The Government of Canada released an updated Food Guide. (Yay!) I’ve been waiting patiently for this, as a naturopathic physician the “old” food guide just didn’t cut it. I will dive into some evidence informed reasons why I disliked the old food guide, so just keep reading on.

Below is the infographic for your review, right from the Government of Canada website. If you haven’t had a chance to see this image yet, take a look. You’ll notice some changes, as have I. I will review these changes in depth below; I will give my personal opinion and evidence-based information.  

A reminder of the past…

Do you remember what the food guide used to look like? Here it is…

Shudder. Eekk. This is NOT good.

10-12 servings of grains and bread products? Choose lower fat foods? Evaporated milk? Milk powder? Ice cream!?!

The Changes in Review – by Dr. Kristin Spark, ND

  1. The Layout Of The Guide – Portion Size And Plated Foods

The use of a plate and portion sizes is new – we never before have seen the food guide presented in this manner. Using the plate as a reminder for serving sizes is a great tool, as many people who struggle with their weight are over consuming and eating too large portions for their lifestyle. I have already had patients comment on the portion sizes of animal meats shown in the new food guide; specifically noting that these animal protein portions are not very large, and that this will be a challenge to adopt.

My Tip: Always aim for ½ your plate of veggies and fruits, with emphasis, or majority being vegetables. Dark greens, reds, oranges, and yellows – eat a colourful plate. Avoid browns and beiges.

Proteins should be about the size of your palm, meaning that bigger palms get bigger protein portions.

Carbohydrates such as grains, and starchy vegetables (potatoes) should never dominate the plate and should be restricted to about ¼ of the plate.

2. Vegetables And Fruits Are The Largest Food Group

It is no surprise to see this food group expand. Comparing our old food guide to the new food guide we see how importance was placed on “grains and breads”, whereas now we see that fruits and vegetables take the majority. Upon further investigation of the Government of Canada website, grains are now more tightly defined with emphasis on whole grains such as quinoa, whole grain breads, pastas, and whole oats or oatmeal, and whole grain brown or wild rice. Additionally breads, muffins, crackers, and pasta dishes are said to be limited to avoid excessive salt, sugars, and saturated fats.

My Tip:  This one I completely stand behind 100%. Eat less refined, processed and gluten containing grains, and consume more whole food carbohydrates that are more complex and have a lower glycemic load (such as steel cut oats, wild or brown rice, and quinoa).

Additionally, eat more organic, whole, locally grown (if possible) fruits and vegetables. Longevity scientific studies have shown that people live longer disease-free lives (lower rates of all-cause mortality) when they eat a great amount of fruits and vegetables in their diet.  Meal time, and snacks should always include fruits and vegetables, with vegetables being more favourable over fruits whenever possible.

3. Elimination Of Dairy Food Group

Dairy has been eliminated as a food group, and instead we see dairy included as part of the proteins food category. Dairy is an excellent source of calcium and calcium is an important mineral for healthy growth and development of our bones, nerves, muscles, and organ tissues. However, dairy is not the only source.

My Tip: In my practise I see lactose intolerance, dairy sensitivity, dairy allergy and veganism as common causes for patients to avoid eating dairy products (milk, cheese, yogourt, butter, kefir).

The RDA (recommended dietary allowance) for calcium intake for adults aged 19-50 is 1000 mg/day of calcium, and if you’re over 51 the Dieticians of Canada suggest 1200 mg per day. They also suggest these sources come from dairy products (2-3 servings per day)… A little archaic, I know. Plant based foods such as chia seeds, tofu, broccoli, cabbage, and other green leafy vegetables are rich sources of calcium. If you’re a fish eater, consuming the bones of the fish, such as in canned salmon, and sardines, is a great source of calcium.

Calcium isn’t the only key player for bone health. Vitamin K and Vitamin D are also very important. Ensuring vitamin D status is sufficient is a big part of my practise.  I have written on vitamin D – read here! This is a vitamin that we often forget about for the importance of calcium utilization in the body, as well as bone strength. In North America deficiencies are common, as the sunlight is too little for skin absorption. Supplementation is often indicated.

4. A Change To “Protein” Food Group

The emphasis is placed on protein macronutrient intake rather than where the protein is sourced (meats and alternatives).  In the diagram we see tofu, eggs, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, animal and fish proteins. Note the size of the animal proteins. Smaller than you thought?

Research has concluded the benefits of eating a plant based diet for long term disease prevention, including a 2010 literary review article which looked at death rates and plant based diets, and concluded that a plant based diet reduced all cause mortality.  

[Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee on the dietary guidelines for Americans, 2010: to the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of Health and Human Services.Washington, DC: Agriculture Research Service, US Department of Agriculture, US Department of Health and Human Services; 2010. May]

5. Water As A Beverage

In the past other beverages have been mentioned as options, and now we see that all fruit juices, and milks are eliminated from the food guide. Water is the beverage of choice.

My Tip: Aim to get approximately 1.5-2L per day (for the average adult), and more if you’re active or sweating. Herbal teas, and 1 cup of black coffee are also allowed in my opinion, and evidence for these drinks and their health benefits is there. Aim to get your fruit juices from fruit for more fibre content, and aim to get your calcium from whole food sources in addition to any dairy products.

6. Lifestyle Factors Are Finally Included

In the new food guide we see that lifestyle factors are finally included, meaning that there is mention of the eating environment and social influences on food consumption.  

  1. Eating with company
  2. Cook more often
  3. Enjoying food
  4. Be mindful of your food
  5. Be aware of food marketing
  6. Read labels
  7. Avoid high sodium, saturated fats and sugars

My Tip: Agreed. 100%. If you’re looking for more information about specific ways to incorporate these lifestyle factors into your eating habits, please check out the Government of Canada website here.

Here is some more food for thought: Did you know that when you eat your body needs to be in a relaxed state in order to best utilize nutrients and optimize digestion? If you’re eating when stressed, rushed, angry, annoyed, or sad you’re likely not getting all that you can from your food. We know that under stress the body is in a sympathetic state (nervous system state) digestion is “shut down”. This shut down means digestive organs, such as the salivary glands, stomach, liver and gallbladder, and the small and large intestines are less prepared to receive and metabolize foods, leading to indigestion, and in some severe cases nutrient deficiencies such as iron deficiency. Want to know more about how your digestive system works? Check out my blog post “Digestion: The Route To Wellness”.

Final Thoughts

There is no perfect diet for everyone, and while there are some diets that have more evidence for health and longevity and reductions in disease, such as the plant based diet, and the mediterranean diet, there is never a one size fits all.

Paleo, ketogenic, intermittent fasting, low carb, high protein, autoimmune paleo, lectin-free, hypoallergenic, candida diet, plant based, vegetarian, lacto-ovo-tarian, pescatarian, Atkins, Bernstein, etc, etc, etc… There are SO many options. It can be overwhelming even for the most educated health care provider.

Eating a wide variety of foods, mostly plants, in their most whole form, at the table with friends and/or family, is likely the best thing to do.

If you’ve got health conditions that limit your ability to consume some foods it is best to speak to a naturopath or a certified nutritionist or registered dietician to determine what foods are best for you. Remember it isn’t a one size fits all, and it is definitely an ever evolving field.