Re-thinking Canada's Food Guide 'a tall order', but P.E.I. dietitians have suggestions

It's time for improvements to Canada's Food Guide, and P.E.I. registered dietitiana say that should include a tech-savvy upgrade.

'It's where people start from, but I think we could certainly do a lot more'

The last time Canada's Food Guide was updated was in 2007. (CBC)

Discussion over how to improve Canada's Food Guide is a hot topic in the public health field right now — a review is underway to bring it up to date, as the last version came out a decade ago.

Family doctors are weighing in, and so are registered dietitians involved with the process. Some reached out to CBC Radio: Island Morning to share their views.

I think it needs to have stronger messaging around certain things like processed foods and added sugars.— Laurie Michael, registered dietitian

"It's kind of the Bible, if you will," said Jennifer Taylor, a professor at UPEI and president of the PEI Healthy Eating Alliance.

"It's where people start from, but I think we could certainly do a lot more."

A lot has changed in the past decade, in both food science and technology, she explained.

"Where we are 10 years later, there's a lot more emphasis on things like added sugar for example, than there was at that time," said Taylor.

"We've got hugely web-savvy people, not everybody — but a lot of people. So I think that it's not just the information that needs to change but how we present it to the public and health professionals as well," Taylor said.

Guide should be phone-friendly

That classic printed food guide handed out in schools and doctor's offices might be the wrong format for consumers now used to getting their information via hand-held devices.

Professor Jennifer Taylor of UPEI is one of the people making recommendations to Health Canada to improve Canada's Food Guide. (submitted)

"The guide, when you fold it out, it's four pages, and then back-to-back," said Laurie Michael, a registered dietitian with experience in three provinces. "So it is a little bit confusing to use for the average person who has had no previous interaction with it."

Michael would like to see the food guide take a clearer stand on food products that are known problems for many Canadians.

"I don't think it goes far enough to be as succinct as it needs to be," she said. "I think it needs to have stronger messaging around certain things like processed foods and added sugars."

'Flavour of the week'?

Both agree it's important that the food guide stay as up-to-date as possible with new research, but at the same time, it's important not to chase fads instead of facts for the guide.

"It's the government's job to take the best science and interpret it and come up with something that will meet the vast majority of Canadians' needs," said Taylor. "And that is a tall order. It is not the government's job to respond to the flavour of the week."

"Wheat belly? Just wait, there will be something else. And unfortunately that particular trend has led people to make changes they don't need to make," Taylor added.

The dietitians would like to see a better online presence for Canada's Food Guide. (Health Canada)

The guide, she reminded, is a road map to better health, rather than an instant cure.

"That's why Dr. Oz is so popular, because he will come out and say, 'This berry, if you eat it, you're going to have a great sex life, you're going to have everything you ever wanted, you're going to lose 20 pounds a week.' And people just gobble that up because who doesn't want to hear that?" said Taylor.

"But it doesn't work, and good science is never going to make the definitive statements that a lot of people want."

The revision of the food guide, which will also include public and scientific consultation, will take the better part of two years, with the new food guide and nutrition guidelines being released in stages by the end of 2018.

With files from CBC Radio: Island Morning