The New Canada Food Guide – From a Nutritionist’s Perspective

So before I get started, I should fess up. I don’t use the Canada Food Guide when making nutritional recommendations for my clients. I think we all have differing needs when it comes to nutrition. Depending on an individual’s health goals, existing conditions, fitness status etc., there are many approaches to healthy eating. The Food Guide makes some of us uncomfortable because it has seemed so outdated, we wonder if it is at all relevant. The thing is, it is a Canadian document that is taught to our kids in school, and that informs what the average Doc is telling people in their offices. To me, this makes it relevant and we all want as good a guide as possible for these reasons.

The new Food Guide was released today. The Food Guide has a long history, and was originally published in 1942 as “Canada’s Official Food Rules”, a document aimed at preventing nutritional deficiencies in a time of wartime food rations. There have been eight new Food Guides since then, reflecting the attitudes and understanding of nutrition of the time, as well as the politics of interested food lobby groups.

This is what the Official Food Rules looked like in 1942:

This was 1992’s version:

Notice the prominent place that grain products holds? By this time, food marketing groups (industries with interests in having their products prominently featured in the Guide) had considerable sway in the design of the Guide. This article by CBC gives more background on the politics of creating a Food Guide.

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And 2007:

Grains have moved down a notch, and now it is veggies and fruit that are the front runners. Dairy is still in a category of its own.

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I have obviously skipped some Guides. I basically want to point out that it has been an evolution. While I don’t “go by the guide” as a Nutritionist, I do see the value in having a useful document that reflects healthy eating. My kids learn the Food Guide in school, doctors refer to the Food Guide, it is an important document when it comes to educating people about good food choices.

So, is the 2019 Canada Food Guide headed in the right direction? This is what it looks like:

Image result for image canada food guide 2019
Image result for image canada food guide 2019

Overall, I like it. I think it is visually appealing, and there is some good information on the website. It is definitely a step in the right direction. Of course, it is a document that is meant for the masses. It doesn’t take into account cultural attitudes toward food, or individuals who require more specific diets aimed at healing. If the average person followed this plan, they would probably be relatively healthy.

Notice that Dairy isn’t a category anymore? I think that is a great change. Dairy is known to be inflammatory, and contrary to popular belief, it is NOT the best dietary source of calcium. I meet MANY people who can not tolerate dairy, and many people who over eat dairy. Dairy is grouped under protein in the new guide. It is one option of many for dietary protein. The Guide also promotes eating more veggie protein than animal. Overall a good recommendation, depending on the specific health situation of the individual.

I like that veggies and fruit take up half the plate, protein a quarter and grains a quarter. That is a very decent way to think of a dinner plate. The fact that there are plant and animal protein sources is a good thing and the recommendation to eat more plant based proteins – great. It doesn’t take into account the many individuals who find grains to be inflammatory, but again, this is a document for the masses.

I also like that they include lifestyle tips in the food guide, encouraging people to look at labels, being more mindful of what we eat, etc. I don’t know that people really look into this in detail, but I like that it is there because again, they are teaching our kids this stuff at school .

I don’t think they are on the mark when they warn against saturated fats, making the recommendation for these:

Unsaturated fats that are good for your health. Examples of unsaturated fats include oils like:
olive
canola
peanut
sesame
soybean
flaxseed
safflower
sunflower”

https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/tips-for-healthy-eating/commonly-used-terms/#oils-with-healthy-fats

Including inflammatory and over processed oils like canola, peanut, and soybean detracts from the Guide. They don’t belong in a list with flaxseed oil or olive oil, and from what I can see, there are no recommendations around using specific oils (like flax or olive) raw, vs for cooking. Avoiding a fat like coconut oil or grassfed butter- both sources of saturated fat with many health benefits, while including canola oil is an oversight in my opinion.

The online Food Guide also has many links to recipes. Again, they are recommending these crappy oils, including hydrogenated margarine in the ingredient lists. The recipes also call for low fat mayonnaise, low fat cheese, low fat salad dressings etc., which seems pretty old school, considering most people now know that these low fat foods have added sugars, binders and chemicals, making them less healthy than their fattier counterparts.

All in all, I think it is an improvement with some room for improvement. Specific health conditions, and individual health goals are the foundation for making the best nutrition choices.