By Chris Marchand
Canada’s Food Guide and overall Healthy Eating Strategy is in the midst of a significant update to better reflect the needs of Canadians.
The new guide is set to be released in January of 2018, and while public health professionals in the region aren’t yet privy to the finer details of how it will have evolved, Northwestern Health Unit Public Health Nutritionist Julie Slack says some changes to the strategy are overdue.
“Personally, I think it’s time,” said Slack. “It’s been 10 years or more, the evidence changes, we have more and more research. Just with the way people are today, it’s time for a revamp.”
Slack says that between Health Canada briefings and the current health research of the day, there are some indications of the direction of things to come.
Among them, Slack says, is leanings towards a greater emphasis on whole grains, vegetables and plant-based proteins, though she can’t say how those themes will factor into new dietary recommendations after an evidence review.
Health Canada also announced in recent weeks that a ban on trans-fats in food products will take effect within a year. The partially-hydrogenated oils are strongly linked to heart disease, as is sodium — another focus of the upcoming strategy.
Nutritional labeling is expected to undergo some simplification with portion sizes to be more reflective of consumption patterns.
In order to get the information to Canadians, who often face conflicting nutritional information in the online world, a new web and mobile device platform will be developed.
“Something that’s kind of exciting to me, given what we do in public health, some of the pieces from the consultation looked at the role of environments. There’s always sort of been that blame on the individual, but how easy is it to follow the food guide when you’re at work and all there is is donuts at every meeting, or pop served everywhere. Some of these environments are not conducive to making healthy choices. It’s exciting to me to see that they are looking more into that. Also, trying to bring back whole food literacy – spending time with your family in the kitchen learning to cook together and enjoying food together. I think we’ve really, over many years, medicalized food in a way. It’s back to basics. Let’s just get some plain whole food and cook it up together.”
The issue of access to fresh, whole foods has another dimension in Northwestern Ontario as residents, particularly in remote communities face prohibitive costs associated with obtaining healthy foods.
“It’s such a big issue and I wish we knew what the answer was,” said Slack. “We do research annually and every year we get the results and the northwest catchment area has the highest cost of food in Ontario. I think that the work being done in Sioux Lookout with the municipality and the airport to get fresh food and healthy food to some of our remote communities is amazing and so very exciting. They are even exploring the opportunity to have the communities fly goods back to Sioux Lookout to assist the community’s economy, I believe. There are even discussions about how greenhouses and gardening could work in the north and providing training and teaching. It is a great project. There is also much working being done with Dryden’s Cloverbelt Co-op to get local producer/growers food to our NWO communities.”