Canada’s New Food Guide: My Thoughts

Author: Lauren McNeill, RD MPH

On January 22, 2019 Health Canada released its new Food Guide for the first time in 12 years. Canada’s new Food Guide takes on a more intuitive approach to eating, exchanging portion sizes in favour of proportions, eliminating the dairy and alternatives category entirely and promoting healthy eating habits rather than simply focusing on dietary choices.

So what do these changes mean for Canadians?

Proportions Instead of Portions

Canada’s New Food Guide encourages four simple eating strategies accompanied by a colourful visual to hit the point home: “Have plenty of fruits and vegetables (½ of a plate)”, “Eat protein foods (¼ of a plate)”, “Choose whole grain foods (¼ of a plate)”, and “Make water your beverage of choice”. It’s a far cry from the previous food guide which gave explicit recommendations of the exact number of servings of each food group to have. So much so, that food groups themselves have essentially been eliminated. All that stands is the category of fruits and vegetables, protein food, whole grains, and water as a beverage. And I love it.

It’s not just the simple messaging that makes Canada’s new Food Guide easier to understand, but the visual of a plate model is clear and can be understood by most all levels of education. Previously, it would take someone with extensive nutrition knowledge to understand how to incorporate all of the food groups in the exact right serving sizes in their everyday diet, so much so that I doubt there were many people who truly followed it. Instead, this colourful imagery allows us to keep in mind what our plate should look like at most meals.

Elimination of Dairy & Alternatives Group

Perhaps the largest change to Canada’s new Food Guide is the elimination of the Dairy & Alternatives group. Dairy was previously seen as essential to get enough calcium and vitamin D. Evidence shows that calcium is abundant in plant-foods like tofu, tahini, broccoli and kale. Many plant-based milks are fortified with the same (and sometimes more) calcium and vitamin D as cows milk. Because of this, we know now that we don’t need animal milk to give us these vital nutrients.

Choose protein that comes from plants more often

This was a recommendation I dreamt of Canada making, but never was truly convinced they would. One of my favorite and most trusted fellow plant-based Registered Dietitians, Dr. Pamela Fergusson, summed it up perfectly; “Anything less than these recommendations would be a backwards step for Canada. To fail to recommend plant-based diets, knowing what we know about health and the environment is akin to being a climate change denier. Bravo Canada for standing firm, not yielding to industry pressure, and telling Canadians the truth.” (Check out Pamela’s amazing blog!). Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Plant-based proteins contain fiber and unsaturated fat, making them beneficial for digestive and heart health. Plant-based options are also more environmentally friendly than meat, as evidenced by the recent EAT-Lancet report that summarizes the highest quality evidence by experts. This report recommends consuming more plant-based proteins and cutting down on meat consumption (particularly beef). Check out my blog post all about plant-based protein sources to learn more!

Emphasis on healthy eating habits

Prepare meals at home, use food labels, be aware of how food marketing influences our choices, be mindful of eating habits, cook more often and enjoy your food are some of the tips that have been included in Canada’s new Food Guide. Including healthy eating habits in Canada’s new Food Guide shows that health isn’t solely based on what we put into our bodies, but also traditions, culture and typical practices that surround eating.

Criticism of Canada’s New Food Guide

One of the most widely discussed criticisms I’ve heard of Canada’s new Food Guide is that a perfectly proportioned plate is not how most Canadians eat, but that’s okay. The Food Guide is supposed to be just that, a guide. As someone who loves to cook (check out my Instagram for recipes!), I know that I don’t typically consume meals as separate parts, which the food guide suggests. Instead, I keep in mind these proportions while cooking. If I’m making a soup, I try to make sure I have double the amount of veggies as protein rich-foods and whole grains. This is where understanding the proportions of what a plate or recipe should look like comes in handy! It’s also important to keep in mind that not every single meal will follow this guide, and that’s also okay. Food habits are more important than things that you do every once in a while.

For meal inspiration following Canada’s new Food Guide model, check out my Instagram!

Looking to implement some of the new changes to Canada’s Food Guide into your eating patterns? I can help! Click here to book a session with me.

All in all, this is a huge step forward for the health of Canadians and our planet. What do you think of the new food guide?

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