Day 83 : Government Food Guides
Today, I woke up and weighed myself. Weight is: 80.8Kg. Yesterday I consumed 412 calories below my BMR and did 277 calories of exercise above my BMR. Total deficit is 689 calories.
I’m starting with a question that I haven’t yet answered for myself: Are government created food guides misleading or even wrong?
My response to this question will be built up while I research an answer. Before I started this post, I had a belief that government food guides such as the Canada Food Guide were at least mostly correct, but I have read more than a few other blog posts that state these kinds of food guides are not correct, and sometimes outright lies. At the end of the post, I will present an answer as to the status of Government Food Guides.
Canada Food Guide
This is an old Canada Food Guide from 1982:
This is the current food guide:
There are some notable changes. The most obvious is how a serving is displayed. A less obvious difference is the dropping of Milk and Milk products. The funny thing about milk, especially cow’s milk, only 25% of the earth’s population can drink it.
Map of lactose intolerance:
My opinion of this is if it’s not correct for 90% of humans on the planet, then it is a flawed nutrient. Essentially, only people of European descent can consume cow milk products. That means the old Canada food guide is useless for 4.5 billion asians, 1.2 billion Africans, and 400 million South Americans. So that would be 90% of the human population. Perhaps we have a flaw in the logic. The new Canada food guide corrects this by removing Milk and Milk products from it’s list.
Notice the U.S., with a large Hispanic population still has milk and milk products in its fit guide. Although they do list soy as a substitute.
Notice...No Milk. Many Indians believe cows are sacred, so they are not used as food sources.
So what does this tell us? Before I answer that, I want to tell a story I heard about Van Halen. I heard a long time ago how their concert contracts had a rider that a bowl of M&Ms with all brown M&Ms removed, was to be placed in the dressing room. When I first heard that, I thought what vain people. Then quite a few years later I heard the real story behind it: If the band walked in and saw brown M&Ms, there was a pretty good chance other parts of the concert rider contract were missed. Their concert stage was quite elaborate, so if it was not put together correctly, it could be dangerous. So, there was a high correlation between the missing brown M&Ms and poor stage construction. That correlation meant that an immediate inspection of the stage and setup was required, and quite often, they found safety issues.1 I’ll use that story to drive my current decision:
If two countries are espousing food choices good for only 10% of the human population, maybe there is a problem with their food guide, and maybe some other decisions they made need to be investigated.
What Do We Need?
Our body needs two sets of nutrients, these are macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. These nutrients are classified as micro because we need only small amounts (milligrams and micrograms) of them, whereas we need large amounts (hundreds of grams) of macronutrients .
The food we eat can be classified into three different types: Proteins, Carbohydrates, and Fats. These are also called macronutrients. The purpose of a food guide is to help people eat the right foods in the right proportions to stay healthy. Presumably, using a food guide to build a meal plan will allow a person to get all the nutrients they need and ensure their caloric intake remains at a point where weight gain will not occur.
Proteins are very complex chemicals (yes, everything we eat, in the end, is a chemical) made up of Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, and Nitrogen. These are the building blocks of all the cells in our body, and the body uses Protein to rebuild itself.2 Proteins are the body’s last resort for energy.
Carbohydrates are made up of Carbon, Oxygen, and Hydrogen (pretty much the same stuff a petroleum). The body uses Carbohydrates as it’s first source of energy.3
Fats are complex chemicals also made up of Hydrogen, Carbon, and Oxygen (HydroCarbons).4 They are used by the body for energy, plus many other important functions.
How Much Do We Need?
This is a hard question to answer accurately because it depends on your fitness level, your activity level, your age, and your gender. I found a website run by a PhD that provides a spreadsheet that nicely illustrates this, with peer reviewed references:
Other documentation also indicates that your target ratios are very dependant on your goals and your current health status.5 So, there is no hard and fast rule for a specific individual, instead, the food guides provide the answer for the average person. Like any other one size fits all solution, it doesn’t fit too many people all that well. So we have another strike against government defined food guides.
There are too many micronutrients to list and go through in this article. Micronutrients are the essential vitamins and minerals that the body cannot make on its own. These come from plants and animals as well. They are called micronutrients because the amounts we need are measured in micrograms and milligrams. These perform different types of roles in our bodies. Some act as catalysts so reactions can occur at lower temperatures, some are used to carry signals around the body, and some are used while building new cells.
My conclusion is, food guides are not perfect, and if you have the time and ability to thoroughly research what you need as an individual, then do it. Otherwise, food guides are created as quick and easy guides for the average person in the country they are built by. Food guides are meant for people who do not have the resources, time, or inclination to do their own research. Food guides are an easy way to plan meals so the people who use them can get the right amount of nourishment every day. They are not perfect, they are not foolproof, but they are useful guides for people just beginning the process of learning nutrition.