A Dietitian’s Rebuttal on “If you care about the planet, eat more beef” in Defense of the 2019 Canada’s Food Guide

March 15, 2024

As a plant-promoting, yet partially carnivorous registered dietitian in Calgary, I am constantly inundated with nutrition and health misinformation that I debunk with clients on a daily basis.

This is a time-consuming task that means I normally have little time left to address a misinformed (or rather, a perhaps intentionally disinformed) piece of publication such as this. But, given Smith’s political power as the former leader of the Alberta Wild Rose party, and influence over public opinion, I couldn’t keep quiet this time, which led me to this rebuttal piece on Calgary Herald’s opinion piece titled “Smith: If you care about the planet, eat more beef”  today.

For those of you who aren’t aware, three days ago, Health Canada finally released the long-awaited revision to update the Canada’s Food Guide, which was last updated in 2007 prior to this.

Since becoming a registered dietitian four years ago, I have hardly ever used the old Canada’s Food Guide as a tool for my practice because 1) I detested the industry influence 2) the confusing serving size recommendations 3) the inclusion of juice as a vegetable/fruits, to name a few.

While I was initially a bit skeptical, I am overall impressed with the revised Canada’s Food Guide because 1) gone are the confusing serving recommendations and juice, 2) emphasis on plant-based proteins, 3) less demonizing of fats and 4) the encouraging of cooking and enjoying food, as well as listening to one’s hunger and fullness levels.

But I digress.

Here are my three rebuttals on “Smith: If you care about the planet, eat more beef” in Defense of the 2019 Canada’s Food Guide”:

Rebuttal #1:

re: “If people simply reduce their consumption of meat, without knowing how to get enough whole plant proteins, they aren’t going to be healthier. They are going to get sick.” – WRONG

This is an over-simplified and exaggerated claim. While it is true that it is a necessity for strict vegans to pay more attention to consuming a variety of whole plant proteins in order to get the 9 essential amino acids that body cannot produce, even vegetarians have little trouble achieving this, since complete proteins are found in plant foods like quinoa, soy products and hemp.

These essential amino acids are also abundant in eggs and dairy, which are not off-limits to some vegetarians. If one were to reduce their consumption of animal products, they can still very easily and realistically receive enough whole proteins through whole foods.

This means that, no, people are NOT going to get sick. A resounding no.

Rebuttal #2:

There’s a tremendous difference between reducing meat intake vs. eliminating meat intake.

No one is suggesting that we eliminate meat or dairy from our diet! Smith is confusing “eat less meat”, with “eat no meat”. Animal products, such as meat, poultry and fish, are excellent and high quality sources of protein. The issue here is that society typically over-consumes meat, which has an overall negative impact on our climate change and our environment.

On a separate but related note on dairy: In fact, some dietitians (myself included), have expressed some concerns over the de-emphasis on dairy as it is an excellent source of calcium that is needed to keep our bones dense and strong. In North America at least, dairy products have traditionally been a main source of calcium for a large portion of our population.

My suggested remedy would be a section to advise the public on how best to meet their calcium needs through a variety of foods, dairy included.

Plus, meat and dairy are not “gone” from the food guide, they are still very much there! In the revised Canada’s Food Guide, the previous “meat and alternatives” and “dairy and alternatives” food groups are now included as part of “protein foods”.

Did you know that a 4 oz portion of beef contains 30g of protein and 1 glass of cow’s milk provides approximately 8-10g of protein? In my professional opinion, the revised Food Guide has done a much better job of representing meat and dairy by categorizing them rightfully as “protein foods”.

Rebuttal #3:

re: “[The AAAF] presented research that these lands can sequester as much as nine tonnes of carbon per acre. If producers were paid the going rate of $30 a tonne for their sequestration efforts, that would be $270 an acre. On a 1,000-acre ranch, that would amount to $270,000.

Then she proceeds to say “Imagine what would happen if we did that. What would become of those carefully managed grasslands? They would very quickly become an overgrown fire hazard, and we’d end up with out-of-control grassland fires burning all over the prairies, releasing carbon dioxide as they incinerated.”

Smith, I think you’re colluding business and profits up with environmentalism and nutrition. I won’t go into detail on this as I am neither a business politician nor environmental scientist who would fully understand the implications of this change, but it’s clear that Smith is showing her true colours here.

You see, Smith reportedly met with the chairs of Alberta Beef Producers and the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association on October 15, 2018, in order to explore “a new way of ensuring that [the beef] industry is well represented and funded”. I would not be surprised if this link later gets forcibly removed from the internet as Smith likely will want to hide her ties with the industry.

Draw your own conclusions.