Canada’s Food Guide is the most requested government publication after tax forms. But a survey by Dr David Hammond of the University of Waterloo found that “fewer than half could name all four food groups. Less than one per cent knew how many servings they should have from each one.”
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There are many critics of Canada’s Food Guide, including the Senate of Canada, which, in its recent Obesity in Canada report, called for an overhaul of the document.
The FAO and Food Climate Research Network at the University of Oxford recently published Plates, pyramids and planets - Developments in national healthy and sustainable dietary guidelines: a state of play assessment. The report offers some options for such an overhaul.
Plates, pyramids and planets explores how dietary guidelines are being used by governments to guide citizens in eating well, but also observes, “if we are to address the multiple social, health and environmental challenges caused by, and affecting good systems, global populations need to move towards dietary patterns that are both healthy and also respectful of environmental limits.”
Our current food systems are unsustainable and fail to nourish people adequately. We have an opportunity to integrate shifts to healthy diets that will support a healthy planet. The good news is that diets with a low environmental impact are consistent with good health. While there are many nuances, they don’t stray far from Michael Pollan’s popular dictum, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants” (you can go deep into his seminal 2007 New York Times Magazine article Unhappy meals).
The bad news is that the FAO and FCRN research found that not all countries have official dietary guidelines (just 83 of 215 do, with a particular absence of these kind of policies in low-income countries). Only four have any reference to sustainability, those of Germany, Brazil, Sweden, and Qatar.
“On food based dietary guidelines in general: Dietary guidelines are a key component of a coherent food policy. An essential first policy step, at their best, they provide a clear, context-appropriate steer on how people should be eating to maintain good nutritional health and provide the basis for the development of policies intended to shift consumption patterns in healthier directions.”
If the recent criticism of Canada’s Food Guide does indeed lead to an overhaul, we ought to include sustainability as a criterion. We have an amazing opportunity to address what is not working with the current approach to promoting healthy diets. But we ought also to align nutrition with sustainability as a lever for significant change.
Source Jennifer Reynolds - FSC's Institutional Food Program Manager
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