For the first time since its debut in the 1940s, Canada's Food Guide includes a paragraph on avoiding junk food— though not under that name. Tucked away near the end of the revered gospel of good eating is a paragraph suggesting that people wishing to maintain good body weight should limit "foods and beverages high in calories, fat, sugar or salt."
The sentence got an enthusiastic response from Yoni Freedhoff, medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute in Ottawa, and an outspoken critic of the guide.
"Kudos for them," Freedhoff said. "Indeed they have dropped the gauntlet on junk food and that is a first."
The free guide doesn't mention brand names but suggests limiting "pastries, chocolate and candies, cookies and granola bars, doughnuts and muffins, ice cream and frozen desserts, french fries, potato chips, nachos and other salty snacks, alcohol, fruit flavoured drinks, soft drinks, sports and energy drinks, and sweetened hot or cold drinks."
Four years in the writing, the new food guide does not mention the obesity epidemic, nor it does compare foods in terms of calories.
Instead of providing guidance on calorie intake, the guide focuses on a recommended number of servings from each food category.
The document also takes account of Canada's growing ethnic diversity by including foods from different cultures. People can even develop their own customized guide, using the Internet.
The interactive website is at www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/food-guide-aliment/index_e.html, which includes information on downloading an electronic copy or ordering a printed one by mail.
Freedhoff says there is too much industry influence in the writing of the guide, which is published by Health Canada.
"To invite the food industry into the creation of the food guide is just asking for trouble. It doesn't make good medical sense to include people with a vested interest in the recommendations."
He said the guide's recommendations on obesity are far too general to be useful. For example, there is no recommended daily calorie intake for the various categories.
"Without talking about calories it really fails to address weight whatsoever. The whole notion of portions invites over-consumption."
Lynda Corby, director of the Dieticians of Canada, dismissed concerns about food industry influence.
"Certainly the food industry was at the table when there was discussion about the key messaging and how to communicate that to consumers because the food industry does interface with consumer a great deal, and therefore their advice on that particular component would be valued."
Corby said it would be a daunting task to give calorie counts for all foods, and most people don't know how many calories they need.
The Canadian Medical Association praised the food guide in general terms but criticized its approach on obesity.
The new guide was developed over four years of consultations with more than 7,000 dieticians, nutritionists, scientists, doctors and public health experts.
It is the second-most requested government document — after income tax forms.