Can we eat our way to a healthy and ecologically sustainable food system?
The food system is a major contributor to climate change, biodiversity loss, eutrophication and deforestation. This article examines national dietary guidelines as a way to shift dietary patterns in the population toward diets that continue to promote health while being more ecologically sustainable. While some sustainability principles may be inherent in the 2007 Canada’s Food Guide (e.g., an emphasis on plant-based foods), these were not made explicit. As Health Canada undertakes a revision of its national dietary guidance, a unique opportunity exists to situate dietary guidelines within the broader context of Canada’s first-ever national food policy. Coherence between these two policies has the potential to position the role of diets as a core link between food systems and both human and ecological health. This paper explores the possibilities of advancing sustainability principles within Canadian national dietary guidelines by drawing on evidence-based literature and key sustainability messages within dietary guidelines from four countries that have integrated many of these principles. Lessons and perspectives from international experiences on incorporating environmental sustainability into dietary guidelines are described including: influence of the food industry; cross-sector collaboration and alliances; civil society participation; and “win-win” messages. Application of these lessons to Canada, followed by opportunities to advance the incorporation of sustainability principles within the country’s national dietary guidelines are then proposed.