Canada’s Food Guide grossly misunderstood by Canadians

Sheryl Nadler
Shine On
August 2, 2012

Much ado has been made over the last few years about the various causes of obesity — we're not exercising enough, sugary drinks are too readily available, we don't know enough about proper nutrition, and so on.

While all of these reasons are perfectly valid and have been shown to contribute to obesity, the most obvious reason for the obesity epidemic may have been our portion size. Simply put -- too many calories.

A new study led by Jennifer Kuk -- a professor at York University's Faculty of Health -- shows that people have been overestimating portion sizes as recommended by Canada's Food Guide.

"The majority of participants in the study inaccurately thought they would need to increase their food consumption by approximately 400 calories to meet recommendations in Canada's Food Guide. This suggests we either need to change the size of a serving in the Guide - which has remained almost the same since 1977 - or educate Canadians more about how much food they should be consuming in a day," Kuk tells Medical News Today.

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The results of the study are not at all surprising to Beata Blajer, a Toronto dietitian and founder of WISECHOICES Nutrition Consulting.

Blajer sees many clients who go over the recommended amount in the worst categories: fats, meat and grain.

"Fruits and vegetables, I never see an overestimation," she says. "As well as milk products. And these are actually the two food groups that have the least amount [of calories]."

Blajer says our portion sizes have at least doubled over the last 30 years and points to restaurant portions and plate sizes as culprits.

Canada's Food Guide recommends 2 ½ ounces of meat per serving for the average person, but when was the last time someone ordered a 2 ½ -ounce steak at a restaurant, she asks. A steak is usually eight ounces or more.

"Plate size has increased as well. We don't have the eight-inch diameter plate that used to be 30 years ago, now we're up to 10 to 12 inches," she says. "Filling your 12-inch plate as with the same amount you would an 8-inch plate creates this illusion that 'oh I'm not having enough, I'm gong to stay hungry'."

Canada's Food Guide is lacking visual guides for servings, Blajer suggests. Understanding what a portion looks like is something the general public must learn. For example, one serving of meat is palm size and serving size of grains is a fist.

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Shannon Crocker, a registered dietitian and principal consultant with S. Crocker Consulting, adds the following tips for eating healthy and adhering to the Canada Food Guide's portion control.

- Never eat out of the bag/box. Put an appropriate serving on your plate, then put the package away.

- Eat out less. And when eating out, split entrees with your partner/friend/child or take part of the meal home for a meal the next day

- Never order the "value" meal - unless you are sharing it. The price might be appealing but what you are getting in trade is extra food and calories you don't need.

Watch the video below about how some Olympic athletes are eating super-sized fast food meals. Don't think you can eat like this!

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