In January, Canada released part one of the new Food Guide along with new Dietary Guidelines. As with anything new, the public has had many questions after the release of these new recommendations.
My goal is to provide some clarity on what the new Canada Food Guide is suggesting you do regarding your diet, and ultimately your nutrition and health. This article contains some of the major changes and updates that I have found most notable.
Re-Categorization of Food Groups
Contrary to popular belief, “dairy and alternatives” are not eliminated from the Food Guide. These foods are simply grouped together in a category named “Protein Foods”. This category captures various foods that significantly contribute to protein intake. There are several reasons for this change, including the exclusion of industry influence from the process of creating these resources.
There have also been some smaller changes made including the removal of fruit juice as an equivalent to fruit and an emphasis of water as the drink of choice instead of fluid milk. The recommendations also indicate plants as being the protein food of choice. While one may believe this is an effort to sway Canadians toward a vegan or plant-based diet, this recommendation is completely evidence-based.
Movement Away from Serving Recommendations
I commend Health Canada for having the confidence to move away from suggesting people (of a certain gender and age) require specific serving amounts of the different food groups. Understandably, it may be frustrating to have a lack of direction in terms of amounts or serving sizes for different foods, but there is so much diversity within the variables of age and gender that it is impossible to capture the needs of everyone on a national-level resource. Any attempt to do so would lead to an even more complicated resource instead of what we see today, which is much simpler and more concise. Individualization beyond what the new Food Guide can provide is something better kept to personal intuition or a counseling session with a Registered Dietitian.
Use of a Balanced Plate
The main graphic for the new Food Guide is a balanced plate. What I enjoy about this visual is its level of simplicity and practicality: as many of us enjoy our meals on plates, the plate is a relatable and relevant surface for comparison of food group proportions. For individuals who struggle with fractions and graphs, there is a clear connection between what is seen in the graphic and how to build your own balanced plate. A balanced plate includes vegetables/fruits taking up half of a plate, protein foods taking quarter, and whole grains completing the final quarter of the plate. When making a mixed dish, such as a casserole or stir-fry, it may seem more difficult to follow these new recommendations. However, you can apply the balanced plate concept to your recipe. Make your recipe approximately half vegetables/fruits, a quarter protein food, and a quarter whole grains.
One critique I have of the new food categories is some of the foods in the vegetables/fruits segment are nutritionally closer to whole grains. Foods, like potatoes or beets, are starchier and are digested by the body in a similar way to whole grains. Evidently, the line must be drawn somewhere to distinguish the different food groups. This only strengthens the value that a Registered Dietitian can provide in guiding individuals.
Emphasis on the Food Environment
More so now than ever before, there is an increased focus on overall food enjoyment, cooking more meals, and sharing meals with others. As a collective, those within the field of nutrition spend so much time debating what the best foods are to eat, we sometimes forget about the social and psychological aspects of food. These aspects are of equal if not more importance to the nutritional aspect of food. You could be eating the healthiest food you can find, but if you are not happy with the choices you make, the food you are eating, and lack connection to what you are putting in your body, it can negatively impact your mental health in the long term. When all aspects of your food environment are working in harmony, this is where healthfulness can blossom, and I think the new Food Guide & Dietary Guidelines communicate that well!
Where to Go from Here
It is important to realize that while Health Canada can provide many recommendations as to what makes up healthy diet, health grows quicker when an individual takes the reigns of their own health, including their diet. I believe this one of the key messages that Health Canada was conveying with the updated Food Guide & Dietary Recommendations. They provided direction on the groups of foods that should make up our meals and a rough idea of the proportions we should include of each food group. They gave us more power to make daily choices which positively impact our own lives—what health and wellness should be all about!
By Brandon Gruber – Registered Dietitian – Revive Wellness