While you probably already know that carrots and celery are good for you, you’re also not likely to want to eat them all day, especially during long, cold winters that call for stick-to-your-ribs comfort food that often originates from a box.
Not knowing how to make healthy food taste good, not having access to enough of it because of finances or distance, and not having enough time to cook it from scratch are only some of the factors that are limiting many Canadians’ ability to follow the diet outlined in Canada’s new Food Guide.
Critics are praising the guide’s first major update in more than a decade for being on the right track — eschewing outdated notions of food groups, serving sizes and numbers in favour of advice like drink more water, eat more plant-based proteins and take the time to sit down and eat with our families.
And, while the new guide is notably free of commercial bias and much more grounded in science than previous versions, “you can tell someone what to eat, but that doesn’t mean they’ll just follow the advice,” says Dr. Norman Campbell, MD, a UCalgary professor of medicine, community health sciences, and physiology and pharmacology.
“The Food Guide is only part of a healthy eating strategy. It really needs to be supplemented by other government policies like warning labels, a ban on marketing of unhealthy foods to children, and better food procurement in remote and marginalized communities,” says Campbell, who is also a member of the O’Brien Institute of Public Health and Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta.
“There’s also the issue of time. You could buy lots of fruits and vegetables, whether fresh, frozen or canned, and, while it might not be that much more expensive, it takes time and knowledge to know what to do with them, and that’s almost as big a barrier as the costs.”
Still, education is the very first step towards making a change, says UCalgary alumna Danielle Arsenault, BFA’04, BEd’06.
Based in Canmore, Arsenault owns Pachavega Living Foods Education, a raw vegan culinary school, and runs healthy cooking classes and retreats around the world. “I’m really excited about this new food guide — it allows people to realize that, even though they may not be able to implement it right away, we’re all on the same page about needing to eat more plants and stop eating processed foods,” she says.
“For the Canadian government to acknowledge the food choices we make can reverse or reduce our risk of chronic disease is a major win.”
Such acknowledgment comes at a time when already-staggering societal costs of unhealthy eating continue to climb. A 2014 study estimated the economic burden of chronic diseases due to poor diets cost Canadian health-care systems nearly $14 billion, just in that year alone. In 2017, 50,000 Canadians died from heart disease and stroke, while another 800,000 struggled with disabilities directly related to their diets, says Campbell.