Canada's Food Guide has been around since 1942. The very first edition, which was a chart of rules, had a small list of "health protective foods" Canadians were recommended to eat. The guide, similarly to the current one, had categories of milk, fruits and vegetables, cereals and bread, meat and fish and dairy products like eggs.
The last time Canada updated its food guide was in 2007, focusing not so much so on the healthy foods we should be eating, but rather adding information about serving sizes, healthy activity and alternative options for proteins, like legumes and peanut butter. The Food Guide is in place to give Canadians direction on healthy diets and tell them the amount of each nutrient is needed for an active and happy body.
But with 72 years of changes, there's also room for improvement. Serving sizes, for example, continue to be confusing for Canadians, and many Canadians who follow the guide poorly estimate their portions of meats, dairy and fruit and veggies. Adding options for local foods, ethnic foods or vegan or gluten-free items could better reflect the average Canadian diet in 2014.
In honour of Canada Day, and all things healthy eating, we talked to dietitians and nutritionists from across the country about the one thing they would add or change about the current food guide. Now, while these changes may not be set in stone for the guide in the future, it's a good way to get some insight on how healthy eaters actually eat. What would you add? Let us know in the comments below:
Patricia Chuey, registered dietitian based in Vancouver
TIP: "I would remind Canadians that it is a VERY general population guideline that serves as a basic starting point on how to put together a variety of good quality protein and carbohydrate foods. It was never meant to be the only and only tool to refer to in determining the best diet for all."
CHANGE: "I would give a much more prominent presence to lentils and other Canadian-grown pulse crops. Also known as legumes, this category of food is not only grown in Canada and feeds many people around the world, it is nutrient dense, high in fibre, a source of both protein and carbohydrate, very affordable and easy to prepare in many different tasty ways. I feel Canadians should be eating legumes at least three times every single week."
Ali Campbell, registered dietitian based in Calgary
TIP: "The best component of the food guide is the specific portion sizes that equate to one serving. This is HUGE, and where a registered dietitian can come into play to educate Canadians on what a serving size truly is in this world of portion distortion."
CHANGE: "Having a background in sport nutrition, I know that a teenage athlete engaging in high volume training and double workouts will not be able to achieve peak performance and lean muscle goals by solely following Canada's Food Guide. I would love to see Canada develop a food guide that is more specific to athletes or other special populations."
Nita Sharda, registered dietitian based in Winnipeg
TIP: "The Canada Food Guide is visually appealing and colour codes the food groups, making them distinct and easy to remember. Second, it is fairly simple to understand with the suggested serving sizes. Third, it speaks to the diverse populations across Canada."
CHANGE: "I would further explain the 'other food group.' A significant portion of calories for Canadians come from this category, which includes everything from French fries to jams to beer. I would place more emphasis on eating mindfully, rather than 'black-listing' certain foods or making people feel ashamed if they have eaten from this category. Eating mindfully will bring awareness to understanding the difference between feeling famished, satisfied and stuffed."
Sarah Ramsden, nutritionist based in Toronto
TIP: "Let’s get rid of the highly processed, inflammatory, and often genetically modified vegetable oils like canola and soybean oil, the same applies to margarine. Instead we should be using unprocessed fats in our diets including coconut oil, butter, and ghee, as well as lard and tallow from traditionally raised pastured animals."
CHANGE: "There’s room, and a dire need for a new food group within the Canada Food Guide, and that’s for probiotic rich fermented foods. They include things like unpasteurized pickled cucumbers, pickled onions, kimchi, kombucha (a fermented tea), sauerkraut, and kefir, which I’m glad to see already makes an appearance on the Canada Food Guide. Encouraging daily consumption of these kinds of foods would have a marked effect on the health of Canadians, ranging from digestive health, to improved immunity, and skin issues like eczema, asthma, seasonal allergies, autoimmunity and even obesity."
Leslie Carson, manager, nutrition services of Whitehorse General Hospital based in Yukon
TIP: "Eat food close to nature: it has huge health benefits not only for the consumer but the community and economy as a whole. Instead of eating a ready-made potato salad, eat a newly grown potato with skin for fibre which isn't processed."
CHANGE: "I would put less emphasis on dairy and meat. Those two foods groups are there for political reasons and many of us can get sufficient amounts of protein or calcium from non-animal based foods. Things like whole grains, beans, lentils, and nuts are great sources of protein. We should keep the guide more simplistic with plain Jane foods and simple foods to be healthier."
Nasim Saberi, registered dietitian based in Montreal
TIP: "When you are eating, it barely happens that you count the number of bites, scoops or even the number of nuts you chew. When it comes to taking care of the whole family's eating habits, it would be even harder. So focusing on the adequate number of serving sizes is not the easiest way of asking people to watch their eating behaviour."
CHANGE: "What I prefer is that instead of talking about the number of servings which are easily forgettable, reshape the guide to a healthy plate format which gives a better idea of the total amount of different food groups per meal and more applicable for all the gender and age groups.”
Janice Cohen, registered dietitian based in Montreal
TIP: "I mostly do not recommend the added four tablespoons of oil as added fat to my day because the food we consume usually has more than enough fat intrinsically. There is really no need to look for added fat unless there is a specific dietary need to do so."
CHANGE: "I would make the guide less content dense and bring it down to a single page. Adding a visual representation to describe each portion size would be helpful as well. If not then at least have an online version that is easier to demonstrate."
Nida Mir, registered dietitian based in Edmonton
TIP: "Balance your meals. Just try to get servings from each food group and consider snacks as a filler. Snacks are usually crunchy and coming out of a bag, but snacks should be nutritious fillers for meals."
CHANGE: "When using the Food Guide as an educational tool, juice may not be the best option. Focusing on the obesity epidemic, weight management and diabetes, I would look at the purpose of fruits and vegetables, rather than juicing. It is more filling to have a full orange rather than half a cup of juice [which is what the food guide currently recommends as a serving size]. I would get rid of the 'half cup of juice' section — this is not something you want to have all the time."