The federal government is preparing to unveil its long-awaited update to Canada’s Food Guide, the first such overhaul in ten years. The new guide is expected to place greater emphasis on plant-based foods, not only for their health benefits, but also for the sake of environmental sustainability. Most notable is the downgrading of animal products such as red meat, and the removal of milk and dairy products as a separate category which the guidelines suggest must be limited due to their high fat, sugar and/or salt content.
The current guide has been criticized by researchers and dietitians alike on a number of fronts:
- The inclusion of dairy products as a distinct food group;
- Counting juices as servings of fruits and vegetables;
- The reliance on serving sizes that can be difficult for people to interpret and measure;
- Its failure to reflect Canada’s diverse cultural landscape.
During the process of re-drafting the Food Guide, industry-commissioned reports were excluded for consideration. Instead, a series of public consultations were organized across the country and Canadians were encouraged to provide feedback on the draft guidelines.
A plant-based diet places greater emphasis on plant sources such as vegetables and fruit, whole grains, nuts and legumes. This being said, limited amounts of lean meats and low-fat dairy products are still recommended. Numerous studies have linked plant-based diets to decreased risks of cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and a reduction in LDL cholesterol. Why? A diet rich in plant foods is naturally low in saturated fat, high in fibre and low in sodium and added sugar.
Not only are plant-based foods a key determinant to human health, they also contribute to biodiversity conservation and environmental sustainability. The new guidelines acknowledge that our current food system places stress on the environment, particularly the consumption of meats and animal by-products. The draft states, “Diets higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods are associated with a lesser environmental impact.”
A shift towards more plant-based foods is achievable and here’s how:
- Begin by eating more plant-based meals you already eat.
- Change one meal at a time or one ingredient at a time.
- Initiate a 50/50 switch and replace some of the meats with legumes – for example, only add half the amount of beef you normally would to a recipe and top up with lentils.
- Eliminate animal-foods you don’t eat often.
- Choose whole grains over white varieties – e.g. brown rice or spelt pasta.
- Replace foods that contain mostly saturated fat (e.g. ice cream, high fat cheeses and butter) with foods that contain mostly unsaturated fat (e.g. nuts, seeds, and avocado).
- Consume a variety of differently coloured vegetables and fruits, and buy season-specific produce.
- Stock your kitchen with plant-based foods you want to eat.
- Don’t forget, canned and frozen vegetables are nutritious too, but be sure to choose options that are low in sodium and sugar.