Canada’s New Food Guide is Here. This Is What One Dietitian Thinks

Nutrition and Diet

Spread The Word

If you haven’t heard, here is your official PSA: Canada has a new food guide.

…and it’s been making headlines in the media for weeks. Even prior to the guide officially being released there was already plenty of debate going around some of my social media circles regarding  whether or not the updated version was a step in the right direction. I purposefully withheld any comments because I, like most others out there, hadn’t actually SEEN it yet!

Hot Topic

Despite evidence from Stats Canada that reports very few Canadians are actually following the recommendations set out in Canada’s Food Guide, there sure is a lot of emotion and opinion attached to this document. It is true however that the food guide is used as a basis for the creation of menus for hospitals and long term care, helps to guide school nutrition programs, AND is often used as a marketing tool by some food industry groups (unfortunately!).

I’ll be completely honest with you – I’m often surprised by how much attention the food guide gets because as a Dietitian I hardly even use it. It might seem crazy, but this is because the food guide is simply meant to be a general starting point in terms of what makes a well-balanced diet. An emphasis on whole foods and variety really is the main messaging I pick up on when I look at the previous food guide (from 2007). And I can appreciate some of the issues and changes we’ve faced both scientifically and culturally over the years that meant a re-vamp was necessary. It’s of course important to remember that the food guide isn’t necessarily appropriate for every one of us and shouldn’t be taken as a set of rules we ‘must’ follow.

So, before I get into the latest guide and my thoughts on big changes our guide has underwent, I wanted to share with you a little history of our Food Guide and how it even came to be!

Take it back to 1942: The Official Food Rules

Quite a name eh? I always laugh a little when people comment that the current food guide is so paternalistic and doesn’t take into account their personal dietary needs. The very first food guide was actually called “The Official Food Rules”!

The Official Food Rules were developed during World War II with the intent of helping Canadians avoid nutrient deficiencies during times of food rationing. It’s important to remember that during that time people were much more likely to suffer from malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies than the chronic diseases that prevail today. We had also somewhat recently isolated and identified many of the vitamins and minerals we need to stay healthy. So, this initial guide was meant to ensure Canadians were getting the micronutrients they needed to avoid the sometimes fatal diseases of malnutrition. Based on what we knew about our dietary needs at the time, these guidelines were developed with a goal of reaching 70% of those micronutrient requirement.

Here’s what those original food rules looked like!

food rules 1942

Official Food Rules 1942

As you can see, this guide greatly emphasized a few foods that were known sources of certain vitamins and minerals which at that time were important for avoiding deficiency diseases (such as calcium, vitamin C, thamine, iron, and vitamin D)

For even more detailed history on the origins of Canada’s Food Guide click here!

Through The Years

Since 1942, the Food Rules underwent a revamp every few years, eventually transitioning into Canada’s Food Guide in the ’60s and becoming closer to the version we all recognize today. Prior to today’s release of the 2019 Guide, our most recent version was from 2007:

food guide 2007

Canada’s Food Guide 2007

Now, compare that with our brand spankin’ new food guide!

food guide 2019

Canada’s most up to date food guide from 2019

First of all, definitely a very obvious visual change from the 2007 guide! Here’s a few key features and updates:

Food Guide Update #1. An emphasis on plant-based eating

This latest guide has made a big impact by prioritizing a plant-based diet (though based on the older rainbow version I’m not entirely certain why some people felt there was such an emphasis on having to eat meat, but that’s just me!). This version does specify a diet that includes more plant foods is better for our health, which is certainly backed by a lot of nutrition research.

Now, does this mean we should be cutting out meat altogether? Not if you don’t want to! Meat and meat alternatives previously had their own food group, as those foods were good sources of protein and micronutrients like iron and zinc. This new guide is simply reducing the emphasis on the word meat and encouraging people to incorporate more plant-based protein into their diets as well for the added health benefits.

How “plant-based” should I be eating?

Which brings me to an important point: plant-based eating does not NEED to be 100% vegan! To me, plant-based eating simply means our diets should be made up of more plant foods than animal foods. Whether that’s just a smaller portion of meat (1/4 of your plate!), or you choose to eat plant proteins at most meals or some meals or all meals, the choices is yours!

The great thing about this new food guide is it’s completely open to personal preference and interpretation. Plus, if your vegan diet is made up of highly processed foods you still may be missing the mark.

