If you’ve turned on the TV, listened to the radio, chimed in on Facebook or followed any other media in the past few weeks, you’ll know that Canadians—the public, health professionals, educators, farmers, policy makers, industry advocates, journalists and news anchors—have something to say about Health Canada’s new Food Guide. From, “where’s the beef” to “no dairy?” and everything in between, there’s been a lot of talk around town about the new Food Guide. In fact, the Food Guide is the second-most downloaded government document behind tax forms. This, dear readers, makes it a surprisingly big deal.
Food Guide 4-1-1
• Visually, it is unrecognizable to previous versions of the Guide. Replacing the rainbow image—with each colour representing a different food group—is a plate containing a wide variety of colourful real foods, all of which can be grown and produced in Canada.
• Gone are the four food groups and serving sizes. In their place are veggies and fruit, protein foods and grain foods.
• Included in the Food Guide is actionable advice on healthy food choices and healthy eating habits, like cooking more often, eating with others, being mindful of eating habits and recognizing the influences of marketing.
Health Canada has replaced the single one-size-fits-all Food Guide with a suite of online resources to better meet the needs of all Canadians, including the public, policy makers and health professionals.
There are two fundamental key messages: eat a variety of healthy foods each day; and, healthy eating is more than the foods you eat.
Eat a variety of healthy foods each day. Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, whole grain foods and protein foods. Choose protein foods that come from plants more often and choose foods with healthy fats instead of saturated fat.
What about the “meat and dairy” question—can we still eat it? The answer is yes, you can still eat meat and dairy. Although meat and dairy are now collapsed into a protein category that includes lentils, pulses, beans, peas, legumes, nuts, seeds, tofu, fortified soy beverage, fish, shellfish, and eggs—meat and dairy are still recognized (and rightfully so) as nutrient-rich, important sources of protein and key minerals like calcium, magnesium and vitamin D, iron, zinc, and vitamin B12. Even though they don’t have their own group, they still are part of everyday good food choices.
Healthy eating is more than the foods you eat. Highlighting the other aspects of eating, that is, the social, emotional, cultural and environmental side of food, has not had a presence like this in previous versions. This Guide encourages all Canadians to:
• Be mindful of their eating habits. Take time to eat and notice when you are hungry and when you are full, an innate skill that can get “lost” over time.
• Cook more often. Plan what you’re going to eat and involve others in planning and preparing meals.
• Enjoy their food. Make culture and food tradition a part of healthy eating and eat meals with others.
• Be aware that food marketing can influence their food and beverage choices.
• Use food labels to compare similar products and to make informed choices.
There are other recommendations around limiting highly processed foods, preparing meals and snacks using ingredients that have little to no added sodium, sugars or saturated fat, choosing healthier menu options when eating out and replacing sugary drinks with water. Not rocket science, but a good reminder, as these things sometimes fall in the “easier-said-than-done” category.
Health Canada is working with First Nations, Inuit and Métis partners to support the development of healthy eating tools for First Nations. Health Canada will be releasing its guidance document, Canada’s Healthy Eating Pattern for health professionals and policy makers, later this year. It will be in this document where more specific guidance on amounts and types of foods as well as life stage guidance is provided. Hmmm, might something similar to serving size make a comeback? Time will tell.
The Bottom Line
The new Food Guide is a great improvement over previous versions. Eat well. Live well. Those are really good words to live by. Now, the real work begins. Dietitians are not alone in seeing the importance and potential of these new guidelines. We know that one in five children live in conditions of poverty and one in three food bank users in Canada are children. We know that food security does not equal nutrition security but they both rely heavily on adequate income. We also know that Canadian farmers and local food producers hit roadblocks on the “Food System Highway”. As I say, now the real work begins. But that’s another article altogether.
In the meantime, go to Canada.ca/FoodGuide and discover the Guide for yourself, access recipes and explore ways of being mindful, eating together and enjoying your food. Also, you can visit Dietitians of Canada’s website at dietitians.ca/Media/Nutrition-Month/Nutrition-Month.aspx to access resources for Nutrition Month 2019 and unlock the potential of food to enhance lives, improve health, inspire children, fuel activities and bring people together.
Areli Hermanson is a Registered Dietitian and Public Health Nutritionist with Island Health. She has (and loves) two very active, button-pushing and somewhat-picky boys at home and has high-hopes for the new Food Guide.