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Nutrition and Diet: Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating and Thyroid Disease

Maria Kalergis and Rebeca Rivera
Dietetic Interns, Kingston General Hospital

Canada has a new food guide, needed for several reasons: to address current nutrition issues, to provide consumers with updated information, to recognize changes Canadians are already making in their eating patterns, to provide consumers with practical and realistic guidance in selecting foods; and to present a new design to reflect newer healthy eating messages. As a result, Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating has a new look that reflects a new philosophy. Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating is for people 4 years old and over and is based on Canada's Guidelines for Healthy Eating which are as follows:

By following these guidelines, you not only get the nutrients and energy that your body needs but you also help to decrease your chances of developing nutrition-related diseases such as heart disease, cancer, anaemia, osteoporosis, and some bowel disorders. The Food Guide is based on the concept of health that includes physical, mental, and social well-being.

The Food Guide consists of four food groups and the recommended ranges of servings for each food group are as follows:

The servings you choose from the food groups depends on your age, sex, body weight, and activity level, eg. a teenage basketball player would eat up to the maximum servings in the range, whereas an older, less active person may only require the minimum. (2 servings of grain = 1 cup of cooked rice or pasta, or 1 hamburger or hotdog bun or 1 English muffin).

The food guide, being a total diet approach, also includes "other foods" such as sweets, baked goods, fried foods. These are not part of the four food groups and are often high in fat and calories. These foods can be part of a healthy eating pattern if they are eaten in moderation.

Eating according to Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating is the best way to ensure good health. People with thyroid disease can also benefit from eating according to Canada's Food Guide to Healthy eating. Depending on whether you have hyper or hypothyroidism, you will have different requirements for protein and energy (calories). With a normal functioning thyroid gland, our body is usually in "energy balance". This means that our energy input (food intake) equals our energy output (metabolism & activity) and therefore we stay at a stable weight. However, thyroid disease affects the body's nutritional state or energy state. Hyperthyroidism leads to an increased energy output (due to high metabolism), often resulting in muscle wasting and weight loss. Hypothyroidism leads to a decreased energy output (due to low metabolism), often resulting in weight gain.

Therefore to help restore the body's nutritional state, people with hyperthyroidism can try to eat more servings of food from the four food groups. They should choose from the higher end of the recommended range of servings. Also they need to increase their protein intake by choosing more milk products and meat and alternatives to help build up their muscles.

People with hypothyroidism can avoid gaining weight or can lose weight if they are already overweight by choosing from the lower end of the recommended range of servings from each food group. They should also choose foods lower in fat such as lower fat dairy products (eg. 1%, skim milk, and yogurt and cheese with 15% milk fat or less), leaner meats, and foods prepared with little or no fat.

The main thing to remember is to: enjoy eating well, being active, and feeling good about yourself: that's vitality!

Winning the Game of Losing

(Prepared by the Canadian Dietetic Association, reproduced by permission)

Waist management is a hot topic for many Canadians these days as they try to shed unwanted pounds. Too many of the methods used to lose weight result in regaining not only the lost pounds, but some extra as well.

Fad diets can bear quite a cost - not only to your wallet but to your health and your self-esteem, as well. Before getting on the diet-go-round, use the checklist below to judge the program you're considering.

Begin by answering the following questions:

  1. Does the program recommend that you talk with your doctor first?
  2. Has a registered dietitian helped to design the program or is one available to talk with you?
  3. Does the program use the Body Mass Index (BMI) to help you set healthy and realistic goal weights?
  4. Is the recommended weight loss more than two pounds per week?
  5. Is the program based on Canada's Food Guide with a selection of foods from all of the food groups?
  6. Does the program provide at least 1200 Calories (5000 kilojoules) per day for women and 1500 Calories (6500 kilojoules) per day for men?
  7. Does the program allow for personal eating styles as well as your individual nutritional needs?
  8. Does the program encourage regular enjoyable physical activity which is suited to your lifestyle and your physical condition?
  9. Does the program depend on special products, special foods, supplements or treatments?
  10. Are magical claims or high pressure salesmanship involved in any part of the program?

