Canada's New Food Guide

Although many of us don’t think of the Food Guide in our day-to-day lives, it plays a critical role in shaping the nutritional habits of Canadians. It is used by the educational system to teach our children how and what to eat, and influences which foods are served in our public buildings – including our hospitals and schools. This morning Canada received a long overdue (12 years) update to its Food Guide; with a new version which has caught up with scientific evidence regarding nutrition, health and the environment. As Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor puts it, the new Food Guide “puts more focus on what, when and how we eat, and less on food groups and servings. It gives clear, concise advice that everyone can easily apply to their everyday lives”. I am so pleased with the new food guide and here is why you should be too.

Its User friendly.

I was in the 1st grade when Canada released the first rainbow Food Guide. With poor illustrations and at times confusing serving sizes (which made it look like an all-you-can-eat buffet of white carbs) it was confusing and therefore, for many Canadians, easy to ignore. The cover of the new Food Guide features a picture of a plate with real food. In this case the rainbow is in the variety of different foods on the plate. They have done away with the confusing serving seizes and recommend simply trying to fill your plate as shows, with half vegetables and fruits, one quarter protein and one quarter whole grains. I love the use of a picture as this is something even very young children can learn to replicate on their own.

Focus on Whole Foods rather than specific nutrients

The old Food Guide recommended a certain number of servings from each of the 4 previous food groups (grains, vegetables and fruits, milk products and meat and alternatives ) as a way to meet specific nutrient needs. For example, a certain number of serving of dairy products was required to reach your daily requirements for calcium. According to the US National Library of Medicine, 65% of the human population has a reduced ability to digest lactose. If you are of East Asian decent there is a 90% likelihood you are lactose intolerant and lactose intolerance is very common among people of West African, Arab, Jewish, Greek and Italian descent (May 2010). Living in Toronto (proudly the world’s most diverse city) this means a lot of people are not consuming dairy (or are consuming dairy and are very boated and gassy). By doing away with these specific nutrient requirements the food guide has become more inclusive of all Canadians. It also displays an understanding that when we consume a variety of whole foods we are able to meet our nutrient needs.

Fruit juices are not recommended

The new food guide does not recommend fruit juices because of their sugar content; and takes it a step farther by placing heavy emphasis on water, saying it should be the “beverage of choice” for Canadians. Bravo!

Side story: This one’s personal for me. I’m a mom to an almost 3 year old who is an awesome eater, dinners aren’t a battle at our house and never have been. We don’t keep junk in the house so she doesn’t ask for it (also doesn’t know a lot of it even exists. Don’t worry I’m not delusional I know this won’t last forever) but fruit juice, specifically apple juice results in civil war in our home. I have always given my daughter the most watered down apple juice possible (it tastes disgusting but that’s what she thought juice was, and she was happy with it) but now that she’s older she gets the fully concentrated stuff from other places (including sometimes at school) and has gotten a taste for the good stuff aka the 19g of sugar kid crack that is a juice box. (Also I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a toddler hopped up on 19g of sugar but it’s like the Hulk and Tasmanian devil had a baby, not pretty). I hope schools, parents and restaurants move away from offering juice with these new recommendations – well at least offering it to my kid.

Removal of traditional focus on meat and milk

The focus on the consumption of both meat and milk which both had their own categories in the previous food guide have been replaced with the broader category of “Proteins”. This category focuses on lean meat (along with fish, eggs and dairy) but they have also included meat alternatives such as nuts, soy and beans and lentils. Health Canada has made a specific recommendation that Canadians consume more plant-based proteins “more often” and cut down on their intake of processed meats and saturated fats which can contribute to cancer, diabetes and other diseases. This is a great step forward for health Canada and an important recommendation for Canadians who often consume meat with every meal of the day.

The Inclusion of Healthy Eating Habits

The new guide goes beyond simple nutritional advice, adding information on healthy eating habits which include:

  • being mindful of personal eating habits

  • enjoying your food

  • eating and sharing food with others

  • reading food labels

  • cooking at home more often and cooking from raw ingredients

  • being aware of food producers who attempt to influence consumer habits though marketing programs

So I saved the best for last. This is the number 1 reason why I am so pleased with the new Food Guide. These six recommendations are some of the most important for creating healthy eating habits for Canadians of all ages. We live in a time where the number of people suffering from obesity, cancer, diabetes and heart disease seems to increase daily and a lot of that has to do with the way we eat. We eat in our cars, at our desks and seemingly always in a rush. We consume takeout and fast foods more often than ever before. These meals are higher in unhealthy fats, sugars, salt and other additives (all of which make them also habit forming). They also often lack fiber and basic vitamins and minerals. Adding this to our Food Guide was imperative and knowing that Canadian children will be taught the importance of cooking, of reading food labels and of sharing food with others makes me a happy Canadian today.