New Changes to Canada’s Food Guide and the Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet

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.


How to cook vegetables and maximize nutritional value

There is some truth to the old adage, “Eat your vegetables.” A diet rich in vegetables has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, hypertension and certain types of cancer. It is also true that cooking methods alter the nutrient composition of vegetables. And, while several studies have indicated cooking can degrade some nutrients, it can increase the availability of others.

As a general rule, it is ideal to keep cooking temperature, time and the amount of liquid to a minimum. Steaming is considered the best way to cook most vegetables, especially broccoli. Steaming is a gentler way to cook because the vegetables do not come in direct contact with the cooking water.

When on a time-crunch, microwave. That is because microwaving uses less heat, little to no water, and shorter cooking times, thus, preserving nutrients such as vitamin C.

Sautée, do not fry. Sautéing in a little cooking oil, such as extra-virgin olive oil, is an ideal way to prepare many vegetables. This method will enhance flavour, and the addition of olive oil appears to increase the absorption of phytochemicals like phenols and carotenes.

Roasting and baking is another healthy way to prepare vegetables. Adding fats such as olive oil is a good idea, since many of the nutrients in vegetables are fat soluble, and the body absorbs them better in the presence of fat. Studies indicate that cutting and heating tomatoes, with the skin and seeds still intact, opens up cell walls and allows greater access to the antioxidant lycopene. Adding some fat, such as olive oil, makes the nutrient more bioavailable.

Griddling is great. Griddling involves the use of a pan with raised edges and is typically prepared in the oven or on the stove. Vegetables such as green beans, broccoli, and asparagus, cooked with a drizzle of olive oil, can increase flavour and be quite healthy.

Boiling is the least favoured cooking method. Studies have shown the process leaches water soluble vitamins like vitamin C and B vitamins into the water, which is fine if the cooking water is to be consumed. Carrots are the exception. Boiling and steaming increase the levels of beta carotene which converts to vitamin A.

Other Notables:

Wash on demand. Wait to wash vegetables until just before use. This will safeguard water-soluble vitamins and minerals. Also, soaking vegetables can remove key nutrients such as vitamin C.

Depends on how you slice, dice and cut it. Cooking vegetables whole preserves water soluble vitamins and nutrients. When this is not possible, cut vegetables into large, uniform pieces that will cook evenly.

The final choice words; regardless of the cooking or preparation method, “Eat your vegetables.”


Hospital bed shortage continues to be major concern

The Ontario Government is considering reopening the Finch site of the Humber River Hospital to try to address the large shortage of beds, overcrowding, and hallway medicine in the area and in the province.  The Finch site would be used to hold 150 seniors waiting for long-term care. Two years ago, the Wynne Liberals closed the Hospital which has contributed to the severe shortage.

Over the last few years, community members have pushed to create expansions to the Finch site of the Humber River Hospital; efforts have included getting thousands of signatures for petitions which have been presented at Queen’s Park. The location was promised to be kept open for ambulatory care, but instead became an acute care facility and was subsequently closed. Now the Wynne Liberals are scrambling to solve the problem that they have created and ignored for many years.

Tom Rakocevic, Ontario NDP Candidate for Humber River-Black Creek said: “Our community played a big role in the creation of the Humber River Hospital on Finch, and we were disappointed to see it closed despite assurances of the contrary.  The government talk on the potential re-opening of this site in some form highlights the government’s mistake to close it down in the first place.  Our community deserves answers on the future of this important hospital site.”

Throughout Ontario, there have been thousands of cuts and layoffs to hospitals while we have been facing a shortage of beds. There is a 30,000 person wait-list for seniors’ care, and hospitals all over the province are at over 100 per cent capacity. This disconnection has reduced the quality of the health system in Ontario and has put the lives of many people in jeopardy.