Canada’s 2019 Health Food Guide: Health Promotion or Marketing Campaign?

Canada’s new Health Food Guide 1 has dramatically changed from the prior 2007 version 2: no more is the divided plate with rainbow food groups and that classic glass of milk. In the latest revision, the House of Commons standing committee on agriculture and agri-food recommended government and industry collaboration to “ensure alignment and competitiveness for domestic industries” 3. Dr. Hutchinson, director general of Health Canada’s office of nutrition and health policy, assured that decisions regarding the guide were evidence based, and not just on reports from the industry 4. But why exactly was the drink of choice switched from milk to water, and why were Canadian food lobbyists so upset about it? 

After diving into a bit of history around Canada’s old Health Food Guides, I found some interesting facts. In 2007, agriculture, including dairy farming, was one of the leading drivers of the economy and in 2011, dairy production ranked 3rd in Canada’s agricultural sector 5 6. Canada’s overall milk production increased 6.71% between 2009 and 2015, and dairy farming remains one of the top two agricultural sectors in 7 out of 10 provinces 6. Keeping in mind the previous Food Guide was released in 2007, it’s not unreasonable to assume that some priority would go towards Canada’s food economy to sustain nation wide food recommendations. But what is prioritized first, the health of Canadians, or agricultural profit? 

Snapshot of Canada’s Food Guide 7 .

Let’s take a closer look into the benefits of milk. Milk is a classic go to for calcium intake, a mineral necessary to strengthen your bones. But what exactly makes milk the ultimate drink of choice for bone health? On average, people aged between 19 and 50 years old need around 1000mg/day of calcium 8. One glass of 1% milk has around 300 mg of calcium , requiring 4 1/4 glasses of milk consumption everyday to hit your calcium target 9. But here’s the catch: Vitamin D is critical for bones to absorb calcium, and Vitamin D is added to milk 10. Furthermore, calcium bioavailability in milk is about 30%, while green vegetables like broccoli and kale have twice that amount 10. So in reality, milk probably shouldn’t be your go to if you’re worried about your bones breaking. 

I would be lying if I wasn’t concerned about the influence of food industry lobbyists on Health Canada. If milk was so easily replaced on the latest Food Guide, and frowned upon by the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada might I add, how essential was it’s benefit to the health of Canadians in the decades prior? Like any product, drinking milk has pros and cons. Milk isn’t necessarily bad for you, but what it really comes down to is that drinking milk is not essential to the human diet. So I guess the question is, what’s the next “glass of milk?” on the 2019 Health Food Guide? I would like to think that Health Canada has our best interests at heart, but it’s also hard to promote healthy eating when you can’t sell it.

Sources
  1. Canada’s Food Guide – https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/[]
  2. Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide 2007 – https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/canada-food-guide/about/history-food-guide/eating-well-with-canada-food-guide-2007.html[]
  3. Meat and dairy supporters seek industry-friendly changes to food guide – https://www.cmaj.ca/content/190/7/E201[]
  4. BBC News. Is milk healthy? Canada’s new food guide says not necessarily – https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-46964549[]
  5. Study: Canada’s economy in 2007 –https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/080410/dq080410b-eng.htm[]
  6. Study Highlights the Economic Impact of the Canadian Dairy Sector – https://dairyfarmersofcanada.ca/en/dairy-in-canada/news-releases/study-highlights-economic-impact-canadian-dairy-sector[][]
  7. Snapshot of Canada’s Food Guide – https://food-guide.canada.ca/static/assets/pdf/CFG-snapshot-EN.pdf[]
  8. Osteoporosis Overview – https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/osteoporosis/overview[]
  9. Dairyland Regular Milk – https://www.dairyland.ca/en/products/regular-milk[]
  10. Cash Cow – https://books.google.ca/books/about/Cash_Cow.html?id=Tn55CgAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=kp_read_button&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false[][]

4 Comments

Add Yours →

I have also wondered about the influence of industry on our politicians. How often do politicians put the interests of lobbyists over the well being and interests of Canadians? I feel more often than we would like to think. 🙁
Is this food guide a trendy response to other industry pressures?
I hope not. I think this food guide is an amazing improvement over the last one!

Hi Rhonda, it’s great that you think that the food guide is an improvement, but also that you are thinking critically and considering the potential impacts on how these guides are created!

So, how much broccoli do you need for 1,000 mg of calcium? –
5 1/2 cups.
My thought is that in northern climes before the advent of transporting veggies/fruit from warmer climes, milk was easily available (think Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof pulling his cart of milk 🙂 ). So now we have oat milk from grains grown in northern climes! No transportation from south so better for environment as milk was because available locally.
Your blog on vegetarian diet for me brings same quandary of transportation and environment. Recipes need to use more of the root vegetables available here in the winter.

Hi Pat, I think this is an excellent point and definitely something to keep in mind when we are choosing to eat a certain way. While certain foods may be more environmentally friendly, it’s definitely important to know where your food is coming from and how transportation and subsequent emissions impact the environment! Eating more local foods during any season can be a great way to reduce environmental impact from emissions.

Leave a Reply to Rhonda Cancel reply