In January 2019, Health Canada released the latest version of the country’s dietary guidance, also known as Canada’s Food Guide. Last revised in 2007, the new Food Guide goes beyond providing Canadians with guidance on what to eat, but also provides guidance on how, when, why, and where to eat, promoting the importance of foods skills and food literacy. This is best exemplified by the Guide’s recommendations to use food labels to make informed nutrition choices and to be conscious of the impact of food marketing on food choices.
Also released was Canada’s Dietary Guidelines, a comprehensive report for health professionals and policy makers, outlining the rationale and evidence that underpins the new healthy eating recommendations.
What are some of the biggest changes to the Food Guide?
- Plant-based proteins
- In recent years, there has been a societal shift in consumption of plant-based products. An increasing number of Canadians are adopting plant-based diets and becoming vegan and vegetarian. In fact, a 2018 study from Dalhousie University found that nearly 3 million Canadians are now vegetarian or vegan, accounting for nearly 10 percent of the population (1).
- In line with the evidence illustrating the population and planetary health benefits of a plant-based diet, the Food Guide now recommends to “choose protein foods that come from plants more often”. The increased consumption of these foods could help Canadians increase their intake of fibre and decrease their saturated fat intake, both of which are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and colon cancer (2).
- This is a major departure from the previous version of the Food Guide, which illustrated two common sources of animal-based foods, meat and dairy products, as two of the four food groups.
It is important to note that the Guide still recommends the consumption of healthier animal-based products such as fish, shellfish, eggs, and lower fat milks and yogurts, among others.
- Proportion over portion
- Arguably one of the biggest differences in the new Food Guide is the adoption of a less prescriptive model, placing the emphasis on proportion of foods over portion. In the 2007 Food Guide, Canadians were encouraged to consume a specific number of servings from each food group, depending on age and sex. For example, male teens between the ages of 14-18 were encouraged to consume 8 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
- The new Food Guide instead provides a visual illustration of the proportion of foods Canadians should be eating at each meal: ½ fruits and vegetables, ¼ protein foods and ¼ whole grain foods. This removes the need to calculate the total number of servings consumed each day.
This change conveys two key messages: the importance of focusing on a healthy pattern of eating, rather than individual nutrients, and the importance of consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, which promotes many positive health outcomes including a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease (2).
- Revising the food groups
- Building on the shift towards plant-based proteins, Health Canada has replaced the original four food groups (fruits & vegetables, meat and alternatives, milk and alternatives, and grain products) with the following three: fruits and vegetables, whole grain foods, and protein foods.
- A dietary pattern consisting of the foods under these food groups aligns with the following healthy eating recommendations provided by Health Canada:
- “Vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and protein food should be consumed regularly. Among protein foods, consume plant-based more often.”
- “Foods that contain mostly unsaturated fat should replace foods that contain saturated fat.”
“Water should be the beverage of choice.” (3)
- Visual representation
The trademark rainbow, representing the four food groups, is gone. In its place is a plate with a visual depiction of the whole, unprocessed foods that Health Canada recommends Canadians consume in a day, with the tagline “eat a variety of healthy foods each day” (2). These include fruits and vegetables (1/2 of the plate), protein foods (1/4 of the plate), and whole grain foods (1/4 of the plate). The image also includes a glass of water to promote the recommended beverage of choice.
Over 100 countries worldwide have developed dietary guidelines specific to their populations’ needs. These guidelines are adapted based on culinary cultures, food availability, dietary needs of the population, and general eating habits. The Food and Agriculture Organization has compiled a database of dietary guidelines from around the world. To see how Canada’s dietary guidelines differ from other countries’, check out the database at http://www.fao.org/nutrition/education/food-dietary-guidelines/home/en/.
For more information on the new Canada’s Food Guide and to access additional healthy eating resources check out: https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/.