Bakers Journal

Editor’s Letter: May 2014

April 21, 2014
By Laura Aiken

Perhaps Canada’s Food Guide does need a dose of reality, an update, a sexy new look.

Perhaps Canada’s Food Guide does need a dose of reality, an update, a sexy new look.

The Globe and Mail recently published an Op-Ed called “Why Canada’s Food Guide needs a dose of reality” by André Picard. The piece drew attention to serving guidelines when it comes to calories; basically, the sizes are based on old portions and someone following it to the letter today would gain weight. Picard’s conclusion was that the Guide needs a major overhaul and should adopt the approach taken by other countries that focus on getting their populations to cook more meals for themselves with healthy ingredients. He proposes that the first step is to create a document that is “useful in the real (obesogenic) world, not just the laboratory.”

I think criticisms by Picard are rightly held. But can the food guide address today’s obesogenic world? Obesity won’t be solved by an updated and reorganized dietary guideline issued by the government. Obesity is far too complex, and that’s the dose of reality that’s the toughest challenge to face. The Guide isn’t a “diet” like Atkins. It’s not intended to promote weight loss and was likely never designed for a sedentary population. Caloric recommendations should be updated to reflect sedentary lifestyles, but this doesn’t address the inherent health risks posed by too much sitting, which has been cited by some doctors in the press to be as dangerous as smoking. There just isn’t an easy answer there in terms of what the government can address versus what it can be seen as encouraging. 


The food guide is intended to help a population meet its nutritional requirements, its daily dose of vitamins, minerals, carbs and all the rest. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best we’ve got for now. Nutrition is complicated: learning portion sizes, and thinking in balanced nutrition terms as opposed to what one craves, what is available or what is convenient is difficult.

Picard’s suggestion that we encourage everyone to cook more is a lovely one, but one that is perhaps just as in need of a dose of reality as the food guide he criticizes. We aren’t going to get our population to go back to 1950s-style home cooking in any short order or with any single document. It takes time to learn how to cook a variety of meals that taste great and to keep a fridge properly stocked. Prioritizing it is a lifestyle choice, and one that does not suit all. It is valuable to encourage but encouragement doesn’t provide a solution in and of itself.

The bakery industry is in a good position to create convenient solutions that meet nutritional requirements and address the reality of today’s busy, obesogenic environment. The food guide isn’t concerned with taste, but consumers are and so is every reader of Bakers Journal. Everything works in partnership – the food supply, the prescriptive guidelines from Health Canada and the choices consumers make.

Baked products are staple items in the diet; let’s keep making them as healthy and delicious as we can. Industry is able to innovate and respond faster than the hallowed halls of red tape that surely surround the bureaucracy of updating the Canada Food Guide. The bakery industry, being a harbinger of a buyer’s most important metric – taste – has an important and influential role to play in the food choices people make. The Guide leaves it up to people to make their own food taste good, leaving its efficacy limited to its role as a nutritional document. You can make healthy eating easy, nutritious and tasty, and be part of a change for the better in the health of our nation while supporting the efforts of Health Canada to provide science-based information that is not nearly as exciting to digest.

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