Yesterday, the Government of Canada just released an updated food guide for healthy eating for the first time since 2007. You probably remember the previous food guide—it was all about the four food groups (milk and alternatives, vegetables and fruit, meat and alternatives, and grains products) and the ideal serving size. The new guide doesn’t mention serving size and eliminates milk and dairy products as a food group of its own.
Instead, the new guide emphasizes the importance of developing and maintaining healthy habits. The main points to remember include:
- Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, whole grain foods and protein foods.
- Choose protein from plants more often
- Choose foods with healthy fats instead of saturated fats (for example, avocados and salmon)
- Limit highly processed foods (that means no more microwave dinners)
- Prepare meals and snacks using ingredients that have little to no added sodium, sugars or saturated fat
- Make water your drink of choice
- Read food labels and be aware that food marketing can influence your choices
The food guide also goes beyond simply the food you eat. Healthy eating is also about where, when, why and how you eat. Paying attention to your habits such as when you eat (do you have a snack after dinner because you’re hungry or because you’re bored?) is the first step towards making smarter choices. Cooking more often allows you to have more control over exactly what you’re consuming. Celebrating the culture and traditions around certain food and cooking and eating with other people can also help you enjoy your food more.
Health Canada has developed an online, mobile-friendly collection of resources that are accessible to all Canadians in an effort to make sure the new best-practices when it comes to nutrition are common knowledge. Hasan Hutchinson, the director-general of nutrition policy and promotion at Health Canada said “Dietary risks are one of the top three leading risk factors for chronic disease burden in Canada, however nutrition science is complex and often results in conflicting messages. This is why Canadians need credible healthy-eating information to guide their food choice.”
The new food guide aims to give people the freedom to build the diet that works for them around a set of universal truths about nutrition. Even though dairy is not considered its own separate food group anymore, unsweetened dairy products such as plain yogurt still have a place in the protein category. Other protein sources include your typical meat options and also a range of plant-based options like lentils, beans, and chickpeas.
Making it a point to choose plant-based proteins more often can have an impact on your overall health and also contribute to the health of the planet. In fact, this recommendation from Health Canada is in line with a diet that has been making headlines lately called the “planetary health diet” which is based on cutting red meat and sugar consumption in half.
Another notable inclusion in the new health guide is the reminder that food marketing can be very persuasive and not always 100% transparent. Related is the question of whether the food and beverage industry has any say over what goes into the food guide. Since so many people rely on the guide (including elementary school teachers teaching kids the basics of nutrition) as a credible source of information, Health Canada assured the public that they would never be meeting with anyone from the food and beverage industry as they worked on developing the guide.
Despite that claim, the Globe and Mail reported last year that government officials at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada were in fact lobbying Health Canada to hold back on pro-vegetable messaging in favour of meat and dairy saying, “Messages that encourage a shift toward plant-based sources of protein would have negative implications for the meat and dairy industries.”
The fruit juice industry also had a huge interest in keeping a certain claim in the guide. Previously, the guide suggested that a half a cup of fruit juice would be okay when many other sources claimed juice was full of sugar and lacked the fibre of eating an actual piece of fruit, so it shouldn’t be considered a healthy choice. The new guide advises people to make water their beverage of choice with no ambiguous “health halo” for fruit juice.
Judging by the finished food guide, Health Canada has followed through on their promise to deliver accurate information rather than let the food industry control the messages they are sending regardless of what that could mean for the health of the country.
Overall, the new guide is simple enough for anyone to follow, allows for the freedom of choice, and appears to not be favouring any one industry. The important thing is keeping Canadians healthy and if that means certain industries have to adjust (looking at you dairy farmers), then so be it.