Review of the new Health Canada food guide

Review of the new Health Canada food guide

Vegan Society of Canada News, March 5th 2019

After doing some more extensive research, our initial conclusion on the new Canadian food guide is largely unchanged. However, while crunching numbers, we came upon some interesting results. The new food guide uses a proportional picture of a plate to convey an idea that at least 88% of the food we eat should be plant-based. On the other hand, the EAT-Lancet planetary health diet, which has been released just before the Canadian food guide, use food quantities in a range bracket to account for various activity levels and people’s ease of access to various food. The interesting part is that if we calculate the proportion of food of plant-based origin in the planetary health diet as a percentage of daily caloric intake, we come up with the same 88%. While this could be a coincidence, instead we think it is because both documents are based on an exactly the same or at least very similar scientific evidence.

We cannot readily equate a proportion of food on a plate to an exact gram per day but it seems a fair assumption that our Government did not intend to mean that we could stretch 2 lettuce leaves to cover 50% of the plate and spread a gold leaf thickness of rice and tofu covering 37.5% of the plate with 4 steaks stacked on top of each other covering the remainder 12.5%. We think instead that the plate concept relates indirectly to portion quantity and the planetary health diet would be a good implementation of the proportion indicated by the picture in the new Canadian food guide.

Therefore, all the implications discussed in the EAT-Lancet are still valid for the Canadian food guide. As a result, our calculation of the planetary health diet for Canadian grocery stores remains intact. A diet with at least 88% plant-based food could have at a maximum:

  • 1 rib steak per month
  • 3.3 boneless chicken breast per month
  • 1.9 fish filet per month
  • 750 grams of cheese, or whole milk equivalent, per month

In addition, the magnitude of animal based food reduction in the new Canadian food guide is largely unchanged at around 73% from current consumption levels. The main difference is the planetary health diet was built to accommodate food accessibility of the entire planet, whereas in Canada the accessibility is much less of a concern. As such, the planetary health diet has a greater variance whereas the Canadian food guide suggest at least 88% food coming from plant-based sources. Therefore, the guidance above is an upper bound on animal food consumption. These quantities should highlight the enormous task that groceries store will have to modify portion size. When one should consume at most 420 grams of red meat per month it may be valuable that meat in grocery stores come in portion size much smaller than what is currently available.

Additionally, the new Canadian food guide acknowledge for the first time that our dietary choice have an impact on the environment:

there is evidence supporting a lesser environmental impact of patterns of eating higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based Foods

To save our planet, it requires the collaborative effort of everyone. We are committed to help the world make a shift to a plant-based diet and goods free of animals products. How about you? What small or big step would you take today?