Following a lengthy process to revamp the Canada Food Guide, Health Canada recently released a set of Guiding Principles. While the average Canadian doesn’t typically use the Guide for weekly meal planning, it is an important document for nutritionists, educators, physicians and other professionals who shape and influence our diets, and is an especially important consideration for people living with diabetes.
Among the highlights, the Guiding Principles seek to steer Canadians towards more plant-based foods, a return to cooking meals and snacks at home, and reducing our intake of processed and “convenience” foods, which are often high in sugar and fat – key factors that influence the risk of diabetes.
Diabetes Canada offers recommendations for the new Canada Food Guide
Diabetes Canada has responded to the Guiding Principles with recommendations to help shape the new Canada Food Guide. Joanne Lewis, Diabetes Canada’s healthy eating and nutrition programming director, was part of the team that offered several key recommendations for the upcoming changes to the Guide. “Every Canadian should be eating the same way as someone with diabetes,” says Lewis. “Eating for a healthy life with diabetes is just plain healthy eating.”
Among the advances, the first Guiding Principle introduces a balanced, plant-based diet for the first time – focusing on more meals without meat. “The advantage for people with diabetes is that it enables them to have more fibre. Fibre slows digestion, blood sugars don’t spike as much, and there is a more gradual rise in blood sugar,” says Lewis.
A fan of fibre, professional chef Siva Swaminathan, who lives with type 1 diabetes, says, “Lots of fibre in the diet is good; fibre is your best friend.” She adds that for people living with diabetes, who should always consider the number of carbohydrates in a meal, fibre can be subtracted. This important consideration influences how much medication a person living with diabetes should take before a meal – especially those with type 1 diabetes and type 2 patients that are insulin-dependent.
The second Guiding Principle calls for a reduced consumption of processed foods and an active avoidance of drinks high in added sugar, such as soda. Reduced consumption of both could significantly help reduce the incidence of type 2 diabetes among Canadians.
Food choices have to be sustainable long-term
According to Lewis, any positive dietary changes a person embraces must be reasonable. “Once someone has diabetes they will have it for the rest of their life. You have to be able to sustain changes long-term.”
Swaminathan says preparing meals at home – a key to maintaining a balanced diet – is not as tough as many people might think.
“If you can do prep work ahead of time, it makes cooking when you are busy much easier. I highly recommend cooking meals on weekends in large quantities, putting containers away in the freezer, and ideally doing a menu for the whole week in advance. You can make it fun and spend a couple of hours in your kitchen with your family.”
When weekend free time is limited, and makes advance meal preparation difficult, Swaminathan recommends just making a little more of each healthy meal, and putting portions away in the freezer to pull out later. She also recommends using kitchen gadgets that minimize time for tasks, such as food processors.
Welcome a new, consumer-friendly food guide
Recognizing that people living with diabetes must make well-informed and appropriate food choices, Lewis notes that the recommendations for the new Guiding Principles include a simplified Canada Food Guide written specifically for consumers.
“Diabetes is an individualized disease with no one-size fits all approach to nutrition; the effect of food is different for each person. The fluctuation in blood sugars when carbohydrates are consumed may be different between individuals,” says Lewis. Working with a dietitian and a diabetes educator can help patients determine a proper regimen for both medication and food.
If you want help with your diet, you can ask your doctor to refer you to a local diabetes centre and/or a registered dietitian. You can also visit Diabetes Canada’s page on Diet and Nutrition, or contact the organization directly to have information mailed out to you or a family member.