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Dietitian Breaks Down Andrew Scheer's Food Guide Comments

The updated food guide combined dairy and meat and its alternatives into one larger group.
Scheer claimed the new food guide reflects a "bias" against milk.
La Presse Canadienne
Scheer claimed the new food guide reflects a "bias" against milk.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer told dairy farmers on Wednesday that he would review Canada’s food guide if his party formed government after the October election.

He said the new guide was created without enough consultation, and that it was “driven by people” who have a “bias” against milk. He also joked about chocolate milk “saving” his picky-eater son’s life.

He also said he didn’t think the new guide was based on “sound science.”

“The idea that these types of products that we’ve been drinking as human beings, eating as human beings for a millennia — that now all of a sudden that they’re unhealthy, it’s ridiculous,” he added.

The updated Canada's Food Guide snapshot
Health Canada
The updated Canada's Food Guide snapshot

HuffPost Canada spoke with Kate Comeau, a dietitian and spokesperson for Dietitians of Canada, to find out if there was any truth to Scheer’s comments.

Scheer: Food guide was created without enough consultation

Fact: The new food guide is based on science and extensive consultations with the public, including dietitians, doctors and other stakeholders.

“What was really admirable this time with this version of Canada’s food guide is that Health Canada had a really defined and transparent process on how they reviewed the scientific evidence,” Comeau said.

Comeau also explained that the transition from the classic “rainbow” food guide to the new “plate” snapshot fell in line with how dietitians have been explaining food proportions for years.

“It seems as though Health Canada agreed when they did their research and evaluation that it was an easy concept especially when you’re on the go, when you’re busy ... Families aren’t sitting there and measuring out how much of something or you know you know how big the bowl is especially if they’re eating outside the home.”

Scheer: Chocolate milk saved my son’s life

Fact: While there is nutritional value to chocolate milk, it has excessive amounts of sugar compared to plain milk, which can lead to cavities, as well as long term health problems if consumed in large amounts.

“I can fully understand the challenge that parents face. It can be very frustrating and even scary if you have a picky eater… They want to make sure their kids are getting the nutrients they need,” Comeau said.

She also noted that dietitians can help parents deal with children who are picky eaters, and share strategies to help ensure picky children eat a variety of nutritious foods.

Comeau also said the food guide is meant to be for all Canadians, not just children, which is why water was highlighted as the “beverage of choice” for people, regardless of age or specific dietary needs.

“There’s been no change to how Canada’s Food Guide sees dairy, it’s just presented in a different way. We want to see less consumption of sugary drinks, so really to emphasize water because Canadians — it’s not that they’re drinking milk — people are drinking pop and sugar-sweetened coffee and alcoholic beer and wine.”

Scheer: Dairy products are suddenly “unhealthy”

Fact: While the food guide got rid of dairy as a separate food group, and instead combined it with protein-rich foods, it still treats dairy similarly to the way it has before.

“The snapshot that we often look at and think about as Canada’s new food guide is just the smallest piece of the food guide. The food guide is actually a website with pages and pages of advice and information … and in those pages milk is there as one of the protein foods that’s nourishing and nutritious for Canadians.”

Comeau also said the reason that dietitians recognize dairy as an important food is because it’s an “easy source of calcium” for many Canadians, which is readily available and fairly inexpensive, but that Health Canada wanted to recognize that many people get the nutrients that are in milk from other, non-dairy sources.

“This food guide... recognizes that there are other foods that we all eat differently based on our culture, our taste, our preferences and so for some people they get all of the calcium they need because they eat tofu every day, and they eat broccoli, and bok choy, and leafy greens vegetables and they eat almonds and so for them they don’t need calcium from another source.”

Comeau did say that she did agree with Scheer on one thing: the food guide should be reviewed — not tomorrow or in a year, but every five to 10 years to make sure it is still keeping up with the latest and most accurate scientific information.

Her final note was that Canadians who are unsure about their personal dietary needs or are struggling with a dependent family member’s needs should always talk to a professional.

“Canada’s Food Guide is a guide. It’s not a prescription. And it’s also not for everyone. It’s designed to be a population tool … the food guide might not [always] be appropriate, and so there’s ways to modify or work with it.”

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