What I Think of Canada's New Food Guide

Big news! The government just released Canada’s updated Food Guide. It’s been making major headlines this week, and for good reason. Having been notoriously outdated and influenced by industry groups, the new food guide is shockingly modern, full of variety and more inclusive of some dietary preferences and cultures. It also highlights that food is just one part of the puzzle and habits around food can be equally important.

In light of these changes, I thought it might be worthwhile sharing my perspective on the updates.

Highlights of Canada’s New Food Guide

  • The updated guide includes an emphasis on fruits and vegetables and making them the star of your meals. I see this as a big, positive step in the right direction and will hopefully encourage more people to eat more vegetables beyond just 5 servings a day.
  • It completely does away with dairy as a category and instead includes dairy as an optional protein. It’s also worth noting that the small amount of dairy included is in fermented, aka yogurt, form, which is generally easier on digestion. Why I love this:
  1. Many Canadians have some degree of intolerance to dairy and for them it can be a major source of digestive issues and inflammation. The majority of my clients, regardless of if they have a sensitivity or not, feel significantly better when they remove dairy from their diet.
  2. Dairy is no longer considered a good source of calcium. Dairy is far too high in phosphorus, which competes for calcium for absorption, and is therefore not a good food for bone health. (Interestingly, North Americans consume the largest amount of cow’s dairy in the world, but also have the highest rates of osteoporosis.)
  • The new protein component incorporates both animal and plant sources. Though I encourage everyone to eat protein with every main meal and to include some in snacks in order to balance blood sugar levels and manage cravings and hunger, variety is key.
  • The updated food guide takes other things into account, including mindful eating, eating with others and ensuring that you enjoy what you are eating. I strongly believe this is a key piece in establishing a healthy relationship with food.
  • It encourages you to cook more often. This is something I regularly preach and the reason I created the HEAL Weekly Meal Planning Program. I believe this is a big part of making more nutritious choices.
  • It also includes a section for reading food labels, navigating food marketing and recommendations to limit processed foods and what that entails.
  • The updated food guide does away with serving amounts and sizes. I do believe in understanding portion control but this is a much more inclusive step of different dietary needs, shapes and sizes.
2007 Food Guide vs. 2019 Food Guide
2007 Food Guide vs. 2019 Food Guide

What Can Be Improved

In general, I am very happy to see how far Canada’s food guide has come and it fits a lot more with my take on nutrition. I see it as a major improvement to previous years and will hopefully help shape a healthier generation. That being said, it is not without its flaws. Here are some of the areas where I think it can be improved upon...

Omission of Fats

Fats, which make up one of the three macronutrients humans need to survive (protein and carbohydrates make up the other two), specifically the Essential Fatty Acids, are not included in the food guide. The only inclusion of some foods with fat is as part of the “protein” category where you see fish, eggs, and some nuts.

It does mention that you should replace foods with saturated fat with foods that have healthy fats. Healthy fats, according to the new guide, include:

  • olive
  • canola
  • peanut
  • sesame
  • soybean
  • flaxseed
  • safflower
  • sunflower

All of these fats, except for flaxseed and olives, have a high ratio of Omega 6’s and not enough (or none at all) Omega-3’s. Omega 3’s are anti-inflammatory and Omega 6’s in too high of quantity are pro-inflammatory. Both are important for our health but in the right balance, Currently, the average Canadian diet is far too high in Omega-6’s and not high enough in Omega-3’s which promotes inflammation and inflammatory diseases like heart disease.

Furthermore, many Omega 6 oils are cheap to produce so they are highly processed or refined, including canola oil, soybean oil and sunflower oil. It is the process of refining oils, and/or oxidizing them that denatures the fats and makes them dangerous to your health.

I could go on about the importance of fats and the marketing behind low-fat diets but that’s worth a whole other post.

How to Interpret Canada’s Food Guide

Health and nutrition are highly personal. The updated recommendations are a good place to start for educational purposes and showing the average person where to start. I am a big fan of eating more vegetables, eating a variety of foods and eating real foods. However, depending on your current health condition, this type of diet may not work for you. For others, it will do wonders. Use your own judgement in determining what is and is not healthful and don’t be afraid to adapt based on what is/is not working for you at a point in time.

If you are interested in adopting a diet that incorporates everything listed above, plus healthy fats, I encourage you to try out the HEAL Weekly Meal Planning Program. We create the meal plans, provide you with a grocery list and new recipes every week, you save time, eat better and feel amazing.

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