Make Sustainable Diets An Important Part Of Canada’s Next Food Guide

Food Secure Canada has developed this primer to encourage Canadians to raise these food systems issues when they participate in the online Canada Food Guide consultation - open until December 8, 2016 (click here to participate).

Sweden, Brazil, Qatar and Germany have integrated sustainability principles into their national dietary guidelines. With the recently announced revision of Canada’s Food Guide, we have a strategic opportunity in Canada to do the same. Since our health is intimately linked to the environment, we need to improve the sustainability of food systems and redefine healthy food as going beyond its nutritional qualities alone.

As Health Minister Jane Philpott noted in her remarks in the recent announcement of the Healthy Eating Strategy - “the path to a healthy food ecosystem in Canada requires a whole-of-society response. It has to take into account sustainable agriculture, food security, the cost of food, how food is distributed, where it’s sold, how it’s prepared and so much more.” We need to consider both the consumption and production of food if we are to leverage change and take a whole-supply-chain approach in order to have a whole-of-society impact on health.

Here’s an overview of how the Canada Food Guide consultation fits into the bigger picture announced by Health Canada last month in the FSC article on Making Sense of the New Healthy Eating Strategy.

Making Sense of the New Healthy Eating Strategy

On October 24 at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in Montreal, Health Minister Jane Philpott unveiled the federal government’s vision for a healthier Canada. This includes measures to increase healthy living and improve mental health but has, at its centre, a Healthy Eating Strategy that seeks to support Canadians in choosing healthy diets. [Read more]

Pathways through the online consultation on Canada’s Food Guide

The online consultation on Canada’s Food Guide presents a series of questions for the general public, or a more expansive pathway for professionals, educators and organizational representatives. In both cases, as you answer succeeding questions your responses generate your unique journey through the questionnaire, inviting more depth about your areas of interest or expertise. 

Processed foods, sugar and sugary beverage consumption and the usefulness of the four food groups approach are three issues where you will likely be asked your opinion.

Communicating effectively to different audiences is another central plank of Health Canada's approach to this revision. Especially if you follow the in-depth stakeholders pathway, you will likely be given the chance to elaborate on tailoring messages and resources to different groups in Canadian society, including Indigenous Peoples, Children and youth,

Sprinkled throughout the consultation there are opportunities to use an "Other" response option to add issues or perspectives not included in the standard answers. Use it! This is your chance to deepen and widen the scope of the exercise. Passionate about the protein shift, local sourcing or GMO labeling? Write them in.

Health Canada is committed to publishing the results of this first phase as a Summary of Comments and What we Heard Report. Learn more about their overall consultative approach, process and the calendar of work here.

A few key resources on healthy, sustainable diets:

FSC Webinar: Sustainable Diets and Canada’s Food Guide hosted on November 29, 2016

This webinar provides an overview of sustainable diets that can promote both human and environmental health. Panelists explored a number of questions including: What are the different dimensions of sustinability - environmental, economic social? How these can be developed into dietary guidance? What are the key elements of Brazil and Qatar's dietary guidelines? What can we learn from efforts in other countries to include sustainability principles that failed? How can nutrition experts, climate and sustainable agriculture advocates dialogue and work together on this issue?

  • Watch the webinar recording


Plates, pyramids, planet: Developments in national healthy and sustainable dietary guidelines: a state of play assessment (FAO, 2016)

“Current food systems jeopardize current and future food production and fail to nourish people adequately. The starting point for this report is the observation – founded on a growing body of research – that if we are to address the multiple social, health and environmental challenges caused by, and affecting food systems, global populations need to move towards dietary patterns that are both healthy and also respectful of environmental limits. As such, an integrated understanding of what such diets look like is needed, as is action to foster the necessary shifts in consumption.”

Canada's Food Guide should seek inspiration from Brazil: researcher CBC. March 5, 2016.

“A Canadian researcher who helped Brazilians rethink how they eat says Canada's Food Guide should stop focusing on the four food groups but should instead look to eliminating processed food.”

Food Based Dietary Guidelines - Brazil (2014)

“Diet refers to intake of nutrients, and also to the foods that contain and provide nutrients. Diet also refers to how foods are combined and prepared in the form of meals, how these meals are eaten, and also to cultural and social dimensions of food choices, food preparation and modes of eating, all of which affect health and wellbeing.”

“Healthy diets derive from socially and environmentally sustainable food systems.”

Obesity in Canada: A Whole-of-Society Approach for a Healthier Canada (Senate of Canada, 2016)

“Canada’s dated food guide is no longer effective in providing nutritional guidance to Canadians. Fruit juice, for instance, is presented as a healthy item when it is little more than a soft drink without the bubbles.”

Food and Nutrition Factsheet 2016 (FSC and Hypertension Canada)

“For the majority of Canadians, 60% of the calories they consume come from ultra-processed foods (i.e. products whose manufacture involves several stages and various processing techniques and ingredients, many of which are used exclusively by industry. Examples include packaged salty oily snacks, confectionery, soft drinks, frozen breakfast foods, packaged pizzas, and instant noodles).”

My wish list for Canada’s new food guide The Globe and Mail. October 31, 2016

“Our national food guide, in long need of repair, is finally getting an overhaul. It needs a lot more than a tune-up to catch up with scientific evidence on diet and health and what – and how – Canadians eat."

Pour un guide alimentaire moderne La Presse, 27 octobre, 2016

“Les problèmes environnementaux d’aujourd’hui seront les problèmes de santé publique de demain. Dans un contexte de changements climatiques et de surexploitation des ressources naturelles, il serait irresponsable de ne pas adapter les conseils alimentaires en conséquence.”

LiveWell for LIFE

LiveWell for LIFE played a key role in the European sustainable diets debate. The project looked at health, nutrition, carbon and affordability and demonstrated how low-carbon, healthy diets can help us achieve a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the EU food supply chain.

Let us know if you participate in Canada’s Food Guide consultation!

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