As a mother and a farmer, I think Canada's new food guide goes too far

Why not let the individual figure out what works best for them based on their dietary goals, demands and restrictions?

Why not let the individual figure out what works best for them?

Megz Reynolds's daughters helping out in the kitchen. (Submitted by Megz Reynolds)

One of the most important relationships in our lives is the one we have with food. It influences our health, how we see ourselves and the way we interact with others. 

I wish I could say that my relationship with — and understanding of — food has always been healthy, but I can't. I struggled with it as a teenager and young adult. It greatly affected my self-confidence. 

Now that I am the mother of two little girls I constantly worry about the struggles that they will go through as they grow up. I know that at some point their relationship with food will be challenged. 

When I think about what I want for my girls in this regard so many points jump out right away. First and foremost I want them to have a healthy understanding of what their bodies need. I want them to grow up without an eating disorder because they understand food and how to fuel their bodies and they don't use food as a control item. 

Megz Reynolds says she wants her daughters to know how to grow — and use — food from their own garden. (Submitted by Megz Reynolds)

I want them to understand where their food comes from, how it's grown and how it's raised. I want them to know how to garden and cook and preserve what they've grown. I hope I can raise them to believe in science and to use it in their decision making process. 

Lastly, I do not want them to ever experience guilt or shame over how they choose to eat, what they can afford to eat and what brands, labels or trends they choose to support.

Some good changes, but an overstep

Health Canada has just released the new Food Guide. There is a lot in there that I am happy about:

  • We are finally having a conversation about portion control, cooking and cutting down on the amount of preservatives we consume. 
  • It talks about increasing our water intake and being mindful of balance and eating with others, not just eating to eat.
  • There are helpful tips on how to incorporate new ideas and foods into our daily lives and there is more of an emphasis on what our bodies need, like protein, iron and calcium. 
For the first time in 12 years a new Canada Food Guide is being served. Its goal, get Canadians to eat well. And this time around, Health Canada says the food industry was not involved. Experts say the recommendations made in the food guide are rooted in science with evidence to back them up. But how do these suggestions fit with real life, and real Canadians? 2:35

All that said, as a mother and a farmer I believe Health Canada strayed by taking it one step further. Instead of saying your body needs protein and listing ways to get that protein, Health Canada said "choose protein foods that come from plants more often." 

Even though this saying is a positive for my business —I grow lentils, a great source of plant-based protein — I still take offence to it. Why not let the individual figure out what works best for them based on their dietary goals, demands and restrictions? 

Canada's new food guide makes a point of emphasizing non-meat sources of protein. (Health Canada)

I also feel that some adjustments made to the food guide come from the emphasis on reducing our country's carbon footprint. Canadian agriculture is sustainable and becoming more so ever year. It is part of the solution not the problem.

Tell us what we need, not how to get it

We are all different. That diversity is something to celebrate, but also means that what I need to fuel my body and to make myself feel good and healthy is going to be different than what someone else needs. 

What my body needs is also going to change. What I need now training for a marathon is not the same as what my body needed when I was pregnant or breastfeeding. It is important to recognize that all of these differences exist and to not direct someone as to what will work best for them at all times.

Megz Reynolds's daughters help out shucking some peas. (Submitted by Megz Reynolds)

When my youngest, who is three, is sick she will refuse to eat for days on end but she will drink milk continuously and that doesn't worry me. I know that her body is getting what it needs from that milk to not only sustain itself but also fight what ever bug has its hold.

It is my choice as an individual what I put on my plate, just like it is ultimately my four-year-old's choice what she eats, regardless of what I put on her plate! 

I would like to have seen Health Canada tells us the building blocks our bodies need, list options and then stop right there. The best diet is a varied diet. We know this. So don't take it further and tell us what type of protein to eat or how and where to get our calcium. 

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ

About the Author

Megz Reynolds is a Saskatchewan farmer of grains and pulses, a speaker, a wife and a mom to two beautiful girls. Together they are tackling life and farming while trying to make a difference.


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