The new Canada’s Food Guide: what you need to know
WRITTEN BY SHELLEY DIAMOND ON JUNE 7, 2019 FOR PHARMACY PRACTICE + BUSINESS
Canada’s Food Guide was recently updated for the first time in more than a decade.(1) The new guide is evidence-based and used an extensive consultation process to ensure it is founded on unbiased research. Pharmacists should promote the updated food guide as it encourages healthy eating for all Canadians. It is especially helpful as a guide for those with diabetes, as meal planning is a cornerstone of their management.
The new version makes its first leap away from the originally recommended four food groups—milk and milk products, meat and alternatives, grain products, and fruits and vegetables—since it was first introduced. The latest recommendations include only three groups:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
Other key changes include:
- A greater emphasis on consuming whole grains and plant-based (vs. animal-based) proteins
- Water as the recommended beverage
- Abandonment of the number of servings and sizes.
Proportions are key: the food plate
The guide recommends that Canadians fill their plates with half fruit and vegetables, one-quarter protein and one-quarter whole grains.
A shift away from meat to more plant-based foods
Increased intake of red meat has been linked to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer. As a result, the guide recommends eating more plant-based protein, which has been associated with a lower risk of premature death from cardiovascular disease. Recommended 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. Table 1 summarizes the beneficial health effects of shifting to a plant-based diet.
The guide recommends replacing foods that contain mostly saturated fat with foods that contain mostly unsaturated fat (poly- or mono-unsaturated fat). This change can also lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Do foods have to be fresh?
No. Nutritious foods can be selected from frozen, canned and dried products (e.g., legumes). However, it is important that these alternatives to fresh food options have little to no added sodium and saturated fat, and little to no free sugars.
A focus on “what not to eat”
The guide not only provides guidance on what to eat, but also what foods should be avoided. These include:
- Processed foods, which are higher in sugar, sodium and saturated fat and have been linked to higher rates of obesity, metabolic syndrome and hypercholesterolemia
- Sugary drinks and confectioneries, which should not be consumed regularly
- Sugar substitutes. There are no well-established health benefits associated with the intake of sweeteners. Unsweetened, nutritious foods and beverages should be promoted instead.
New attention to food behaviours
Besides guidance on “what to eat” (or not to eat), the new guide includes messages about “when, where, why and how to eat.” Over the past few decades, Canadians are spending more time eating outside of the home and purchasing more prepared foods than in years past. This has led to less healthy eating, less family meal time, and a lack of cooking skills for both adults and children. The guide provides the following tips:
• Be mindful of your eating habits
• Cook more often
• Enjoy your food
• Eat meals with others—this can reinforce positive eating habits, especially for children
• Use food labels to make healthier choices
• Be aware of food marketing.
The cultural make-up of Canada is wide-ranging. Cultural traditions should be encouraged to help promote cooking skills and knowledge, create a sense of community, and keep the cultures and food traditions alive by sharing them with others.
Limitations of the new Food Guide
One major issue with recommending healthier foods is that it usually comes at an increased cost. Given that one in eight households in Canada is food insecure,(2) the guide’s recommendations are not practical for everyone. Indigenous peoples who live in remote communities, newcomers to Canada, children and older adults may be particularly vulnerable to poor dietary intake. Addressing income and health inequities are required to help Canadians make healthy food choices that are aligned with the guide’s new recommendations.
Overwhelmed patients with diabetes or prediabetes often ask pharmacists, “What can I eat?” Although it’s recommended that people with diabetes receive individualized nutritional counselling from a dietitian, the new Canada’s Food Guide serves as a useful tool for healthy eating guidance to begin the conversation.
Shelley Diamond, BScPhm, is a pharmacist and co-founder of www.diabetescarecommunity.ca, an extensive online resource for Canadians living with diabetes, their families and healthcare professionals.
1. Government of Canada. Canada’s Food Guide. https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/ (accessed February 4, 2019).
2. PROOF; Food Insecurity Policy Research. Household food insecurity in Canada. https://proof.utoronto.ca/food-insecurity/ (accessed February 4, 2019).