Canada’s new food guide is loyal to science, not the food industry

Jan 23, 2019 by



Canada's new food guide plate
Promo image Health Canada

The authors refused to use any industry-backed studies and the result is a guide that differs dramatically from past ones.

Canada’s new food guide, released on Tuesday, is causing a splash. The 62-page document is a drastic departure from food guides of the past. It urges Canadians to adopt a mostly plant-based diet, to drink water instead of milk, and to worry less about daily servings of nutrients and specific portion sizes and more about cooking meals at home and eating with family and friends.

The food guide is divided into four sections. The first focuses on nutritious foods and what comprises a healthy diet. This is where the emphasis on proportion, rather than portion, is most evident. The guide contains an image (above) of a dinner plate half-covered in vegetables, with quarter-sized servings of protein foods (nuts, chickpeas, tofu, beef, salmon) and mixed whole grains (toast, wild rice, quinoa).

The second part of the guide addresses foods that should be minimized or avoided. These include sugary drinks and confectioneries, alcohol, excess sodium, and sources of saturated fat.

Health Canada – “Make water your drink of choice.”/Promo image

The third section is perhaps most interesting, as it encourages Canadians to think about how they eat. The guide states, “Healthy eating is more than the foods you eat,” and this section is dedicated to sharpening one’s food skills and improving one’s food literacy. Canadians are advised to cook from scratch more often, to go to restaurants less frequently, and to eat together. Parents are urged to transfer food skills to their children by example and through changes to school curricula. The guide advises a mindful approach to eating, careful reading of labels, skepticism about food marketing, and an effort to reduce waste.

Health Canada cook more often
Health Canada/Promo image

The fourth and final section talks about implementation and how to make healthy eating accessible and available to all Canadians. This is an ongoing challenge for many low-income and Indigenous families, and, as André Picard writes for the Globe and Mail, affects one in six Canadian children.

Overall, the new guide feels like a breath of fresh air compared to the confusing rainbows and pyramids of the past. In the words of Health Minister Ginette Petitpas-Taylor, as reported by CBC, “It doesn’t need to be complicated, folks. It just needs to be nutritious, and, might I dare say, fun.”

What makes this guide stand apart is its authors’ commitment to following the top nutritional science and their refusal to accept evidence from any industry-backed studies, “given the potential for conflicts of interest.” In the words of Picard,

“Health Canada has grown a backbone and distanced itself from industry by excising some dubious advice that was clearly designed to mollify industry, such as the recommendation to drink two glasses of milk a day and consume at least two tablespoons of canola oil every day.”

Health Canada enjoy your food
Health Canada – “Enjoy your food.” /Promo image

This guide has potential to make a real difference. Its emphasis on less energy intensive foods and minimizing waste could improve the environmental impact of Canadians’ diets. If workplaces, cafeterias, hospitals, and other public institutions adopted the recommendations to get rid of fatty, sugary foods, we could see an improvement in public health. If schools incorporated cooking classes into their curricula, we’d see kids learning how to feed themselves well. There are so many ways in which this guide could kickstart a healthier, stronger, more resilient country.

This is a guide to be proud of. Way to go, Canada! Find the whole guide and other resources here.

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