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Jan 27, 2019 BY Joy McCarthy

A Holistic Nutritionist's Review of Canada's Food Guide

—  found in  Well-being  —

When I shared my initial thoughts about Canada's new food guide on Instagram, I intentionally approached it from the perspective of where it's at today, based on current research and my expertise as a Holistic Nutritionist – not based on what it was.

The general consensus and most common comment I heard was "it's better than what it was – we are moving in the right direction!". While this may be true, I was more interested in evaluating it for what it is today, in 2019, versus what it evolved from over 10 years ago.

While I wholeheartedly agree that progress has been made, especially because of the inclusion of healthy eating beyond the food you eat and the removal of dairy as a food group, I believe we still need a critical review of the 2019 Canada Food Guide. After all, this is the guide that will be used as gospel for schools, hospitals (maybe it will inspire them to remove jello from the menu?), nursing homes, prisons and more. 

Before I get to my review, if you don't want to read all the way to the bottom and you just want to know if you should follow this guide to a "T", my short answer is no.

You can use it as a guide, to which you adapt and customize it to your needs and your family's needs, but no guide can be suited to 37 million Canadians – and that's just the reality.

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This is the reason I've never recommended any client or reader of my blog to follow any governmental food guide. In fact, where I went to school, we weren't even taught to follow a guide such as this. That is also one of the reasons I chose to study Holistic Nutrition which is evidence-based nutrition with a strong focus on prevention that is not guided by a government that updates its food guide only a handful of times over a 75 year span.

I've taken a lot of time to go through the updates to Health Canada's website and reviewed almost everything. If I have missed something important, please feel free to comment below and I will do my best to keep this post updated.

The emphasis on filling half your plate with plant-based foods

We can all benefit from eating more plants! There are nearly 25,000 known phytonutrients (naturally occuring beneficial compounds in plants) that can help us fight disease and truly thrive so it's an absolute necessity that we eat more plants.

This is why most of my recipes on the blog are plant-based and every day of the week, the large percentage of what I eat and my family eats is plants but we still eat fishchicken, some dairy, occassionally meat and my hubs and daughter would be more than happy to eat their weight in pizza and pasta. We eat also eat a healthy dose of fat with every meal and snack. 

I've been advising my clients and community alike to fill at least 50% of their plate with plant-based foods since I became a nutritionist nearly 10 years ago, as have most of my colleagues.

In fact, in my first cookbook, Joyous Health, I created my very own food guide pyramid as you can see below. It was 5 years ago that I created this so the main tweak I would make is to ignore the serving number and just follow this as a general guideline. At every meal and snack, make sure you have protein, complex carbs (preferably from veggies) and some good fat. 

As for the grains section, please see my note at the very bottom regarding grains. But back to Canada's food guide – way to go Health Canada, let's eat more plants!

The actual visual of a plate of food

At a quick glance, it looks pretty good and much more enticing than what it was before. Real food does look far more appetizing than illustrated pictures, which is what most other food guides worldwide do, including Canada's food guide in the past. Many people have since commented that it looks very "diet-like" and quite unappetizing. Personally, I don't mind it. To me it looks like a flat-lay on instagram :). 

Make water your drink of choice

It's absolutely fantastic that this is front and centre. Water is definitely the best drink of choice for hydration and something we should be drinking multiple times per day. It's great they advised how to make your water more tasty by adding fruit ( hello lemon and water! ), spices ( cinnamon ) and herbs (like basil!). 

HEALTHY EATING IS MORE THAN THE FOODS YOU EAT

I think it's awesome there's an extensive section on mindful eating which includes how to create a healthy eating environment, cooking more often, eating meals with others, listening to music while eating, socializing over food, and more.

Beyond this page and image you see here, I really wish they would have made this section a little more visually appealing. It's like dry toast trying to get through it (like reading a Microsoft Word '97 document, to be exact - haha!). I'm assuming this is based on budgetary reasons but a stock photo that costs 10 dollars would make a world of a difference!

Be aware of food marketing

I'm really glad Health Canada went more in-depth on educating the public of food marketing. It would have been great if they used visuals and specific examples to illustrate this.

There is no distinction between fresh to frozen to canned

Here's the flipside to my point about giving Health Canada a high-five on recommending people to fill half their plate with plant-foods. Because if we go a little deeper into their recommendations, you find that fresh food is on par with frozen and canned foods. In fact, they state "fresh, frozen or canned vegetables and fruits can all be healthy options". This is really bad advice.

