At the beginning of 2019, Health Canada released its much-anticipated revised Food Guide. The unveiling made quite a splash. This was due in large part to the fact that it did away with recommended servings and traditional food groups, particularly meat and dairy. Instead, the Canada Food Guide now focuses on proportion rather than portions, emphasizing fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and proteins. A year after its release, we discuss some of its successes and shortcomings.
The new Canada Food Guide in a nutshell
In an effort to simplify the guide, Health Canada created the Food Guide Snapshot. This two-page document presents a picture of a plate with easy-to-understand advice to “eat well and live well.” It offers the following guidelines:
- Eat a variety of healthy food each day;
- Have plenty of vegetables and fruits (half your plate);
- Eat protein foods (with a particular emphasis on plant-based proteins);
- Choose whole grains;
- Make water your drink of choice.
The snapshot reminds Canadians to cook more, enjoy meals with others, and pay attention to food labels and food marketing. In addition, it recommends limiting foods that are high in sugar, sodium, and saturated fats.
The Canada Food Guide: a science-based approach
The Canada Food Guide was developed based on the latest nutrition science. Despite speculation, the creation process excluded food companies, lobbyists or commodity groups from influencing the final product. The result is a food guide based on nutritional research, without the biased opinions of industry players. Nowhere is this more evident than its move away from the traditional meat and dairy food groups. Rather, the new guide encourages eating plant-based proteins such as legumes, lentils, and nuts over animal-based ones. While meat, poultry and dairy are still present, they are no longer in the spotlight. This approach is both healthier and better for the planet. A win-win for all Canadians.
The Canada Food Guide: beyond guidelines
The addition of resources, tips, videos and recipes is another successful feature of the new Canada Food Guide. Particularly important in light of recent studies of food deserts in the United States that have shown that eating healthfully rests on more than access to healthy food. For people to eat better, they need the right tools and nutritional knowledge to make healthier decisions. As such, educating Canadians on what and how to eat is key to improving overall health. In fact, what we eat directly impacts our health. This is especially important for people suffering from chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.
The Canada Food Guide: recommendations that are out of reach for millions of Canadians
Despite the positive features of the new Canada Food Guide, there is also a flip side. One of the biggest shortcomings is the fact that healthy eating, as laid out in the guide, is out of reach for a large part of society. The average price of groceries is expected to rise by 2% to 4% in 2020. As such, eating a healthy diet is unattainable for many lower-income Canadians. Over 4 million Canadians are food insecure. This means that due to financial constraints they cannot afford sufficient quantities of nutritious food. Moreover, the incidence of chronic diseases in individuals experiencing food insecurity is much higher than for individuals who are food secure. Not to mention that food insecurity can reduce a person’s lifespan by nine years! Thus, a revised food guide only tackles part of the problem. Poverty alleviation measures and improved social programs are needed to ensure all Canadians can lead healthy, productive lives.
To conclude, the new Canada Food Guide is an essential tool that will help improve the health of our nation. But leading a healthy life also means adopting better lifestyle habits. Eating right, exercising, quitting smoking, and reducing alcohol consumption are important factors for your overall health. And do not forget, overall health includes oral health. Remember to brush and floss every day and visit your dentist regularly.