The Canadian government recently released an updated edition of the Canada Food Guide (the Guide), making a number of important changes to the country’s national dietary recommendations. The nutrition guide is somewhat analogous to MyPlate and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans published in the United States.
Based on the Canadian Dietary Guidelines, the Guide is an education tool designed to help steer food selection to promote the nutrition concerns of Canadians. It embodies comprehensive analysis of current dietary patterns, the latest scientific evidence, national nutrition goals, and data related to food production and supply. Similar to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which provide research-based recommendations for health professionals and policy makers to inform the development of nutrition programs, policies, and communications strategies to help Americans make healthful food choices, the Guide also serves as the backbone for policy decisions and food-related government programs.
Since the last update in 2007, the Guide has evolved quite significantly, as seen in the changes listed below:
1. It eliminates the four food groups (ie, grains, vegetables and fruit, milk products, meat and meat alternatives). Instead, the Guide advises individuals to eat a variety of healthful foods each day, including plenty of vegetables and fruits, whole grain foods, and protein foods.
2. It emphasizes water as the beverage of choice. There’s no longer a specific dairy recommendation, and the Guide recommends replacing sugary drinks with water in order to ensure proper hydration while reducing intake of liquid sugar and calories that are largely devoid of nutrition.
3. It eliminates serving size recommendations. Previous versions of the guide offered an array of recommended portion sizes for different categories of foods, but many found this confusing and not appropriate for personalized use. The current Guide uses a MyPlate-style guide to food choice and portions.
4. It encourages nonmeat protein sources. While the Guide includes a variety of different protein sources in its balanced plate graphic, the text specifically recommends choosing protein foods that come from plants more often, which is a subtle but important shift from previous versions.
5. It includes recommendations for healthful eating habits. Rather than focusing exclusively on what to eat, the Guide offers recommendations for eating mindfully, cooking at home more often, and appreciating the cultural and social aspects of eating. This is a refreshing emphasis, as food can’t be separated from lifestyle, social and economic circumstances, culture, and ethnicity.
Finally, the Guide recommends that consumers limit foods high in sodium, sugars, and saturated fat and be more mindful of reading labels and food marketing techniques that attempt to persuade them to eat less-than-healthful options.
Pros & Cons
Overall, the new Guide takes a consumer-friendly approach to food recommendations and looks beyond the plate in terms of overall eating patterns and habits, but a few things could use some further refinement.
1. All fruits and vegetables are lumped together, including starchy vegetables. To avoid overconsumption of French fries as a vegetable or other less nutrient-dense vegetables, I’d personally rather see half the plate devoted to nonstarchy vegetables, with starchy vegetables included in a grain or carb portion of the plate, and an optional portion of fruit as a side dish. Or, at the very least, I’d like to see an emphasis on diversity or variety for this category to ensure the most nutrient-rich approach.
2. There’s no discussion of tradeoffs between plant- and meat-based protein sources. The guide attempts to simplify protein choices by lumping together both plant- and meat-based protein sources; however, equal portion sizes of plant- and meat-based protein don’t provide equivalent amounts of protein. This could be confusing for individuals who may choose to undertake a vegetarian or vegan diet. In fact, they may unwittingly not get enough protein by following this guide.
3. It doesn’t include enough detail about label reading. While label reading is an important concept to recommend, without additional discussion of daily nutrient requirements and information on how labels generally are constructed, this may cause confusion, frustration, or, at the very least, apathy.
The new Guide is science-based and accessible, and makes strides toward a holistic approach to food choice and eating habits. However, there are still areas for improvement and increased personalization. This is where dietitians can play an important role in counseling individuals to meet specific nutrition needs. For US dietitians and other health care providers outside of Canada, the Guide provides insights into how another country with a diverse population looks at nutrition education and public health.
- Canada’s Food Guide: https://food-guide.canada.ca/en; https://food-guide.canada.ca/static/assets/pdf/HEPs-Guide-nw-en.pdf
- Canada’s Dietary Guidelines: https://food-guide.canada.ca/static/assets/pdf/CDG-EN-2018.pdf
- Canada’s Food, Nutrients and Health: Interim Evidence Update 2018: www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/canada-food-guide/resources/evidence/food-nutrients-health-interim-evidence-update-2018.html
- History of Canada Food Guides: www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/canada-food-guide/about/history-food-guide.html
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020: https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines
- MyPlate: www.choosemyplate.gov/MyPlate
— Diana Reid, MPH, RD, is also known as The Global Dietitian. She provides nutrition counseling and consulting services both in the United States and Luxembourg and spends part of the year in each country. Diana specializes in gastrointestinal health and has been trained by Monash University and King’s College London in implementing the low-FODMAP diet. She blogs on her website and writes regularly for FODMAP Everyday. Follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.