Now check your answers with those below:

  1. Yes - Talk to your doctor first.

    By talking to your doctor about your weight loss plans, you can discuss any medical conditions or special needs you may have. It's one way to find out if weight loss is risky to your health. Generally, children, teenagers, pregnant and nursing women should not be on weight reduction programs.

  2. Yes - A registered dietitian/nutritionist should be involved with the program.

    Registered dietitian-nutritionists are specially trained to bring together the science of nutrition and the pleasures of healthy eating. With the ability to sort nutrition fact from fiction, they can design healthy eating plans which will help you lose weight and stay healthy.

  3. Yes - Goal weights must be realistic.

    Being underweight is just as harmful to your health as being overweight. Aim for a weight that's in a healthy range for your height and body build. The Body Mass Index (BMI)**, a ratio of height and weight, will help you find that healthy range. Aim for a BMI of 20 to 27 (the BMI does not apply to those under 20 years, over 65 years or athletes).

  4. No - Recommended weight loss should be no more than 2 lbs. (1 kg) per week.

    With quick weight loss or starvation, your body's survival instinct kicks in. The rate at which calories are used slows down and weight loss can grind to a halt. Then, when you add more food, the pounds return quickly. You may even end up heavier than when you began. Therefore a gradual weight loss of 0.5-2 lbs (0.25 to 1 kg) per week is safe and sensible.

  5. Yes - Any weight loss program should be based on a variety of foods from Canada's Food Guide.

    The best way to get all of the more than 50 nutrients we need is to eat a variety of foods from each of the food groups (milk and milk products, fruits and vegetables, grains, meats and alternates) every day.

  6. Yes - The diet should provide at least 1200 Calories (5000 kilojoules) per day for women and 1500 Calories (6500 kilojoules) per day for men.

    If you eat less than this, it will be very difficult to get all the nutrients that your body needs. If for any reason you must go on a diet with fewer calories than this, do so only under medical supervision.

  7. Yes - A weight control program should be designed specifically for you.

    A menu that's perfect for your neighbour or your best friend may not be best for you as it doesn't take into account your likes and dislikes and your lifestyle. After all, if the plan doesn't include any of your favourite foods, you won't follow it for long. Your individual nutritional needs must also be considered. For example, a young woman needs more iron than a man of the same age.

  8. Yes - The program should encourage regular enjoyable physical activity which is suited to your lifestyle and your physical condition.

    It's a simple equation. If you take in more energy (in the form of food) than you can use, you'll gain weight and, if you burn more energy in activity than you take in, you'll lose weight. So, instead of only taking in less, be more active and burn more energy. There are other benefits to being active - regular exercise combined with a slow weight loss helps you lose fat instead of muscle. Since the exercise must suit your needs and physical abilities, check with your doctor about what kind of exercise is alright for you.

  9. No - You should not have to use special products, special foods, supplements or treatments to lose weight.

    A permanent change in your eating habits and activity will keep off lost weight. Strange food combinations such as the grapefruit or special products, supplements and treatments like injections won't help you either. If you eat a balanced diet you won't need vitamin and mineral supplements which can add unnecessary expense to your weight loss program.

  10. No - Magical claims and high pressure salesmanship are not needed if the weight loss program is reliable.

    If it sounds too good to be true, then it usually is. If you're under strong pressure to buy something, then chances are if you had time to think about it, you'd say "no".

Only consider those programs which score a perfect 10!

There's no magic way to trim down - no powder, cream or magical potion. Wholesome, tasty food combined with regular activity is a sure fire prescription for achieving a healthy weight and a good feeling. So, if, according to the checklist, your diet program fits the bill, you'll be on your way to winning the game of losing.

*This checklist is adapted from one developed by the Ontario Dietetic Association, with permission.

**"Promoting Healthy Weights" Health and Welfare Canada, 1988.

For more information, contact a dietitian or a nutritionist in your region (Contact your local health department or provincial dietetic association for help.)

Copyright © 1993 Thyroid Foundation of Canada/La Fondation canadienne de la Thyroïde.
Reprinted from Thyrobulletin, Vol. 14, No. 4, 1993, and Choices, Vol. 1, No. 2, 1991.
To order a reprint ($2 P&H) contact the National Office or your local chapter.

Reviewed 2000