Canada’s Food Guide and Your Liver Health
On January 22, 2019, Health Canada released an update to Canada’s Food Guide. This is exciting news for Canadians. Several changes to the Guide’s layout and content have been done to ensure that Canadians are provided with up-to-date and evidence-based nutritional information. Emerging as important concepts within the new food Guidelines are a renewed focus on plant-based foods, lower intakes of processed foods that contain higher levels of sugar, a background on saturated fat intake, and a less direct emphasis on dairy products.
What does this mean for Canadians living with liver disease?
Moderation of saturated fat and simple sugar intake are all known risk factors for the development of a fatty liver and thus, significant regarding non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Therefore, this message makes a lot of sense for Canadians with liver disease as high intakes of sugar (fructose) sweetened beverages and fatty foods high in saturated fat has been associated with an increased risk for developing a fatty liver.
A second crucial point is increasing our fresh fruit and vegetable intake. This is incredibly important to ensure that Canadians with liver disease meet their daily needs for vitamins (e.g. vitamin E). Fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants, which are also vital for overall liver health.
The Guide offers some easy and practical tips (such as filling up half your plate with a variety of fruits and vegetables) to increase your intake. It also provides some handy tips for snacks and meals that will assist Canadians in eating a wide range of fruits and vegetables. All of this is good news for maintaining overall liver health.
One of the areas of concern in the new Guide is the de-emphasis of dairy intake. Although the Guide includes the recommendation for Canadians to consume low-fat dairy products, there is less information on how much milk and other dairy alternatives Canadians should consume daily. This is concerning since vitamin D fortified dairy products are an important source of vitamin D, protein, calcium and other micronutrients in the Canadian diet. These nutrients are particularly vital for the optimal growth and development of children and adolescents and for preserving healthy bones and muscle in ageing adults.
Vitamin D is also an essential nutrient for overall health, and as such, it is critical for Canadians living with liver disease to include vitamin D fortified foods in their diet. Consuming vitamin D fortified dairy products, and vitamin D fortified plant-based foods will be a crucial strategy that Canadians can employ to ensure their vitamin D needs are met. This will be very important to promote liver health and healthy body weights.
The new Food Guide also addresses concerns related to alcohol consumption and how this may impact the overall health of Canadians. This is highly relevant to Canadians with liver disease where caution should be considered.
Although Health Canada’s Food Guide is restricted to diet, the Canadian Liver Foundation emphasizes that regular exercise and physical activity are essential components of the maintenance of good liver health and will enhance the benefits of a healthy diet.
Another update of the Guide is expected to become available to the Canadian public later in 2019. This Guide is simply the first step to promoting the nutritional health and well-being of Canadians. A remaining challenge will be to develop nutritional guidelines that meet the needs of Canadians with liver disease. Dietitians are a unique resource to assist with this and are uniquely positioned to help Canadians translate the information presented in the new Guide to meet the needs of Canadians with liver disease.