Humber staff resetting menus using Canada’s new food guide

by | Mar 15, 2019 | News

Clement Goh, Senior Reporter

Devon Fernandes, one of two full-time members in the Office of Sustainability, says his calls for a greener Humber College were answered when Health Canada rebooted its food guide for the country.

As a specialist, Fernandes is preparing for something others have yet to see: a “ripple effect” that is re-evaluating Humber by health, and the way food is seen across all of its institutions.

The food choices are expected to change at Humber College following the release of a revamped Canada Food Guide earlier this year. (Clement Goh)

After almost a decade, extensive changes were made in Canada’s Food Guide for 2019. The latest version of the guide encourages plant-based nutrition and less processed foods for Canadians.

This criteria is being embraced by staff like Fernandes, who says it fits his vision of a five-year strategic plan for the college.

“Change doesn’t happen overnight, but it happens if you have a plan and you’re focused about it,” said Fernandes, believing there is a sharper direction for creating the “healthiest campus.”

His team collected feedback across the college through real and virtual town halls, pop-up booths and sticker-surveys across the school year to see what students wanted in their roadmap.

While their five-year goal includes actions for zero-waste and net-positive energy efficient buildings, they also discovered changing the menu was something people were interested in seeing.

“If we hear loud-and-clear that students want more healthy food and they’re willing to vote with their dollars for a certain aspect, we’re happy to help push that forward,” he said.

However, he says revamping Humber’s menu isn’t a simple step due to the challenge of making it accessible for everybody from personal tastes, to religion and fitness goals.

“If I were to give up yogurt, it would be very difficult for me to appreciate my culture and its culinary heritage,” said Fernandes, who was raised in an Indian background.

“So that’s something we have to be very mindful of, but I think the (new) Canada Food Guide lays out a series of principles that allow you to look at culturally-appropriate and healthy and sustainable food at the same time,” he said.

The new guide makes visual suggestions for the ideal serving of food. Fruits and vegetables take over half the dish while its remaining two-quarters are equally divided for proteins and “whole grain” foods.

It also states water should be the drink of choice.

Unlike the older version, the 2019 guide abandons the “number of portions a day” rule for the four basic food groups. 

For personal trainer and Humber fitness instructor Ann Minard, it’s a bold move that makes her diet suggestions flexible for students.

She says nutrition is “at least half the battle” if gym-goers want to keep their gains.

The new Canada Food Guide calls for more plant-based protein. Humber College’s food choices may soon reflect the changes in the guide. (Clement Goh)

“In terms of losing weight or reaching a goal that has to do with performance it definitely has a lot to do with it.” said Minard, who creates plans for students by logging their meals for a week.

When habits are revealed in the logs, she noticed many students facing a special case, in which a stressful semester can cause some to overeat or not have enough food.

Minard realized a busy schedule caused students to choose convenient foods that are “quick, fast and easy,” but also high in fats, salt and sugar.

She thinks the new food guide offers an opportunity for students to break the cycle of eating processed ingredients.

“It’s a little bit better because of the fact that it’s not a specific diet. It gives me more choices and really gears you more towards a plant-based calorie intake,” Minard said. 

“Which is healthier because you’re getting more nutrients from your vegetables and your fruits,” she said. “You’re only really getting iron and protein mostly from meat and other protein choices, so you really want to try to take in a lot of the fruits and vegetables.”

Humber ‘s own aspiring nutritionists have been following Canada’s older standards before the new guide came along at the start of the 2019 Winter Term.

This changed the way Humber’s School of Health Sciences and Wellness taught its  students.

Registered Dietician and Humber Nutrition professor Karine Barlow said the changes “threw a bit of a curveball” on her teachings.

“These have been assignments that we had in place for the last number of years,” said Barlow, recalling how one required students to create a meal plan for specific diseases, such as diabetes.

“Their assignment was to ensure that the menu they developed met the requirements of the food guide from the four food groups and number of portions per day,” she said.

Despite making adjustments, Barlow was “quite impressed” with the level of research used to support the new facts.

She also believes it makes an effort to go “back to basics,” while reminding Canadians of calorie-dense foods that lack essential building blocks.

“The problem is that these are displacing real foods. They’re displacing whole foods which deliver nutrients,” Barlow said.

She said  the guide is just step one of the government’s plan to add more updates and new info for Canadians. 

Humber could also be seeing changes in their cafeterias because of the new guide in the 2019-2020 year.

Barlow said the power of choice however remains in the hands of students.

“And so unfortunately as a dietician, when consumers ultimately spend their money on foods that are less nutritious, that tells us those foods just won’t ever go away,” she said.

“We, in some respects, have to provide them because that’s what people want,” Barlow said.