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First Canada Food Guide overhaul in a decade sees shift away from meat and dairy

Last Updated Jul 17, 2017 at 11:24 pm EDT

For the first time in a decade, Canada’s Food Guide is getting an overhaul – and it could alter what our children eat at school and daycare, how they learn about food and, ultimately, how grocery stores stock their shelves.

The initial draft of the new guide places an emphasis on plant-based foods while downplaying the previous stature given to meat and dairy products.

“So far the guiding principles of the new draft are looking excellent to me,” said Cara Rosenbloom, a registered dietician. “There’s lots more emphasis on plant-based foods, less emphasis on eating processed foods.”

Rosenbloom recently penned an article titled “8 reasons why the new Canada’s Food Guide is awesome” for Today’s Parent. She likes what she’s seeing in the ongoing consultation process as the new guide is pieced together.

“One of the things we’re seeing is a grouping of foods that are rich in protein all grouped together. So instead of a meat and alternatives group and a milk and alternatives group, we see them all grouped together as protein.”

But not everyone agrees with the proposed removal of “milk and alternatives” as one of the four main groups. The Dairy Farmers of Canada have participated in the consultation process. The group claims Health Canada is ignoring important scientific evidence.

“Milk products are under-consumed in Canada by the majority of Canadians,” said Isabelle Neiderer, a registered dietitian and director of nutrition at Dairy Farmers of Canada.

“They contribute important nutrients for bone health but also for the prevention of several diseases. There should be an emphasis on the need to consume adequate amounts of milk in the Canadian diet.”

Rosenbloom believes the new Food Guide won’t entirely downplay the role milk can play in a balance diet. “It’s not that they’re removing dairy foods at all. There’s still going to be an emphasis on milk, cheese and yogurt, but it won’t be its own food group maybe. We don’t know for sure.”

Rosenbloom says Canadian grocery store shelves are already well-stocked with calcium and Vitamin-D enriched milk-based alternatives – many of them made from soy, almonds and coconuts. But Neiderer insists milk belongs in a category of its own.

“Milk products are great sources of high quality protein but they also contribute 15 other essential nutrients in the diet, many of which are not provided by other protein-rich foods. Lumping all these protein foods together in the same group I believe as a dietician is a disservice to Canadians because it will not help them consume a balanced diet that contains all the essential nutrients that they need, especially bone health nutrients.”

The draft guide also indicates a shift away from animal-based foods by placing an emphasis on lentils and other sources of protein. The public consultation process began last fall and will close July 25. The new Food Guide materials will be published next year. Rosenbloom predicts the new guidelines will have a direct effect on the meals served in institutional settings – including hospitals, care centres and schools.

“One of the benefits for children will be learning a better food guide when they’re in school. Daycare menus and school cafeteria menus are based on the old food guide and that allows for some processed foods and some foods that are not really that healthy. So every cafeteria menu won’t be burgers and chicken fingers; it might be black bean burritos and lentil soup.”