Is Following the Canadian’s Food Guide a Healthy Way of Eating?
By Jill Jackson CNP, NNCP
If you are a Canadian citizen, chances are high that you have been taught to follow or at the very least, seen Canada’s Food Guide at some point in your life. I vividly remember being taught to follow it in school, even starting as early as grade 7 and 8. From a young age, I questioned the lack of individuality the food guide had to offer. How could a food guide really work for all Canadians who varied in age, genetic predispositions, weight, gender and so many other differentiating factors?
First, let’s have a quick history lesson. Where did this food guide originate? It was first released to the public in 1942 with the title “Canada’s Official Food Rules”. It was originally intended to assist with wartime nutrition and food rationing during a time when poverty overtook many areas of the country. There was 6 initial food groups: milk, fruit, vegetables, cereals & bread, meat & fish and eggs. Despite being made by the Nutrition Division of the Federal Government and the Canadian Council on Nutrition, it was evident that war time efficiency was of top priority, rightfully so. However, suggestions such as 4-6 slices of bread and only 1-2 servings of vegetables a day are hard to see as a nutritionist!
There were a few small changes and revisions made along the way. The guide continued to use emphasize food preservation/rationing and the term “Food Rules” was continued until 1949 when it changed to “A Pattern for Meals”. Providing an example of a “idealistic” breakfast, lunch and dinner, with bread and processed margarine still being a main staple.
Revisions continued to become more specific. Finally, in 1977 terms such as “Meat and Alternatives” were introduced, at last giving an alternative option to those who wished to get protein elsewhere. In 1992, there was a large change in how the guide was presented. There were more suggestions, and it was appealing to the eye, getting Canadians excited about nutrition. It even recognized nutrition changes based on age and activity level and increased the suggested serving of fruits and vegetables jumped to 5-10. Unfortunately, the “grains” category still remained the biggest food group with the suggestion of a whopping 10-12 servings daily!
Finally, in 2007 there was a huge revision that took into account gender and age! Fruit and veggies remained a prominent category, oils were considered, dairy alternatives were considered and suggestions for including exercise were given as part of a healthy lifestyle. It was translated into many languages as Canada continued to grow to be a multicultural country. In my opinion, this was a great step! This is the guide I remember growing up with.
Now the current 2019 food guide is part of the Government of Canada website. The main page shows a picture of a portioned plate with a variety of foods within each portion. From a far, the plate looks fairly well rounded. Half the plate is filled with different fruits and vegetables, a quarter of the plate filled with meat and alternatives and a quarter filled with various grains. The main written suggestions on this picture simply state the following;
- Have plenty of fruits and vegetables
- Eat protein foods
- Make water your drink of choice
- Choose whole grains
The next sliding page goes on to state a few more helpful suggestions with linked articles as to how to carry through with them.
So the big question you have all been waiting for…
IS THIS HEALTHY?
My answer…it depends.
Here’s what is positive about it: It looks pretty, a bonus for drawing the reader’s attention towards nutrition. It is definitely is more diverse than it used to be. It also provides a wonderful amount of links for further reading! It caters to First Nations and Indigenous people. Also, I never thought the Canadian Food Guide would be suggesting mindful eating practices, but it does and that’s awesome! It’s translated into more languages than ever before, as Canadas diversity continues to grow. And last but not least, most importantly, it is emphasizing fruits and vegetables as half your plate, making it the predominant food choice.
Unfortunately, I still feel there are a long list of cons. I will just name a few as to not keep you reading all day.
- It has reverted back to taking away gender, age and food groups making it less specific. I understand the attempt to make nutrition less confusing, but diet is not a one-size-fits-all situation and people should be given that disclaimer front and center.
- Food groups have now disappeared on the main page. It is replaced with the saying “eat a variety of foods each day.” I know what this saying is referring to (as a trained nutritionist) however, the average person may be eating a variety of different processed foods or a variety of foods all within one food group and still consider that “a variety”. Though the picture is great, the comments on the main page have become extremely vague. Unless people are clicking on the links a page over, I feel it leaves much for incorrect interpretation.
- It still is heavily influenced by conventional dairy and meat products which do not always need to be essential in a healthy diet and in many instances can cause health issues. In the 6 recipes given as suggestions I still found ingredients such as conventional low fat yogurt, margarine, and light mayo. There is now so much science and research showing how these foods can be damaging to the human body! It has me scratching my head as to why they are still included.
- Common allergens such as gluten, dairy and eggs are not overly taken into account. It leaves limited options for those suffering from all to common allergies and intolerances.
- There is a more in-depth guideline under the websites subheading “For Professionals”. It has further explanation and evidence. I feel this information should be front and center for all to read. It would limit confusion and give people the information they need to feel impowered to eat better. Nutrition is so important, it is literally what keeps us living on a day to day basis!! Information such as this should not be marketed to professionals only.
In conclusion, I hope you take the Canadian Food Guide with a grain of salt. Clearly, suggestions from the Canadian Food Guide have not always worked as a majority of Canadians still walk around overweight, underweight, sick, or nearly dead! If you have never considered nutrition before, it may be a good place to begin, but please also consider what has been stated above. Always remember that no two people are the same, therefore, no two diets should be either.
I could ramble about this interesting topic for days, so if you have questions or any opinions to add please feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email! I would love to hear from you.
Jill Jackson CNP, NNCP
564-572 Weber Street North, Unit 3A Waterloo, Ontario N2L5C6