The bad advice is providing no distinction between fresh, frozen or canned. If you follow their recommendation, you might as well "skip the hassle of fresh foods" (but really, they are no hassle) and just eat canned foods all day (but actually, don't do that, for the sake of your taste buds and health!). 

Fresh can definitely be on par with frozen. In fact, sometimes frozen can be even more nutrient-dense than fresh food that was picked a month ago and travelled 950 miles to get to the grocery store shelf. Strawberries picked in July that were flash frozen will be FAR more nutrient dense in January than fresh strawberries flown in from New Zealand.

Joyous Tip: Buying frozen organic produce in the off-season can often be more affordable than conventional fresh. So you can both save a few bucks AND get more nutritious frozen foods. Of course, when produce is in season, it will be the most nutrient dense AND more afforable option. 

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There were a few people who were upset with me on Instagram because I said that canned foods were a poor recommendation. They were upset because they felt I was out of touch and an "elitist" and that by stating that canned foods were a poor recommendation, I was not considering people who are on a limited budget or of lesser means.

If Health Canada is so inclusive and hyper-aware then why the heck are they recommending "Pre-bagged vegetables that can be quickly tossed into a salad. Try: baby carrots!". I don't know about you, but I NEVER buy baby carrots. One because of the outrageous price tag and two because they are very wasteful (they use large carrots to make baby carrots) but that's besides the point.

So in response, I offer this:

My review of the guide was not from a socioeconmic perspective; it was purely from a health perspective. I would be doing a disservice to my community if I, too, said, fresh, frozen and canned foods are all created equal. Canned mushrooms that can sit on the store shelf for 8 years is definitely not your best choice, especially when you have a choice.

Don't ALL people, exclusive of how much money they make, deserve to know what the healthiest choices are?

UMMMM – DRINK WHAT, NOW?

Water is good. Okay, agreed! But vegetable juice is ... not? Same goes for fruit juice, but for some reason, it is no where to be found under the "what to limit section".

This recommendation really perplexed me. Under "Make water your drink of choice" it listed "vegetable juices" under the "what to limit" section with no mention of fruit juice. Sure, it does say limit sugary drinks but knowing how terrible fruit juice, pop and other sugary drinks are for our health, I can't for the life of me understand why this wasn't included.

And again, there is no distinction between a healthy, cold-pressed homemade veggie juice or a canned store-bought choice. Simply saying that "vegetable juices" should be limited would put my delicious and nourishing green juice in the bad category.

If I didn't know anything about nutrition, I would think that my green juice is no good. I can only guess their recommendation to avoid veggie juice is based on the highly processed vegetable juices like V8 that are full of sodium. But who knows!?!

White low-fat milk as a healthy option for hydration

Whether they realize it or not, the large majority of people (up to 60%) cannot digest lactose, the main sugar in milk, and many of the remaining are either allergic or intolerant.

The form of dairy that most people are consuming is pasteurized and homogenized cow's milk which is a pro-inflammatory food with many problems. This shouldn't be anywhere in the guide in my opinion. The focus on low-fat dairy is a great way to completely eliminate any benefits of milk like fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K which actually require fat to be absorbed.

The best option for hydration is and always will be – water. And if you're so inclined to drink milk, don't go with skim. Go with full fat and you'll drink less of it because you'll be consuming a more filling and nutritious drink. 

Too much soy

Soy is one of the most common food sensitivities, allergens and for many suffering from hormonal imbalance, soy beverages can exacerbate these issues. Research has already shown it can reduce fertility in men because isoflavones in soy are plant compounds with estrogen-like effects.

I've seen the negative implications of consuming soy products in my own clinical practice and I experienced it myself. You can read about it in this post about  food is fermented. Fermented soy products include tempeh, miso and natto. If you want to avoid GMO foods, make sure you purchase certified organic soy products only. 

The section on fat is missing on the plate

This is such a big miss! Fat is one of three macronutrients that we need for survival. In fact, there are fats that are essential and we MUST get them from our diet because our body cannot make them.

If I was on the committee creating this, there would most definitely be a designated section on the plate for healthy fats. If you want to learn more about the types of fat I recommend, you can check out this video and blog post. If you dig deeper into the various links on Health Canada's website you'll come across advice on fats and recommendations for cooking with corn and canola oil (nooooo!). Not to mention, many of the recipes include margarine as an ingredient!

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Wellness Mama recently did a great job of explaining the harmful effect of canola oil which you can read here because it really deserves a whole blog post. Just like soy, canola and corn are commonly genetically modified foods. 

it's time to retire the Saturated myth

This is probably the biggest misinformation of the entire food guide. Health Canada is completely ignoring the latest science (read 5 studies here that debunk the myth that saturated fat causes heart disease or raises cholesterol).

