Canada's Food Guide Recommended for Simple Nutrition Solutions

CANADA - Farm-Scape: Episode 2052. Farm-Scape is a Wonderworks Canada production and is distributed courtesy of Manitoba Pork Council and Sask Pork.
calendar icon 6 February 2006
clock icon 7 minute read

Farm-Scape, Episode 2052

“It's no wonder people are confused,“ states independent nutrition consultant Helen Bishop MacDonald.

Surveys Show Canadian Confused About Nutrition

Figures presented last month by Ipsos Reid at the 35th annual Banff Pork Seminar show, while Canadians want to eat in a more healthy manner, they find understanding what to eat to be healthy to be confusing.

Bishop MacDonald, who operates Ottawa based Nutrisphere observes, “It's interesting, because for many years nutritionists and dietitians have had the feeling that consumers are becoming confused by the many conflicting headlines about what’s good for them, what’s bad for them. One day a newspaper story will say this is great or they’ll pick up a woman’s magazine and read something about the benefits of soy, as an example. And then another study will come out and say, whoops that’s not the case.“

The data presented in Banff was collected through surveys conducted across Canada during 2002 and 2003 by Ipsos Reid, Canada’s largest market research and public affairs company. The studies also show while Canadian consumers want more information on the healthfulness of the food they consume, they’re finding it increasingly difficult to trust that information.

Canadians Want to Eat Healthy but Don't Know What to Eat

“Canadians are really very interested now in understanding how to eat in a healthful manner,“ says Ipsos Reid vice-president of agribusiness, food and animal health Dr. Susan Jones. She notes, “There’s no question that most of us get most of our information from the media. By far television and newspaper are the main two sources of information on food and on agriculture.“

She continues, “Canadians are interested in eating in a more healthy manner but, interestingly, six in ten of us feel that understanding what to eat and what they should eat to be healthy is so confusing now they don’t know what to eat anymore. They don’t know what choices they should make.“

Release of Preliminary Research Part of the Problem

Bishop MacDonald agrees, “I’ve reflected on this a lot and, going back over my career, I can recall that when I started out nutrition research would appear sometimes in a medical journal but most often just in a journal devoted to nutrition and the only people that read it would be nutritionists and sometimes the odd physician. Essentially it was a researcher saying, ‘Look, I’ve observed this, what do you think?’ Then another scientist would pick it up and that way nutrition science evolved. Now, as soon as one scientist makes even an observation, and people need to be aware of the difference between an observational study and a clinical trial, these ‘one of’ studies make headlines. Then, as very often happens, after the thing has been researched more thoroughly we discover that initial observation or conclusion was not warranted. No wonder people are in confusion.“

Trust and Credibility also a Factor

According to the surveys, both trust and credibility also appear to factor into the equation. “While eight in ten Canadians agree that it would be really helpful if the industry would label food products so they would understand what’s a regular choice versus a healthy choice,“ Dr. Jones explains. “The industry has a problem in that four in ten Canadians are not comfortable that the industry is telling the truth. When a food manufacturer puts a label on a product as being more healthy, it’s lacking in credibility. Canadians are not sure that they can believe that claim.“

When it comes to credible sources, Dr. Jones explains, “What we’ve seen in our research is that consistently – whether it’s information about food safety, whether it’s information about the environment, whether it’s information about healthfulness – Canadians look for third party independent sources to tell them what really should they be doing, what’s the right thing to do and what is the truth, far more than they look to industry to tell them.“

She acknowledges, “It depends on the topic but, if we’re talking about nutrition and food safety, food quality for example, they [the public] trust academics, university professors, physicians, dietitians. Those that they perceive have expert knowledge and also are independent from manufacturers, independent from any business interests. Those are by far the most credible.“

Canada's Food Guide Recommended for Simple Advice

Bishop MacDonald continues, “Unfortunately in nutrition things are not always as clear cut or as back and white as one would like. Nutrition is complicated and that’s why there is such a thing as Canada's food guide.“

Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating, is distributed by Health Canada and can be accessed through its internet website at: The site offers nutritional recommendations for people four years of age and older. Foods are broken into four categories: Grain Products; Vegetables and Fruit; Milk Products; and Meat and Alternatives.

The guide recommends 5 to 12 servings of grain products per day and suggests choosing whole grain and enriched products more often. It recommends 5 to 10 servings of vegetables and fruit per day and suggests choosing dark green and orange vegetables and orange fruit more often. For milk products, it recommends children 4 to 9 years old get 2 to 3 servings per day, youth 10 to 16 years old get 3 to 4 servings, adults get 2 to 4 servings and pregnant and breast-feeding women get 3 to 4 servings per day. It suggests choosing lower-fat milk products more often. The guide also recommends 2 to 3 servings of meat and alternatives per day and suggests choosing leaner meats, poultry and fish, as well as dried peas, beans and lentils more often. The guide also notes the amount of food required daily from the 4 food groups and other foods depends on several factors including age, body size and activity level.

MacDonald suggests, “It [Canada’s Food Guide] helps people to have a simple way of ensuring proper nutrition. If they are confused, just go back to the four food groups and make that they get a minimum serving everyday.“

She also notes, “We need to pay a lot of attention to other foods because that’s where a lot of people get their excess calories, things like donuts and jam and all that kind of stuff that we like.“

Canadians Are Improving Their Eating

Despite the apparent confusion, Canadian consumers are doing a better job. Jones explains, “If we look at how Canadians are eating now, nearly half of us, 47 percent say that they eat mainly healthy foods with some gaps. Fully a quarter say that they need to improve their diet or that they do not eat a healthy diet. We also have learned things like, the older we get, the more healthily we seem to eat. If you’re over 55 years of age in this country, 43 percent of us say that they’re eating a well balanced and healthy diet.“

She says, “When we look at diet and health we also see that Canadians are making changes. Three quarters of Canadians say they have made changes to their diet over the past few years and when we asked them why over 60 percent say that the main reason they did so was to maintain good health.“

Jones predicts, “When we look ahead into the future, I think that, as all of the baby boomers continue to age, the concept of nutrition and wellness will continue to increase in importance.

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