If a picture is really worth a thousand words, the new Canada Food Guide has met its mark this time around. The new guide, released last week, is significantly different than the one before it. Here are some of my thoughts on the changes:
The picture simplifies the message. Rather than focussing on counting serving sizes, this illustration demonstrates that it’s all about proportions. Half your plate should be fruits and vegetables, a quarter carbs, and a quarter protein. It’s easy to visualize and hopefully people will find that makes it easier to follow.
The picture also displays a greater diversity of foods. The protein portion for example, shows several vegetarian and plant based options alongside meat and dairy. This is a great way to illustrate that protein can, but doesn’t have to come from meats.
Dairy is no longer a food group. In fact, water is mentioned as the beverage of choice. Many patients in my practice find that they don’t feel well when they consume dairy. In those who are sensitive, it might cause digestive upset, congestion, or skin concerns. However, eliminating, or cutting back on dairy seemed risky, given its importance in the previous guide. Again, the new message shows that if you can’t tolerate one food, such as dairy, you have lots of other options.
There is an increased emphasis on plants and a decreased emphasis on meat and dairy. Similar to the two points above, for the first time in the history of the food guide, we are seeing realistic plant-based options. While a vegetarian diet isn’t necessarily suitable for everyone, a primarily plant based diet can be beneficial for those looking to combat or prevent diseases such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and some cancers. Individual health aside, there is much to be said for considering the health of the planet. It’s too much to address in this article, but in short, eating more plants and fewer animal products can be a much more sustainable way to eat.
There is a decreased emphasis on carbs. Speaking of diabetes, the de-emphasis on grains, breads, and other starchy carbohydrates, and the push for increased intake of vegetables is great for anyone trying to lower their blood sugar levels. It’s also great for weight loss.
Water is highlighted as the beverage of choice. Juice, even 100% fruit juice, is now considered a sugary drink rather than a serving of fruit. While juices can be a good source of certain nutrients, most of those are much better attained by eating a whole fruit, in which you get lots of fibre, rather than a juice which is also packed full of sugar.
This guide also goes beyond the foods you eat. Also new to this guide is the suggestions around healthy eating habits: eating with others, cooking with your kids, and being more mindful of your eating in general. I appreciate the message that this sends — that it’s not just about what you put into your body, but about your relationship to the food you eat as well.