have led to a great mistrust of academia and forced many journals to ensure that any monies received for research are to be disclosed in full during the publication process.