By now, you’ve probably heard that Canada’s new food guide is (finally!) here. The first rewrite in more than 10 years, the new guide contains a number of positive changes and guidelines that are much more in line with research on nutrition, health, and chronic illness.
It is worth noting that in the development of the revised food guide, which involved a thorough review of research from the last decade, reports and studies commissioned by the food industry were omitted– this in stark contrast to the 2007 food guide which was widely criticized for industry influence.
It’s not perfect, but it’s a major step forward. Here’s your guide to the most significant changes and important takeaways:
MILK IS NOT A FOOD GROUP
One of the most noticeable changes is the revamping of the recommended food groups. The old food guide included four: fruits and vegetables, grains, milk products, and meat. The new guide consists of three: fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and protein.
Much to the dismay of the dairy industry, milk is no longer considered to be a food group. Neither is meat. Both have been logically moved into the larger “protein” group, and are now included as just a couple of the options among many protein sources including lentils, nuts, seeds, tofu, and fish.
PROPORTION VS PORTION SIZE
The old daily serving suggestions were helpful for the food industry, but confusing for the consumer. It was next to impossible for the average Canadian to weigh or measure their food in order to determine whether their meal contained the recommended number of “servings” of a food group, but it was easy for a packaged food company to advertise, for example, that their frozen meal full of sugar and additives contained x number of the recommended servings of vegetables, making it seem like a healthier choice than it really was. The dairy industry could essentially shame consumers into buying more milk by referencing how few Canadians met the food guide’s serving size recommendations.
The new guide has shifted away from serving sizes, and emphasizes proportion instead. The guide now recommends that half of your meal consist of fruits and vegetables, and that the other half be split between whole grains and protein. These recommendations are much clearer and simpler to follow.
FRUIT JUICE IS NOT A FRUIT
This is huge! Fruit juice, which is essentially liquid sugar, has been moved out of the “fruits and vegetables” category, and is now appropriately considered to simply be a sweetened beverage, like soda. This is especially important as sugary drinks remain the biggest source of sugar intake for Canadians.
The guide also strongly recommends water, not only as an alternative to fruit juice but as the drink of choice in general.
MORE PLANT-BASED PROTEIN
A major step forward both for human health and for the health of the environment (Health Canada has denied any explicit “environmental agenda” as some critics have put it, so we’ll just call the benefits for our one and only planet an “added bonus”), the new guidelines emphasize the importance of choosing more plant-based protein sources such as beans and lentils, and reducing intake of meat, especially red meat.
CHOOSE HEALTHIER FATS
The new food guide addresses the quality and health implications of different fats, recommending that we focus on healthy, unsaturated fats like avocados and nuts, and limit intake of foods higher in saturated fat like cheese and butter.
CHOOSE WHOLE GRAINS
While the old food guide recommended that at least half of the grains in our diet be whole, the other half was left as a grey area. The new food guide takes a stronger stance, recommending that we choose only whole grains, and avoid the refined, processed options.
AVOID PROCESSED FOODS
Avoid processed foods, foods and beverages high in sugar and sodium, and refined grains. Limit booze. Hopefully these general rules are obvious to anyone who is reading this post, but it doesn’t hurt to have a little bit of support from the Canadian government.
HOW WE EAT MATTERS, TOO
One of the most interesting aspects of the new food guide is the acknowledgement that healthy eating is about more than just what we eat. It emphasizes the importance of mindful eating, or paying attention to when we’re hungry and when we’re full. It tells us to take enough time to eat our meals, and to eat meals with others when we can. It recommends that we cook more meals at home, in part so that we can pass cooking skills and habits on to our children.
BE AWARE OF FOOD MARKETING
In a pretty big shift from a previous food guide that was heavily criticized for food industry influence, the new guide encourages Canadians to be conscious of food marketing, and of how our purchasing choices may be influenced by advertising. It recommends reading food labels carefully in order to make more informed decisions about the nutritional value (or lack thereof) of a product.
THE BOTTOM LINE
To some, the recommendations in Canada’s new food guide may seem like common sense. And hopefully, the number of people who feel that way will only increase! With diet remaining one of the biggest contributors to chronic illness– and with chronic illness on the rise– we need all of the help we can get when it comes to emphasizing whole, nutritious foods, reducing industry influence, and encouraging all-around healthier diet and lifestyle choices. Still missing from the food guide, though, is a discussion of pesticides and farming methods as a factor in the quality of the foods we choose.
There is not one perfect diet for everyone, but Canadians will be served well by following these general guidelines. Eating more fruits and vegetables, more plant-based protein, fewer processed foods, and fewer sugary foods and beverages– this is a win for human health.
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