Canada’s Food Guide 2019

I’ve been geeking out this week about the new Canada Food Guide. When I sent a note to Jerry Agar’s producer about doing a segment about it, they asked what I wanted to say about it – as in, “It’s not that big of a deal, is it?” It took me a moment to reply. I gathered my thoughts, because I couldn’t go on air and just say how exciting it was. They need an angle, duh. I came up with an angle: the 2007 guide was as outdated as a Sony Walkman, and this is Health Canada’s default for food recommendations. This change has been a looooong time coming!

There have been many comments – both positive and negative – about the new guide. One that caught my attention was saying that this guide tells us what we already know. I’d agree with that comment; some of us already eat this way. For so many though, having the Food Guide as a foundation is very important. Even more so, it’s legally required by food service providers like hospitals, daycares and childcare centres to follow it.

I work with many daycares, improving the menus offered to children. They have to follow the Food Guide in all the meals that they prepare and serve. The old food guide meant that they were offering foods that were less nutritious. The most recent daycare that I’m working with didn’t want to include many of the foods required, but they have had to follow the guidelines. This will make both our jobs easier and, most importantly, nurture healthier growing children.

The top line changes weren’t well received by everyone and that’s understandable. Change isn’t always welcome, especially when it comes to dietary changes.

In this paragraph within the Dietary Guidelines document, they called it like it is:

“In Canada, chronic diseases account for approximately one third of direct health care costs. The Canadian population is aging, faces high rates of obesity, and engages in sedentary lifestyle behaviours. Thus the impact of chronic diseases is likely to continue to increase, unless we take action to address the many factors that influence what we eat.”

We have a lot more work to do.

In case you haven’t seen the new guidelines, here’s a rundown:

Guidelines

  • Vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and protein foods should be consumed regularly. Among protein foods, consume plant-based more often.
  • Protein foods include legumes, nuts, seeds, tofu, fortified soy beverage, fish, shellfish, eggs, poultry, lean red meat including wild game, lower fat milk, lower fat yogurts, lower fat kefir, and cheeses lower in fat and sodium.
  • Foods that contain mostly unsaturated fat should replace foods that contain mostly saturated fat.
  • Water should be the beverage of choice over pop, juice or flavoured juice.

Nutritious foods to encourage
Nutritious foods to consume regularly can be fresh, frozen, canned, or dried.

Cultural preferences and food traditions
Nutritious foods can reflect cultural preferences and food traditions.
Eating with others can bring enjoyment to healthy eating and can foster connections between generations and cultures.
Traditional food improves diet quality among Indigenous Peoples.

Energy balance
Energy needs are individual and depend on a number of factors, including levels of physical activity.
Some fad diets can be restrictive and pose nutritional risks.

Environmental impact
Food choices can have an impact on the environment.

That’s the crux of the new guide, along with the new plate visual replacing the last guide’s four food groups and rainbow shape. The recommendation here is that you do away with portions and focus on proportions. Half of your plate or serving needs to be fruit and vegetables. One-quarter needs to be protein, including eggs, dairy, and milk, meat, poultry, plant-based protein from soy (tofu), lentils and beans. The emphasis is on plant-based proteins, rather than animal-based. This doesn’t mean that you need to become vegan or vegetarian, just that you can change up your meals to be more plant-based. The last quarter is whole grains, including brown rice, oats, quinoa, etc. There isn’t a mention of bread as much as there was in the past, which is important for those who think you need to eat bread as a fiber source daily.

What I think could have had been mentioned more:

  • Fat – there’s little mention of fat, only about one line is written. Listing out unsaturated fat food sources – including polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats – would have been most helpful. It’s clear that reducing the amount of saturated or animal fat is the way forward for overall health.
  • Canned vegetables – these would not be a recommendation that I would make to anyone. Ideally frozen is an affordable option because canned vegetables can last far too many years, beyond what’s good for us, even if it has just been processed.
  • Bread and more grains – people get so confused about what bread to buy and eat. This is an area where there could have been more clarity. Whole grain sourdough is a fantastic option that would be worth a mention. I would have liked it if they made it clear that “brown bread” isn’t good enough, as it usually still contains white flour.

Overall, the main goal was to create an uncomplicated, healthy way of eating, and I do believe that was achieved.

Listen to my clip with Jerry Agar on NewsTalk1010 radio:

 

Watch my interview on CTV News:

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