[I don't where this one parked in cyberspace for 6 months, but it
arrived for my attention last week. Links in on-line article.]
The Canada Food Guide is killing you
Cheryl Chan, Postmedia News 04.04.2016
Canadians are a pretty obedient bunch when it comes to eating what the
government says we should be eating.
Over the last three decades, we’ve upped our intake of fruits and
vegetables while reducing fat and dairy. We’ve increased grains and fish
in our diet and reduced red meat, eggs and butter. We’ve even scaled
back on sugars (not counting high fructose corn syrup found in processed
foods) and soft drinks.
Yet, despite an overall adherence to the Canada Food Guide — held up as
the country’s trustworthy blueprint for what should be a healthy,
nutritious diet — the country is in the grip of an obesity epidemic,
with two-thirds of adults considered obese or overweight and obesity
rates double that of 1980 figures.
So what gives?
One U.S. science journalist and author say it’s because the food guide
got it all wrong.
“Canadians have, on the whole, followed their food guidelines,” said
Nina Teicholz. “Everything that’s supposed to be up is up and everything
that’s supposed to be down is down. The evidence shows the public has
complied and has got fatter and sicker.”
Among its recommendations, the guide advises adults to eat six to eight
servings of grain products a day and to limit saturated fat, which
occurs naturally in animal products such as eggs, dairy and meat as well
as in some vegetable oils like coconut and palm oils.
It counsels Canadians to trim visible fat from meat, limit butter and
cook without or with little added fat. It also advises consuming only
two to three tablespoons of unsaturated fat — often described as the
“good” fat that is found in plant-based foods and oils — daily.
It’s precisely this fixation on carbohydrates at the expense of
saturated fat that’s driving obesity and obesity-related chronic
diseases, argues Teicholz in her bestselling book, The Big Fat Surprise.
“The obesity epidemic in the U.S. and Canada really began with our
dietary guidelines,” she said. “The evidence points in that direction.”
For decades, governments and scientists in the U.S. and Canada have
warned of the harmful effects of saturated fat on the heart and
cardiovascular system, urging consumers to shun butter, eggs and red meat.
The demonizing of saturated fat was based on Ancel Keys’s landmark Seven
Countries Study that found an association between coronary heart disease
and total cholesterol levels.
The evidence was weak and preliminary, said Teicholz, but that didn’t
stop the American Heart Association from pushing the idea in 1961 that
saturated fat and dietary cholesterol caused heart disease.
“At the time, the U.S. was in a panic over rising heart disease,” she
said. “The organization needed to say something. Everyone got on board
with this hypothesis and that has become the accepted dogma adopted by
Since then, more rigorous, billion-dollar, government-funded clinical
trials involving tens of thousands of participants have failed to find
an association between saturated fat and heart disease.
“All those reviews clearly imply that saturated fat has been unfairly
condemned,” said Teicholz, one of dozens of witnesses who testified in
Ottawa last year at a Senate committee hearing on finding ways to curb
Canada’s rising obesity rates.
The results of the hearing: A damning report released last month that
eviscerated the Canada Food Guide as “dated” and “at best ineffective
and at worst enabling” the country’s obesity crisis.
Witnesses told the committee that fat consumption in the early 1970s
made up about 40 per cent of daily calories. Then Canadians heeded the
exhortation to reduce fat and reduced their fat intake to 31 per cent by
2004. But during this time, obesity rates spiked, which suggests that
dietary fat is not a “primary contributing factor” in obesity, said the
A higher-fat diet — one that has more fat than the current diet that
limits fat consumption to 25 to 35 per cent of total calories — is
healthier and a better disease-fighter than a low-fat diet, said
Teicholz, citing more than a dozen reviews and meta-analyses that
concluded saturated fat is not associated with heart disease and has no
effect on cardiovascular mortality.
But she said many of these studies are ignored, even stricken off the
record, because they go against the government’s official low-fat
dietary advice. Case in point: Teicholz was recently uninvited from a
panel at the National Food Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., this week.
“There’s a lot at stake here,” she said. “If the people who invested in
these guidelines are wrong, that’s a bad story.”
Teicholz’s findings are controversial but have been bolstered by other
studies and reports.
A 2013 paper published in the British Medical Journal called the link
between saturated fats and heart problems a “myth,” while a 2014 study
funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and published in Annals
of Internal Medicine found that people who ate fewer carbs and more
fats, including the saturated type, lost more body fat and reduced their
risk of developing heart disease.
Last fall the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation issued a position
paper overturning the usual warnings about saturated fat and focusing
instead on a “whole diet approach” and the dangers of highly processed
food. It noted that, in hindsight, dietary recommendations that
encouraged people to cut back on fat and boost carbs may have played a
role in increasing calorie consumption and rates of obesity and
Teicholz said she is not advocating people start gorging themselves on
eggs, cheese and fatty meats — only that saturated fat does not deserve
its villainous casting and should be “let out of jail.”
She does not suggest an ideal fat consumption level, arguing only that
government remove limits on fat. Asked whether there should be a cap on
carb intake, Teicholz pointed out that before the existing dietary
guidelines were in place, Americans ate less than 40 per cent of their
daily calories in carbs. Today, that number is 50-60 per cent.
“Simply reversing that back to 40 per cent would be a common-sense kind
of recommendation for a healthy population,” said Teicholz, a “near
vegetarian” in her younger years who now estimates her diet to be about
50 per cent fat, with moderate protein and low carbs.
B.C. obesity expert Michael Lyon said the assumption all saturated fat
is evil is a mistake, but cautioned against “bandwagon diets.”
“It’s like a pendulum that swings from one extreme to another,” said
Lyon. “I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater when it
comes to recommendations about fat.”
Not all saturated fats are created equal, said Lyon. Some, such as
hydrogenated fats, should go. But rather than promoting “the extreme
end” and bulking up our diet with meat, fat and cheese, Lyon recommends
a more measured route: “It would be more sensible to consider becoming
more moderate in our consumption of carbs and choosing our carbs more
The Senate report noted there was no consensus regarding how much fat,
dairy, starch and sugar comprises the optimal diet. All witnesses,
however, agreed that whole foods are best and highly processed foods
should be avoided. And all of them recommended an immediate review of
the Canada Food Guide to better reflect current scientific evidence.
The report also prompted a petition by Ottawa resident Mike Sheridan
urging Health Canada to revamp the food guide. The petition has garnered
more than 21,800 signatures in less than a week.
In an emailed statement, Health Canada said it is conducting a review of
the evidence to determine if there is a need to revise the current guide.
“The current evidence review process will help to identify whether there
are needs to revise current guidance or develop new guidance,” said
spokesman Andre Gagnon.
The results will be announced publicly later this year.
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