Their opinion, that it should be avoided (which is what it is – an "opinion") is not based on scientific evidence and this opinion is included on nearly every page.

When the recommendations were given to avoid saturated fat, heart disease rates skyrocketed, as did the consumption of carbs and liquid vegetable oils like canola, sunflower etc. 

An excerpt from a meta-analysis

"Despite popular belief among doctors and the public, the conceptual model of dietary saturated fat clogging a pipe is just plain wrong. A landmark systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies showed no association between saturated fat consumption and (1) all-cause mortality, (2) coronary heart disease (CHD), (3) CHD mortality, (4) ischaemic stroke or (5) type 2 diabetes in healthy adults."

And there's more: 

"Similarly in the secondary prevention of CHD there is no benefit from reduced fat, including saturated fat, on myocardial infarction, cardiovascular or all-cause mortality."

Every single food on the planet that contains fat, includes some amount of saturated fat, so you actually can't avoid it! Your body needs fat for survival, and that includes saturated fat. Recommending low fat and the avoidance of saturated fat is just plain wrong and dangerous. I could go on and on talking about the Diet-Heart Myth but I've included lots of links to studies for you to review on your own because I need to move on to my final point.

So ditch the white egg omelettes (eat the yolk - these guacamole eggs are divine!), don't bother with low fat dairy and start eating high-quality healthy fats again.

You'll be more satiated, you'll feel and look better and will even give your brain a little boost! Even if you're vegan, you can get a healthy dose of saturated fat from coconut oil and coconut products. 

Recipes

Okay now I almost feel bad saying this, but I have no idea who developed these recipes for Health Canada but they are pretty awful. Ingredients such as margarine, canola oil, corn oil, skim milk, all-purpose white flour are scattered throughout the recipes. I mean, just check out these muffins? I don't even know where to start so rather than beat up on the recipes, I will share some healthier mufin recipes that are nourishing and absolutely delicious!

Blueberry Flax Oat Bran Muffins

Cranberry Walnut Muffins

As with any food guide, if you have food restrictions or health concerns that require a specific diet, it's best to speak with a qualified health care practitioner because even my food pyramid requires tweaking if you follow a grain-free diet due to an autoimmune disease.

I don't personally see clients one-on-one but there are many great practitioners all over the world you can hire to help you find the best diet for you because the food you should eat should be custom-tailored to suit your needs. I eat the Joy McCarthy diet and I'm the only one on planet earth eating this exact diet, just like you should be the only one eating the (insert your name here) diet! :)

Looking forward to chatting with you more about this!

Joy 

Jan 27, 2019 BY Joy McCarthy
66 Comments
Amanda   •   January 27, 2019

Thank you! A little too much praise going on for the new guide and I whole-heartedly agree with every word you said, in particular the fats of course. I thought we were over the hate on saturated fats... I also have so many concerns about soy and grains, and dairy... thanks for giving a well thought out post on this, I've been bothered by the praise for "progress" because it is still spreading misinformation and flat out dangerous information for the health of Canadians.

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Joy McCarthy   •   January 27, 2019

Ellen Price   •   January 27, 2019

Thank you so much for your analysis on this. I wish you were part of the team revising the Food Guide.

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Joy McCarthy   •   January 27, 2019

Tara   •   January 28, 2019

Yas!!!! Well said Joy. 🙌

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Joy McCarthy   •   January 28, 2019

Anne Pearce   •   January 28, 2019

Loved your review! Thanks for adding all the links too! I am also following the Joy McArthy diet plan. I’ve tried a lot of your recipes and am the proud owner of your 2 cookbooks... when is the 3rd one coming out?

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Joy McCarthy   •   January 28, 2019

Amber   •   January 28, 2019

I’ve read so many mixed things about soy. Originally I thought it was bad and avoided it - my lattes suffered - so I read more and learned the soy raised for animals is very different than that grown for people and that it actually isn’t bad. Erin Ireland shared that soy is the closest to breast milk so I’m wondering how it could be bad? Please share more of what you know!

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Joy McCarthy   •   January 28, 2019

Ludivine M.   •   January 28, 2019

Great post! Love the breakdown. I also get a little frustrated when I hear the "elitist" excuse to a more wholesome diet. I wish we would stop making excuses for filling our bodies with junk just because they are the less expensive option. It's about quality over quantity and what our bodies can actually get out of it and thrive, not just survive!

