How Canadian and Mediterranean Food Guide Impact Obesity Rates

A significant difference between the Mediterranean and Canadian Food guides could account for our larger obesity rates and contribute to the incidences of nutrition related chronic diseases.This morning on the news I was disturbed to hear that a new study revealed Canada to have the 6th highest obesity rates in the world. Mediterranean countries have been known for having a good diet, and in comparison have lower obesity rates such as Spain in 12th, France in 21st and Italy coming 23rd in the world. With 60% of adults being overweight and 24% being obese it is time that we started to pay more attention to our general health as Canadians.Two major factors that play a role in our general health is our level of physical activity as well as what we eat. Besides a difference in lifestyle, those in the Mediterranean have a different food guide than us in Canada.

Mediterranean diets have been associated with longevity and reduction in nutrition-related chronic diseases. Could these differences play a role in the difference in obesity rates?

The Canadian Food Guide and Mediterranean Food Guide were both developed with the intention of acting as educational tools to promote healthy eating habits to meet nutritional standards, promote health and reduce the risk of nutrition- related chronic diseases.The Canadian Food Guide however was developed to educated people on how to eat to prevent chronic nutrition-related diseases, whereas the Mediterranean Food Guide was designed by understanding how populations with low incidences of these diseases actually eat.

The shape of the food guides also plays a role. The rainbow design of the Canadian Food Guide gives recommended servings of the different food groups you should be consuming over the day. The Mediterranean version is set up as a pyramid, with the food groups you should be consuming the most at the bottom, and the least at the top. They even specify what you should be eating daily, weekly and monthly, clearly setting out your nutritional goals in order to meet those requirements.A key food recommendation difference falls under the meat category. The Canadian Food Guide groups “Meat and Meat Alternatives” together leading consumers to believe that everything in the category has the same nutritional value. On the other hand, the Mediterranean Food Guide breaks this category down further to legumes and nuts which should be eaten daily, and eggs, poultry, fish and meat which should be eaten less frequently. This clearly lays out how items within the same group differ nutritionally and how some should be eaten more frequently without supplementing for something of the same category. This may account for a huge difference we see in obesity rates, where people supplement red meat for nuts and legumes which should be eaten daily. This leads to higher fat intake, especially given the way we cook most of our red meat (aka with fatty oils and sauces).

It is important to note the recommendation of Vitamin D in the Canadian Food Guide. Due to climate differences, we (unfortunately) don't get as much sun as those in the Mediterranean and therefore have to get our Vitamin D from other sources, like food supplements. Therefore dairy products are emphasized as a part of our daily diet in order to get adequate Vitamin D.

Mediterranean Food Guide includes other recommendations other than food.

Alcohol is recommended as part of a healthy diet, but in moderate proportions. The Mediterranean Food Guide also recommends daily physical activity at the bottom of the pyramid, highlighting its importance above anything else that is recommended. I feel that this is a problem with the Canadian Food Guide and they need to bring attention to being physically active as part as a healthy lifestyle.

The Mediterranean Food Guide has been recommended on many accounts in Canadian society, some researchers are even recommending it as a therapeutic approach for Canadians with Coronary Artery disease; often linked to obesity. It has been concluded that it is appropriate for Canadians to adopt the Mediterranean Food Guide standards so long as they are getting sufficient Vitamin D supplementation. None the less I think that the Canadian Food Guide needs to be revised and improved to display more clearly our nutritional needs.

Would you consider going by Mediterranean standards?

Check out the differences for yourself by comparing the Canadian Food Guide and the Mediterranean Food Guide

References
Downs, S.M., Willows, N.D. (2008). Should Canadians eat according to the traditional Mediterranean diet pyramid or Canada’s food guide? Retrieved on 09/23/2010.
O’Neil, P. (2010). Chubby Canadians tip scales into the world’s fattest zone. Retrieved on 09/23/2010

Alfred Ball

CEO | Practicing Kinesiologist | Certified Fascial Stretch Therapist. He founded Lifemoves in 2007. He has been a Practicing Kinesiologist and Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach with the NSCA for over 15 years. When he isn't helping people regain their strength and confidence to move with ease he is hanging out with his wife and young son, writing, or training for his next endurance running race. His big audacious goal is to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

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