On January 22 Health Canada released a new “Canada Food Guide” to the public, this is the first time there has been an update to the guide since 2007. Gone is the rainbow of food categories with confusing serving sizes, and in is an easy to follow visual of a plate with each category’s suggested serving amounts laid out in halves and quarters. This new guide highly emphasizes healthy eating with a large vegetable and fruit focus and a breakdown of proteins which has some groups furious, continue reading as we review the many changes made to the guide below.
The previous four food groups in which we have become so familiar, are history. They have now been replaced with three categories: “fruit and vegetables” continue to remain the same, grain products have been replaced by “whole grain products” and the largest change yet… gone are “milk and alternatives” and “meat and alternatives” categories which have now been lumped together and named “protein foods”. The guide recommends whole grains such as whole grain pasta, brown rice, and quinoa. The protein foods recommended are no longer focused on red meat, but instead move towards lentils, fish, poultry, nuts, tofu, and much smaller amounts of lean red meat.
“Milk and alternatives” and “meat and alternatives” were two large parts of the last food guide that have now taken a dramatic dive in importance in this year’s guide. The Dairy Farmers of Canada are furious and stated that there is “no scientific justification to minimize the role of milk products” in the Canadian diet. They worry that lumping milk products together with other protein foods will lead to “inadequate intakes of important nutrients.”
However, scientists such as Dr. Walter Willett, a Harvard nutrition expert (who comes from a long line of dairy farmers) argued that humans gain no additional nutritional benefits from animal milk whatsoever. However, dairy has not been completely removed from the guide as Health Canada provides lower-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese as examples of protein food.
The guide has also taken a strong stance on beverages as it eliminates milk from the drink of choice and instead recommends water for each meal. Milk is not the only beverage to get the boot as fruit juice was eliminated as an option for your servings of fruits and vegetables as clear evidence revealed that it contains as much sugar as soft drinks without the benefits of fresh fruit. The food guide also dismisses alcohol and notes that it is high in calories with “little to no nutritive value” and is associated with a variety of health risks like an increased risk of several cancers, hypertension and liver disease.
The new food guide recommends Canadians use food labels to judge how healthy or unhealthy a product is, and to be aware of food marketing and its impact on not only their purchase choices, but their children’s health knowledge. Health Canada proposed new food labels that would make it easier to spot foods high in sodium, sugar and saturated fat.
The guide also suggests home cooking more often instead of going out for food with the family. They stated that home cooking allows parents to take the time to teach their children how to cook, and about the importance of eating healthy vs. choosing the quicker meal which is often loaded with high sodium, fats, and sugars. There has been some backlash regarding this point as some find that healthier food should be more accessible and affordable for lower income families, as it can be hard for some households to take the time to cook dinner every night while working long hours for minimum wages.
Overall it seems like Canada has chosen a guide that emphasizes healthy eating, and we feel that the new food guide is making leaps in the right direction towards a healthier country. It is time to have a larger focus on what we are using to fuel our body and minds and continue to move towards a more nutritious, sustainable, and healthy future for ourselves and our families.
Information and photos: Health Canada (https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/)