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Joy McCarthy   •   January 28, 2019

Jacqueline F.   •   January 28, 2019

Baby carrots washed in chlorine?!?!?!?! Can you please fill me in on this? I never bought baby carrots as I assumed they were likely GMO, but then I found organic baby carrots. If they are organic, that means they are not GMO, right? But washed in chlorine??? I'm quite disturbed by this and even more disturbed by the fact I give them to my children, who eat them daily.

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Joy McCarthy   •   January 28, 2019

Jacqueline F.   •   January 28, 2019

Wow, I had no idea. While I can't say I've noticed a chlorine taste (like I have in my tap water on occasion), and maybe organic baby carrots are different, I'm not sure I want to take that chance without knowing for certain. Looks like I'll be chopping up carrots tonight for my children rather than giving them baby carrots. Thank you for enlightening me!

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Joy McCarthy   •   January 28, 2019
Joy McCarthy   •   February 20, 2019

Jenny Rose   •   January 28, 2019

Thanks for the overview. Always appreciate your perspective and knowledge. Can you share some of your protein ideas that aren’t meat or fish (you mention eating protein at every meal)? Also - I have heard the same thing about chlorine and baby carrots.

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Joy McCarthy   •   January 28, 2019

Fran   •   January 29, 2019

Thanks for the post, Joy! When I taught my students in Health class I always told them I thought the Food Guide was flawed and that veggies and fruit should be the majority of your diet. I’m happy to finally see some changes. I always brought in fruit and veggies for them to try. The lunches that I see sometimes make me sad, with highly processed foods making up the majority. It is actually more expensive to purchase these than including fresh fruits and veggies! There’s still some work to do.

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Joy McCarthy   •   January 29, 2019

Joanna   •   January 29, 2019

It would be great if the government actually collaborated with people who know what they are talking about. I would also add that the government will never revise to the extent you would like to see, because they'll get a backlash from many of the businesses who provide us with these food choices. Part of it is likely $$$ and politics. Sad, but true.

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Joy McCarthy   •   January 29, 2019

Virginie   •   January 29, 2019

Maybe I missed this, but you should point out why canned food isn't the best. Always read the label. So many unnecessary things added. I try not to buy canned veggies, but when I do, I look for ones with no sugar or least amount and sugar and salt. And things I can't pronounce. This way I have more control on what I put in my body. :)

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Joy McCarthy   •   January 29, 2019

Sabina Turcic   •   January 29, 2019

Thanks Joy! I totally agree with you on ALL points! Just scratching my head and thinking...Why couldn’t Health Canada get this right??? As an elementary teacher I will struggle with this document, given that I don’t whole heartedly accept it. The Canada Food Guide is currently part of the Health curriculum for Grade 2.

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Joy McCarthy   •   January 29, 2019
Sabina Turcic   •   January 29, 2019
Joy McCarthy   •   January 29, 2019

Melanie M.   •   January 29, 2019

Couldn’t agree more with your thoughts! I was surprised to see they hadn’t included healthy fats on the plate. And I truly hope it does influence the menus in hospitals. I was shocked at the food selection when I gave birth a few months ago. Jello, only canned veggies and fruits, and dry beef- for people who are trying to heal! Needless to say I had my husband bring me all of my meals from home.

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Joy McCarthy   •   January 29, 2019

Jenny Rose   •   January 29, 2019

It is VERY sadly ironic what hospitals serve inpatients and what is available in their food courts for outpatients. Food that contributes to making or keeping people sick. When my husband was diagnosed with brain cancer, I went to the cancer clinics nutition department. The place was stocked full with Ensure drinks. That was all that they recommended. Nothing else. Awful. When patients came out radiation or chemo sessions, they were offered candy and chocolates - like some big treat. The gesture was lovely but the food was exactly what the body does not need. Hospital nutrition in this country needs a radical and complete transformation!

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Joy McCarthy   •   January 29, 2019

Lisiane   •   January 29, 2019

Joy , You should translate this comment in french for all the francophones Please ....

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Joy McCarthy   •   January 29, 2019

MacKenzie Vaughan   •   January 29, 2019

With regards to fresh vs frozen vs canned vegetables... having grown up in a remote northern community that didn't have access to fresh (let alone organic) vegetables, canned and frozen was the only way to go. My sister now provides counsel to parents with very low income in a remote community, and advises them to eat vegetables with every meal. Canned (sometimes frozen) is often their only option. The food guide has to serve all communities and levels of income and sometimes only frozen or canned is all that's available.

