OTTAWA — Health Canada says reconciliation with Indigenous peoples was top of mind during the design of a revamped food guide that includes traditional foods for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis.
Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor announced Tuesday that the new food guide is "more than just a colourful page," calling it a "powerful" online tool that will continually be updated with the latest dietary knowledge.
"It reflects the Canada of 2019 while keeping an eye to the Canada of the future," she said during a press conference at Montreal's Jean-Talon Market.
Petitpas Taylor evoked the words of late TV host, author and chef Anthony Bourdain, saying, "Food is everything we are."
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One significant change is water is now the recommended "beverage of choice" instead of the servings of milk and fruit juice suggested in past versions of the food guide, which was last updated in 2007.
Gone are daily recommended servings for vegetables, fruit, grains, and protein. Health officials explained at a media briefing that consultations showed recommended portions and sizes were "not helpful," citing how energy levels differ from person to person. Dropping portion sizes prompted officials to take a new "modern approach" to communicate food guidance.
The new ideal healthy meal is now shown pictorially as a single plate with half of its space taken by "plenty of vegetables and fruits"; a quarter for "protein foods" such as meat, nuts, and beans; and a quarter for "whole grain foods."
There's an emphasis on eating more plant-based proteins.
There's also greater push for people to adopt a holistic approach to healthy eating, encouraging more home cooking, being mindful of consumption habits, and sharing more meals with other people.
Health officials explained "as part of reconciliation," the development of any food guide-related policy "must support self-determination, as well as recognize the distinct nature and lived experience of First Nations, Inuit and Métis."
Pat Vanderkooy, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for Dietitians of Canada, said the new food guide is a good step toward recognizing diverse communities.
She explained "huge barriers" are sometimes faced when low incomes can barely cover the high cost of food. The new food guide uses examples of canned, frozen, and dried fruits and vegetables as affordable alternatives to fresh produce.
"This is especially important in Canadian communities where timely transportation of fresh food is either not possible or too expensive."
Vanderkooy said there's still work to do to make the new food guide useful for diverse Indigenous communities with varying diets based on different traditional foods.
"Indigenous peoples need more 'distinction-based' food guides — such as resources that are specific to a geographic region and translated into the locally used Indigenous language," she said.
Hasan Hutchinson, Health Canada director-general of nutritional policy and promotion, told reporters that officials are currently working with Indigenous Services Canada, and First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities to develop those "distinction-based" food guides.
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The new food guide was inspired by models adopted in Brazil, Sweden, and Belgium, Hutchinson said.
According to Vanderkooy, the government needs to support better access to traditional foods. That means ensuring physical access to treaty lands for fishing, hunting and gathering, and coming through with equipment and training programs to encourage these activities.
Health Canada released a tailored version of the food guide for First Nations, Inuit and Métis in 2007, differentiating itself by including servings of "traditional meats and wild game" and bannock, a traditional flatbread.
But the federal department was vague when asked for a timeline of when the new "distinction-based" food guides will be complete, explaining that work is ongoing.
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"The current Canada's Food Guide (for) First Nations, Inuit and Métis can still be used as a trusted source of information on healthy eating to support Indigenous peoples while development of distinctions-based healthy eating tools is underway," Health Canada spokesman Geoffroy Legault-Thivierge said in an email.
Canada's first food guide was introduced in July 1942, then called the "Official Food Rules," which encouraged people to eat "liver, heart, or kidney" once a week as a source of meat.
The new food guide is an interactive, mobile-friendly online resource to help make healthy choices with recipes and tips.