Food Guide Update #2. Dairy no longer stands solo

The ‘dairy’ foods as a stand alone group has also been eliminated with cheese, milk, and yogurt becoming incorporated into the ‘protein’ group. Alongside pulses, eggs, nuts, and of course meat and fish. Personally I have some mixed feelings about this shift (because calcium is still an essential nutrient!), but I overall can appreciate the increased flexibility and simplicity that this guide was going for. Yogurt can visually be seen incorporated into the protein group, and if you look more closely at the beverages section (the food guide is much more than just the visual I shared), you’ll see that milk and plant-based milks are also suggested as beverage choices.

Food Guide Update #3. The end of daily servings and portion sizes

There are also no more portion sizes or recommended daily servings, which seemed to cause a lot of confusion during the reign of the 2007 guide. Which is interesting, because serving information has always been a part of the guide, even as far back as the first one. What this guide does instead, is put an emphasis on more mindful eating practices which encourage listening to your body and it’s hunger and satiety cues to decide how much to eat. If you’ve ever met with me for a nutrition consult you already know all about this!

A Mindful Approach

Mindful eating practices are a valuable skill that are definitely worth incorporating into your daily life. Reflecting on not only what we eat, but WHY we eat the way that we do is so critical for having a healthy relationship with food, and in turn a healthier body.

Food Guide Update #4. Fruit juice is no longer a ‘fruit’

This change in particular I think has been a long time coming. Dietitians and other healthcare professionals have been saying for YEARS that fruit juice should not be considered a fruit. No only does it lack all of the fibre from whole fruit, it also provides us with significant quantities of sugar. Yes, even natural fruit juice still has more sugar than most of us need on a daily basis.

Cup for cup commercial fruit juices have the exact same sugar content as pop and should definitely be minimized. We should be eating whole fruits and vegetables rather than drinking juice, and the new food guide reflects that by sticking fruit juice in the “sugary beverage’ category. Solid.

Food Guide Update #5. An emphasis on water for hydration

Nice and simple, the main food guide image includes a glass of water and the statement “make water your drink of choice”. And yes, I 100% agree that water should make up the majority of our daily fluids. I did question however, what about milk? As I said above I was a little concerned that in the de-emphasis of dairy, we might forget all about getting enough calcium!

The beverages section of the guide does discuss other low-sugar beverages such as coffee, teas, flavoured waters, and milk/plant based milks. Plenty of room for personal preferences, with an overall recommendation to avoid excess added sugars.

Food Guide Update #6. Reduce highly processed foods and do more home cooking

This is one of the overall messages repeated frequently throughout the guide that I think is worth saying again and again. The previous versions of the food guide did promote whole food ways of eating. However, without specifically stating as such, it left a lot of room for industry groups to get sneaky with their marketing and advertising (an American example, but the whole fiasco with pizza sauce getting approved as a vegetable for school lunch programs!?).

What is also really neat about this food guide is it not only recommends home cooking and eating less processed foods, it actually provides practical tips and suggestions for HOW to go about doing that. Which I think will be very useful for Canadians who are making an effort to follow to guidelines and eat a healthier diet.

Encouraging New Perspectives

Generally speaking, there is certainly an emphasis with this new guide on healthy eating and living beyond just simply what’s on our plates. Encouraging enjoyment of food and sharing meals with others as important contributors to good health. Fantastic messaging in my opinion!

The Bottom Line

Overall, I can definitely get behind a food guide that encourages whole foods, home cooking, and mindful eating. I love that the new guide is easily personalized, and is less prescriptive by eliminating specific servings or portion sizes.

I also REALLY appreciate the discussion regarding food marketing. Because I think as consumers we need to be hyper aware of all the branding and marketing we’re exposed to day in and day out. Honestly, this food guide is similar in many many ways to how I already talk about nutrition with my clients (it’s always nice to get a little validation that my practices are on point). I know the same can be said for a lot of other Dietitians too. Heck, I may even start handing out copies if it myself!

Want to check out all the new food guide has to offer? There are recipes, practical suggestions, and more details on all of the above points here!

If you have questions about the guide feel free to leave them in the comments! If you have medical concerns or special dietary needs that you are concerned may not jive with the new guide, no worries! Just talk to a Dietitian to figure out the best way of eating for YOU!

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