British Columbia

Proposed new food guide tells Canadians to cut back on sugar and eat better fats

No more six-page booklet to leaf through and pin to the front of the fridge; the Canadian Food Guide is getting an upgrade for the smartphone era.

Health Canada says the new guidelines are based on extensive scientific review

Canada's Food Guide will soon be smartphone friendly and attempt to tackle the issue of childhood obesity as it relates to sugar, says Health Canada. (Health Canada)

Canadians may soon be encouraged to eat more fibre, less sugar and not fret too much regarding overall fat intake.

The 10-year-old Canadian Food Guide is in the process of being updated after about three years of research and consultation. The final product isn't ready, but it's shaping up to look a lot different than the current model.

"You could say little has changed and everything has changed. When you think about how people get information, a decade ago we didn't even have the iPhone," said Hasan Hutchinson, head of Health Canada's Office of Nutrition Policy and Promotion.

Abandoning the fridge-door poster model for a smartphone compatible guide is one of the biggest shifts Canadians will notice when the new guide launches next year, according to Hutchinson.

He said an extensive review of scientific literature has led the team in charge of the food guide to adjust a few of the nutritional guidelines as well, including the way we view fats.

"The last food guide seemed to focus a bit more on total fat … over the last few years it became very evident there was not strong evidence on total fat but where there was very consistent evidence is the need to reduce saturated fat, replacing it with unsaturated fat," Hutchinson told Stephen Quinn, the host of CBC's On the Coast.

One thing that has remained a constant is the political nature of the food guide, whether it appears on our phones or is hung on the fridge.

During the development and research of the guide over the last three-and-a-half years, Hutchinson said the previous health minister, Jane Philpott, allowed the team to work free of influence from industry lobbyists.

"This round of doing the food guide, we have made quite an effort to control for any potential conflict of interest. Certainly last time — back in 2007 — we were accused of having been influenced adversely by industry."

'The very best evidence'

Despite an outcry from industry about the proposed new guide, it will likely advise Canadians to reduce their intake of red meat, fatty meat, whole-fat dairy and processed foods.

However, industry and the public alike were invited to the public consultation process, which, since last fall, Hutchinson estimated, had about 30,000 participants from people either attending meetings or submitting online feedback.

Philpott has said the new guide will help Canadians make choices that prevent them from developing chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer connected to unhealthy diets.

The Dairy Farmers of Canada and food manufacturers have criticized the proposed updates and have said they will cost the food industry billions of dollars.

Canada's Official Food Rules was the country's first food guide. Issued in 1942, it reflects its wartime origins. (Swift Canadian Co.)

Critics, on the other side, said the changes can't come fast enough. A 2016 Senate report called the guide dated and ineffective and recommended a tax on sugary foods to help deal with the rise of obesity.

The sugar tax suggestion was met with swift rebuke from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which said the tax would unfairly penalize Canadians.

Hutchinson said the new guide incorporates evidence the consumption of sugar is linked to obesity, especially childhood obesity.

He said the last few years have been all about developing an evidence-based tool that will help Canadians make healthy decisions. Anyone who wants to see what science the new guidelines will be based on can find the work on Health Canada's website.

"This is what we're basing it on; the very best evidence," he said.

With files from CBC's On the Coast