With changes coming to Canada’s food guide this year and next, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and the Dairy Farmers of Canada are voicing concern about possible impacts on their industries.
With Health Canada’s latest release of healthy eating guidelines, the updated guide is expected to focus more on plant-based foods as a source of protein, though nothing has been finalized.
The guiding principles suggests that Canadians should replace foods that contain saturated fat such as cream and butter with foods that contain unsaturated fat such as nuts and avocados.
The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and the Dairy Farmers of Canada have been involved in the public consultation process with Health Canada, but Stina Nagel, advocacy coordinator with the association, worries that some key industry information may not be making it to the final stages.
Although the food guide encourages plant-based food, Health Canada does not dispute red meats, eggs, fish or skim milk from a healthy diet.
“I think it is too bad Health Canada decided not to consider the expertise of people such as myself, or other experts that would have connections with the food industry,” Nagel says, adding, “They have excluded a large amount of scientific evidence that is valid and that contributes to the knowledge we have right now.”
She is especially concerned about numbers being used to determine the sustainability of the meat industry as she is convinced they aren’t coming from Canada.
Lynne Lafave, health and physical education professor at Mount Royal University, says one reason Health Canada may use research from elsewhere has to do with preventing a conflict of interest.
“I often smile when I’m asked this question whether milk is essential in the diet; we can ask the same question for other foods … Are vegetables essential for the diet?” – Isabelle Neiderer
Perhaps the biggest shift is the promotion of plant proteins. While these have always been included in the food guide, they are gaining more popularity because they contain more fibre and less saturated fat than their animal counterparts.
But the fact that they are better for you isn’t universally agreed upon.
Nagel says, “Plant based protein sources can have a role in diet, but that implying they are healthier than meat based sources, isn’t true.”
With talk of a universal protein category containing meats, dairy and alternatives, Isabelle Neiderer director of nutrition and research at Dairy Farmers of Canada highlights the fact that not all protein is created equal.
“I don’t think it is appropriate to lump all those protein foods together; it’s sending the wrong message that these protein foods are interchangeable when in fact they are not,” Neiderer says.
All protein sources have nutritional benefits for the diet of Canadians but some may be more effective than others at meeting your dietary needs. According to Nagel, animal foods are full of more readily digested protein than plant alternatives.
“I also find a lot of emphasis on plant based protein ironic,” she says.
“The plant based protein foods that the government are prioritizing at the moment don’t even meet federal requirements to be called a source of protein.”
Nagel continues to say that some of the proposed changes are problematic and paint an unfair picture about some foods such as red meats.
“I think it’s just a lack of information on current science and a bias of certain researchers.”
Despite the likely changes Neiderer says that most of the recommendations of the current guide are still valid.
“I often smile when I’m asked this question whether milk is essential in the diet; we can ask the same question for other foods … Are vegetables essential for the diet?”
Although some people in the industry are optimistic about reiterations to the latest food guide, others like Nagel have voiced their concern whether these changes can potentially steer Canadians away from certain animal foods.
“It’s good to enjoy fats and to incorporate fats in moderation however targeting saturated fats does seem to be a bit of a problem in terms of that it will encourage people to eat less red meat.”
Editor: Abby LaRocque | firstname.lastname@example.org