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Joy McCarthy   •   January 29, 2019

Denise   •   January 29, 2019

Thank you for such a well-written and thoughtful review of the new Canada Food Guide, Joy. I had also picked up on the same items with concern on the new guide that you so beautifully elaborated upon with grace and common sense. Thank you! 💗

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Joy McCarthy   •   January 29, 2019

Hannah   •   January 29, 2019

"That is also one of the reasons I chose to study Holistic Nutrition which is evidence-based nutrition with a strong focus on prevention that is not guided by a government that updates its food guide only a handful of times over a 75 year span.". This seems a bit like a jab at Registered Dietitians - just FYI we are not regulated by the government. We are independently regulated. Sorry if I misinterpreted your comment. Interesting analysis - I agree on some points and disagree on others :)

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Joy McCarthy   •   January 29, 2019

Jen   •   January 29, 2019

I heartily agree with this article Joy! The new guide definitely has some good things moving in the right direction but there are other things, as you identified, that they completely missed the mark.

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Cynthia   •   January 29, 2019

I LOVE YOU!!! YES YES YES! When I worked for our university health center as a health educator, the nutritionists were still telling people to buy the low fat boxed foods. It took them a couple years to get with it. Your evaluation and diplomatic honesty is a life saver!!! Thank you for saying it.

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Joy McCarthy   •   January 29, 2019

Sharon S.   •   January 29, 2019

Thank you for your well thought out post. I am pleased to see the direction the Canadian Food Guide is going, in saying that there are still big pieces that need to change. We have such a big education piece that we can share and this is only the beginning. It has been so good to see so much conversation around the new food guide. Great post!

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Joy McCarthy   •   January 29, 2019

Libby   •   January 30, 2019

You are hilarious and informative. Love you Joy. Awesome advice. Can you make a new recipe for healthy apple pie pastry. I bet you will use coconut oil or mana. Which one would be best?

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Joy McCarthy   •   January 30, 2019

Kim Masin   •   January 31, 2019

Excellent Joy! So glad you debunked a lot of the misinformed "nutritional" guidelines. And those muffins...lol. I cringed when I originally saw the recipe! Thanks for writing this. I'm sharing. I hope it gets shared everywhere!

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Joy McCarthy   •   January 31, 2019

Mandy   •   January 31, 2019

I do like that they recommend being mindful of emotions and thoughts when we eat. Emotional eating is something most people go through these days.

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Joy McCarthy   •   January 31, 2019

Sherika   •   February 1, 2019

I appreciated this very detailed review of the New Canadian Food Guide. I have not had time to read it in its entirety so this article is a great summary. I agree that while the new Food Guide has made positive steps, there are still improvements to be made but hey, Rome was not built in a day. Cheers.

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Kim   •   February 6, 2019

Great Review!

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Joy McCarthy   •   February 6, 2019

Jen   •   February 6, 2019

That was a great review. Thanks Joy!

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Kim   •   February 8, 2019

Excellent article...much of what I thought. I really eat far less carbs than they recommend and I do not do dairy except yogurt....I just cannot. I think we must all look at our individual situation and use any of hele publications as a guideline but not a bible.

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Julie L.   •   February 8, 2019

Fabulously well done Joy! I have to say that until you wrote this article I didn't even look at the new Canadian food guide because my Julie Lehoux diet has been based off your pyramid for the last couple of years and it's now my way of life! Love how your analyse is made and easy to understand for everyone.

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Joy McCarthy   •   February 8, 2019

Ann   •   February 20, 2019

Check out the scientific studies of Dr. Greger, Esselstyn and Campbell. I'm leaning towards whole fats, not processed.

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Joy McCarthy   •   February 20, 2019

Lin   •   February 26, 2019

Joy where can I download your pyramid? Why do u say to ignore numbers recommended on yur pyramid they seem right to me? ❤️ GREAT ARTICLE

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Joy McCarthy   •   February 26, 2019

Lin   •   February 26, 2019

OK TX ❤️ makes sense 😊

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Gracie   •   May 21, 2019

Dear Joy, I just watched the Netflix documentary What The Health and it’s made me quite concerned..... It was saying how even buying strictly organic animal products such as meat, chicken, and poultry.... still has bad saturated fat. Is this true? I personally thought (and still am trying to believe) that if your buying high quality poultry, for example, that it would be good for you. It said to stear clear of cows milk... should I? It talked about how it’s linked to cancer. I’m currently drinking organic valleys 100% grass fed milk, but is the saturated fat in that bad?! If so should I just switch over to goats, sheeps, and non dairy, dairy. I would love it if you could help de-bunk this for me..I just want to nourish my body with the correct foods. It also mentioned how the yolks of eggs are terrible, but aren’t they actually really good, especially if I’m buying grass-fed? Thank you so much!

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Joy McCarthy   •   May 21, 2019

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