Canada's New Food Guide
Well done, Canada. Hooray for positive change!
In my opinion, the new Canada Food Guide is a HUGE step in the right direction. While I don’t agree with everything in the updated guide, the positives far outweigh the negatives.
Shockingly, in our fairly health-seeking society, the national food guide has not been updated in over ten years! Well, it was about time. Everyone should take a look through the new food guide (available online here) and digest (hehe) the new recommendations for themselves.
Here are my thoughts on the updated Canada Food Guide (January 2019):
THE PLATE IMAGE
The headlining plate image is more visually appealing and easier to understand than the old rainbow image.
I love the emphasis on vegetables and fruits taking up half the plate. These foods are incredibly nutrient-rich, simple to prepare, and typically very affordable. They should make up the majority of each meal!
Water is also emphasized as the “drink of choice”. Adequate hydration is required for EVERY process in the body and Getting your 2-3L/day is possibly the simplest change you can make to see huge changes in your health and wellbeing. Drinking more water also means drinking less sugary drinks – win, win.
The emphasis on plant proteins seems to be the most polarizing statement in the new guide. I do think plant proteins could be enjoyed more regularly by many. I’m a meat-eater myself, but I strive to rely on vegetarian proteins one day per week, and incorporate them throughout the week as well. I find the statement “Choose protein foods that come from plants more often” a bit ambiguous. Many plant-based eaters believe it’s a cry for conversion, and many meat-eaters feel their eating habits are being attacked. I would argue for balance. Experiment by incorporating more plant-based proteins into your diet, and listen to your body.
Since the food guide’s release, I’ve also read several criticisms of the foods in the plate image being strangely portioned and looking unappetizing and without flavour, as though the food guide is insisting everyone go on a flavourless “diet”. Yes, a sliver of dry whole wheat toast isn’t appealing. And greens on their own, without dressing aren’t quick to make me salivate. But I don’t believe the team that created the food guide intended anyone to recreate this plate for any meal. Rather, it’s a graphic meant to give some examples of things you could eat in each category (most of them in their most simple form) and to suggest how much of your plate each group should cover.
FOOD CHOICES + EATING HABITS
I’m quite a fan of the recommendations in these sections.
I love that Canadians are encouraged to eat a variety of real, whole foods and significantly limit (more realistic than completely avoiding) processed foods. This is one of the biggest recommendations I make to patients looking to improve their nutrition. Processed foods contain higher amounts of sugar and salt, and modified fats without the protective fiber and higher nutrient content also present in whole foods. Not to mention, our bodies don’t always know what to do with these “food-like” items.
The guide also empowers grocery shoppers to actually read food labels and think critically about how food marketing may be affecting their choices. Nobody’s advertising broccoli but it’s one of the most nutritious foods you can eat!
Definitely the most surprising part for me was the inclusion of being mindful of healthy eating habits. I wasn’t expecting this – but it was a great surprise! The updated food guide emphasizes taking time to eat, and paying attention to your body’s hunger cues. Are you hungry? Are you full? The food guide encourages Canadians to cook more of their own meals to support less processed foods, help children learn about and become more adventurous with different foods. On an even more basic level, the process of preparing your own food actually helps your digestive system work better since the digestive juices start flowing when you think about, smell, and see the food as you prepare it. Sitting down to eat with other people, away from a TV or phone screen, also helps put you into “rest and digest” mode.
The food guide is still toting the idea that snacks are necessary and healthy. I do think you should listen to your body and eat when you’re hungry. But I also think we’ve developed ridiculous snacking habits. When was the last time you went more than 2 or 3 hours without eating or having a sweetened beverage? I would argue that we eat too often. Our bodies actually need periods without food to allow the intestines to move everything down the line and for insulin levels to return to baseline (improving insulin sensitivity and lowering the risk of Type 2 diabetes in addition to many other health benefits).
Unfortunately, this section fell short of my hopes. Many of the recipes provided actually contradict the rest of the Food Guide’s recommendations. There is still a heavy dependence on dairy and processed grains and high amounts of added sugars (albeit honey or brown sugar). Most recipes include canola oil rather than the numerous healthier alternatives (eg. olive oil or coconut oil). And margarine is still recommended?! (Talk about processed food!) The lunches and dinner recipes were slightly better than the breakfast ones but there is a lot of room to grow. I encourage you to seek out some other recipe resources and incorporate the general guidelines in the Food Guide rather than the provided recipes.
Some of my favourite food blogs for recipe inspo are:
Oh She Glows
My New Roots
Against All Grain
Nom Nom Paleo
I think Michael Pollan beautifully summed up what this new and improved Canada Food Guide was trying to convey in his book “In Defense of Food” (I highly recommend it!):
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Happy eating, everyone!