I remember thumbing through the old Canada Food Guide in elementary school, the rainbow design standing out among the other miscellaneous handouts during the health portion of Phys Ed. I skimmed over the recommended servings and just as quickly dismissed them.
No matter how much they drilled the importance of having a balanced meal and exercising daily, the suggestions were mostly ignored.
One: I didn’t cook. Two: healthy foods didn’t taste as good. Three: exercise during gym felt like enough. It was not until I was older that I started to wish I listened.
The new Canada Food Guide, released on January 21, 2019, showcases a plate with recommended portions—half a plate of vegetables and fruits, a quarter plate of whole grains, and a quarter of proteins—along with a glass of water.
The food guide comes after a major move in September of 2018 to ban artificial trans-fat. The trend appears to be moving toward a healthier Canada.
Beside the simplistic and aesthetically pleasing look, the guide replaced the four food groups with three categories: proteins, fruits and vegetables, and whole grain foods.
I reached out to UTM’s Health and Counselling Centre (HCC), and got in touch with Kimberly Green—a registered Dietitian. While she believes the new food guide is “a good basic tool,” she commented on the ambiguity of the visuals. She expressed her concern over the “very small portions” illustrated in the diagram. Green states, “I’m seriously concerned that people will think one-quarter of a boiled egg is an adequate serving(!) which it is not.”
The new guide lacks the specificity of the old guide. The 2007 food guide offered a chart with daily recommended food servings, while the 2019 version focuses on portions.
At a glance, the poster guide is easy to understand, but what they give us in simplicity, they take away from us in information.
Admittedly, there is a wealth of resources available from a fact sheet with healthy eating recommendations to dietary guidelines for health professionals, but I doubt the everyday person will read it.
In the report, Health Canada details the food and drinks that should be consumed for a nutritious and healthy diet and the food and beverages that should be avoided due to their negative impact on our health. They also advocate for food prep and cooking skills, creating supportive environments for healthy eating, and make considerations regarding everyday life and cultural differences, particularly Indigenous traditions.
The guide can be summed up to eat vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and protein foods regularly; consume more plant-based protein foods; drink water over sugary drinks, and have little to no added sodium, saturated fat, and free sugars.
Despite all the recommendations, Kimberly Green highlights “the lack of emphasis/guidance on both iron-rich and calcium-rich foods” as concerning. She believes “meat, as well [as] milk and milk alternatives” have a role in a healthy eating lifestyle, “despite their disappearance on this guide.”
Iron helps in the production of hemoglobin (the red protein that carries oxygen to your tissues) and those who are iron-deficient experience fatigue and weakness. According to WebMD, there are two types of dietary iron: heme and nonheme. One primarily found in red meat, fish, and poultry (heme), and the other derived from plant sources such as spinach, beans, and lentils (nonheme). The former is easier to absorb.
Calcium primarily helps your teeth and bones to rebuild and stay strong. Low levels of calcium can result in conditions that weaken and soften the bone which can cause pain. Milk, milk alternatives, and other dairy products are famously known for their calcium, however, WebMD claims kale and broccoli are also rich in calcium. Although unexpected, the absence of the milk and milk alternatives category seems to reflect and embrace an ongoing trend of cutting out animal byproducts.
Of course, this is not said to dismiss vegetarians, vegans, or pescatarians. Iron and calcium can be absorbed through non-meat options. However, the food guide needs to mention iron and calcium more since they are a vital part of a healthy diet.
With the advent of the new food guide also came much debate and criticism over food insecurity, issues of accessibility, and poverty.
“The guide itself is good,” Paul M. Taylor wrote in a Toronto Star opinion piece, “but more action would be much better.”
Healthy food can be quite expensive and safe drinking water is not accessible all over Canada. However, the purpose of a food guide is not to address these issues. A food guide recommends eating practices for nutrition and healthy eating.