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Five things you should know about Canada’s new food guide

March 1, 2019 • read

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Five things you should know about Canada’s new food guide

While some of us may be well on our way with our new year’s resolutions, for many of us it’s more likely they’ve been shelved. Wherever you are in the process, Health Canada has just released its new food guide to help us live a healthier lifestyle. This version, however, is a big departure from the versions of old. And the differences are in more than just appearance. Not only does this one not look like the one you remember, the advice it gives is radically different too. Let’s take a look at the top five differences.

1. “Healthy eating is more than the foods you eat”

With that one line, the landing page of the new guide really sums up the ethos of the whole thing. Health Canada wants you to pay attention to who you eat with, where you eat and when you eat — not just what you eat. And if you stop and think about that for a moment, that really makes sense. They’re asking you to pay attention to the circumstances under which you eat. There’s been such a focus on mindfulness recently that it makes sense to extend it to our eating habits. Are you really hungry — or are you eating out of boredom or habit? Does your microwave dinner even taste good — or would you really prefer a nice homemade chili? Your preferences might surprise you if you start to pay attention.

Much research has been done on the link between student success, positive development and how many meals a child eats a week with their family. Meals are a time to come together to process our days and discuss our thoughts, and to bond. Not just to blithely shovel food into our mouths in front of the television.

2. They want you to drink water, water and more water

This one makes intuitive sense to many of us already. We know sodas and other sugary drinks are huge contributors to things like obesity and type 2 diabetes, so why not cut them out completely? Juice is nice from time to time, but really, isn’t a piece of fruit just as good? Plus juice lacks the fibre found in fruit — fibre that helps with digestion and makes us feel full. And nothing quenches thirst the way water does. They want you to drink water so badly they’ve suggested a range of fruits and herbs to flavour it with. And while they’re still including milk in the “other healthy drinks” category, gone are the previous recommendation of two daily glasses.

3. There are no more food groups

That’s right. No more “meat and meat alternatives,” no more “milk and milk alternatives.” The guide instead recommends you choose from three categories: whole grain foods, vegetables and fruits, and protein foods. Health Canada wants us to focus on healthy eating patterns, by which they mean eating mostly plant-based foods and limiting processed food. They even offer sample recipes. And there’s no pressure to eat a specific number of servings from each category. Which leads us to the next big difference…

4. There are no more recommended serving amounts

I don’t know about you, but this one got me excited. The old system of serving sizes was confusing. Six to eight servings of grain products might sound straightforward, but some of us might have been interpreting that wrongly. Something tells us that Health Canada didn’t intend that as a go-ahead to eat half a dozen bagels a day.

So how many servings of grains can we have a day? Who knows?! The recommended food servings portion has been completely gutted. The new guide simply states that when it comes to fruits and vegetables, we should be eating “plenty.” They recommend protein foods as well, but no amount. And while they would like you to “choose whole grains,” they don’t specify the number of servings of those either. The landing page does contain a plate divided into three categories — one quarter protein, one quarter whole grain and half fruits and veggies — but the guide doesn’t explicitly say that this is how you should be breaking down each meal. So go ahead and listen to your body and stop when you’re full.

5. There’s a focus on eating plant-based proteins

The guide is explicit in this, stating that we should choose plant-based protein more often. While the old guide did include legumes, tofu and nuts as alternative protein sources, the category was called “meat and meat alternatives” after all. This time chicken, fish and meat, aren’t taking centre stage. And the suggested recipes are split pretty evenly between vegetarian and non-vegetarian options (though there is a recipe for moose stew!).

This is a big deal. There were no real guidelines on living a healthy vegetarian diet in the old guide, let alone a vegan one. Meatless Mondays have been popular for a while now, and vegetarian and vegan lifestyles are no longer seen as being fringe or marginal. And with reports on the high environmental costs of meat production, it seems like the food guide is responding to the growing shifts in attitude. There’s even a blurb on food waste.

It’s obvious that the new food guide is a completely different animal than its predecessor. Health Canada seems to be challenging many of us to relearn the patterns that we’ve fallen into over the years. From paying attention to where we’re eating to entreating us to cook more often, the new food guide wants us to focus on more than just the food we eat, to help us live a healthier lifestyle.

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