Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Fixing the Problems on Canada's Food Guide

Some of you may remember the blog post I wrote for the NCVA blog a little while ago, on teaching kids about healthy vegan nutrition. In that post, I mentioned how the dietary recommendations of Canada's Food Guide were influenced by the dairy, meat, and egg industries, according to this CBC article. For example, the 2003 version of the Food Guide was revised by a panel that included food industry lobby groups. More shockingly, when the 1992 revision of Canada’s Food Guide was released, the meat, dairy, and egg industries successfully lobbied the government to increase the recommended number of servings of these products, according to the CBC article. You can see the effect that these lobby groups had on the government-endorsed dietary recommendations in the article "Canada's Food Guides from 1942 to 1992" on the Government of Canada's website-- in 1982, the Food Guide had 2 servings of "Meat and Alternatives" and 2 servings of "Milk"; but in 1992, these numbers increased to 2-3 servings of "Meat and alternatives" and 2-4 servings of "Milk". These new, increased recommendations continue to exist on the most recent Food Guide to date.

Canada's current Food Guide consists of four food groups: Vegetables and Fruit, Grain Products, Milk and Alternatives, and Meat and Alternatives. In school, children are taught that the recommendations on the Food Guide comprise the fundamentals of a healthy diet. Growing up, I, too, assumed that the Food Guide was based upon scientific fact. More recently, however, science has been finding something different: meat, dairy, and eggs actually increase the risk of many chronic diseases, while a vegan diet is a very healthy way to eat and can prevent certain diseases.

Although many vegan activists are already spreading the message about the healthfulness of veganism, it isn't just activists who are willing to point out the health benefits of an animal-free diet. Here are some statements on veganism and plant-based diets from just a few high-profile organizations around the world:

  • Dietitians of Canada: "A healthy vegan diet has many health benefits including lower rates of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer."
  • American Dietetic Association: "It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases."
  • World Health Organization:
    • "Specific recommendations for a healthy diet include: eating more fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts and grains; cutting down on salt, sugar and fats. It is also advisable to choose unsaturated fats, instead of saturated fats and towards the elimination of trans-fatty acids."
    • The WHO has declared some types of meats to be Group 1 carcinogens (right up there with cigarette smoking) and Group 2 carcinogens.
  • According to a study conducted by students at the University of Oxford, if the world went vegan, millions of human lives would also be saved due to dramatic reduction in the incidence of chronic disease: "A global switch to diets that rely less on meat and more on fruit and vegetables could save up to 8 million lives by 2050, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds, and lead to healthcare-related savings and avoided climate damages of $1.5 trillion (US)... ...They found that adopting diets in line with global dietary guidelines could avoid 5.1 million deaths per year by 2050. Even greater benefits could come from vegetarian diets (avoiding 7.3 million deaths) and vegan diets (avoiding 8.1 million deaths)."
  • British Dietetic Associaton: "Well planned vegetarian diets [including vegan diets, which they mentioned as a form of vegetarianism] can be nutritious and healthy. They are associated with lower risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, certain cancers and lower cholesterol levels."
  • United Nations Environment Programme: "A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products." (Found on page 82 of this document, or page 84 of the PDF)
Based in the United States, an organization of medical professionals called the Physicians' Committee for Responsible Medicine more actively promotes a vegan diet as a way to prevent and reverse chronic disease. They've devised a new food guide made up of "The New Four Food Groups", which include Fruit, Vegetables, Legumes, and Whole Grains.

Click on the image to see it in full-size!

When one combines the health, environmental, humanitarian, and, of course, animal-related reasons to live vegan, it becomes obvious that the government ought to start supporting it, too!

So, why am I telling you all this? Well, Health Canada is now working on its next revision of Canada's Food Guide. From October 24, 2016 to December 8, 2016, Health Canada is holding an online public consultation on the Food Guide to get the public's input; all Canadians are welcome to submit their opinions through the Government of Canada's website.

In Mid-2017, the government will present a revised version of the Food Guide to the public, at which time Canadians will have another opportunity to provide their feedback on the revisions. After that, the new materials will be published.

I've already completed the questionnaire. On one page of the questionnaire, I was asked whether I find the current four food groupings in the Canada Food Guide helpful. I clicked "no", and then a box came up asking, "Why do you say that?"

Here was my response:

"I don't bother using the Food Guide, because the current recommendations simply doesn't apply to vegans like myself. The Food Guides' current food groupings are actually promoting ill health among Canadians. Furthermore, the current Four Food Groups are not at all accommodating for vegans and others who follow a dairy-free diet.
Dairy is not essential to the human diet. Although it is the perfect food for baby cows, it simply was not designed for human consumption. Some may claim that dairy is healthful because it contains calcium and protein, but the fact is, there are plenty of healthier plant-based sources of protein and calcium available. According to the Dieticians of Canada, calcium can be found in abundance in leafy green vegetables, fortified soy products, tahini (sesame seed butter), and many more vegan foods; protein can be obtained from soy products, beans, grains, nuts, and nut butters, to name a few.
According to the Dieticians of Canada, “A healthy vegan diet has many health benefits including lower rates of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.” (Source:
I would like to propose 4 new food groups: Fruits, Vegetables, Grains, and Legumes/Nuts. The latter category combines the current two food groups of “Dairy and Alternatives” and “Meat and Alternatives” into an overall “Plant-based Protein” food group. The Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine, an organization of medical doctors in the United States, also promotes this idea (Source:

I hope that Health Canada can start promoting healthy eating in the ways I’ve mentioned above. I also hope that Health Canada can specifically mention the word “veganism” as a healthy diet on the Food Guide itself."

I also gave more information, such as statistics on the environmental benefits of veganism, in response to another one of their questions.

In addition, one thing that Health Canada seems to be focusing on in this revision of the Food Guide is reducing sugar consumption. If you are going to be filling out this survey, you may wish to point out that dairy products are actually quite high in sugar-- for example, there are 13g of sugar in one cup of 1% M.F. cow's milk. It is a good idea to focus on the health and environmental benefits of veganism in your response, because the government is more likely to be interested in those things than animal rights (although animal rights is extremely important, of course!). That being said, don't hesitate to voice your ethical views about veganism, either-- if Health Canada is aware that people are vegan for ethical reasons, they may be more likely to accommodate vegans in their next version of the food guide.

If you believe that veganism should be better represented and promoted on the Food Guide, please consider taking a few minutes out of your day to fill out the questionnaire. Feel free to copy and paste the quotations from the organizations I've listed above in your responses.

Thank you for believing that we can create a healthier, kinder, and more sustainable world.

Printable Vegan Environmental Brochures!

Hi everyone!

I've created some more brochures that promote veganism; these ones have a focus on the environment this time. Please feel free to print them and give them out to your environmentally-conscious friends, and/or hand them out while leafleting at environmental events!

The brochures can be downloaded (for free, of course) here.

Photo Courtesy of Jo-Anne McArthur/We Animals

Opinion Article: "Canada's Food Guide Should Recommend a Vegan Diet"

An opinion essay I wrote, titled "Health Canada Should Recommend a Vegan Diet", was published on the Epoch Times website on November 2-- you can find it on the Epoch Times website here.

Although the Epoch Times website makes it look like I wrote this Op-Ed on behalf of the NCVA, please note that I only wrote it as a representation of my own opinions.

A longer blog post on Canada's Food Guide is coming soon!
Logo of the Epoch Times