New Canada Food Guide 2019

Photo Credit: Unsplash User  Kelly Sikkema

Photo Credit: Unsplash User Kelly Sikkema

Ann Hui, in a January 22, 2019 report for The Globe and Mail, reviewed the highlights of the new Canada’s Food Guide, released in January. The biggest changes include:

  • No more ‘four food groups’: These had remained largely unchanged until now since they were first introduced to the guide in 1977. The new guide reduces these groups to three: Vegetables and Fruits; Protein Foods; Whole Grain Foods. The new Protein category combines dairy and meat along with plant-based proteins such as tofu and chickpeas, and the new guide emphasizes, “Among protein foods, consume plant-based more often. The regular intake of plant-based foods – vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and plant-based proteins – can have positive effects on health,” including lower risk of cardiovascular disease, colon cancer and type 2 diabetes.

  • No more prescriptive serving sizes: Rather than the rainbow image which had marked recent versions of the guide, the new guide uses an image of a plate filled roughly half with fruits and vegetables, with the remaining half divided between whole grains and proteins. Feedback from stakeholders had been that the serving size information on previous guides was too complicated to use. Hui interviewed Hasan Hutchinson, Director General of the Office of Nutrition Policy and Promotion in Health Canada, who said the new approach “is not about portions, per se, but about proportions.” By following the “half fruits and vegetables” rule, the department hopes to make the guide “real and actionable in your everyday life.”

  • Drink water: The instruction encouraging Canadians to make water their “beverage of choice” is meant to fulfill two purposes: to promote hydrations, and also to limit the consumption of sugary or alcoholic beverages. “In 2015,” the guide says, “sugary drinks were the main sources of total sugars in the diets of Canadians, with children and adolescents having the highest average daily intake.” The new guide includes 100% fruit juice in the category of “sugary drink”.

  • Eat fewer processed foods: The new version of the guide includes specific warning about what not to eat – processed and prepared foods that are high in sodium, free sugars, and saturated fats, such as muffins, hot dogs, frozen pizza, chocolate, and soda. “Prepared foods” refers to restaurant or similar ready-to-eat meals that are typically high in sodium, sugar, and saturated fats.

  • A new emphasis on food behaviours: The guide includes advice on behaviours associated with healthy eating patterns, such as:

    • Be mindful of your eating habits.

    • Cook more often.

    • Enjoy your food.

    • Eat meals with others.

The new guide is in line with the action recommendations of the EAT-Lancet Commission Report Food Planet Health: Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems, which quotes Prof. Walter Willett MD of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “Transformation to healthy diets by 2050 will require substantial dietary shifts. Global consumption of fruits, vegetable, nuts and legumes will have to double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar will have to be reduced by more than 50%. A diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods confers both improved health and environmental benefits.”

The Commission looked at healthy diets as a diet that “should optimize health, defined broadly as being a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease”. They define a healthy diet as having “an optimal caloric intake and consist largely of a diversity of plant-based foods, low amounts of animal source foods, contain unsaturated rather than saturated fats, and limited amounts of refined grains, highly processed foods and added sugars.”

Paul Taylor, Executive Director of Foodshare Toronto (and formerly Executive Director of Gordon Neighbourhood House in Vancouver), in a January 30th Opinion piece for the Toronto Star, writes that he likes the plate image, which he finds much easier to understand and explain than the previous rainbow, but is concerned that “the beautiful plate of food doesn’t reflect the reality for four million Canadians who are food insecure in this country. The plate doesn’t reflect what is available in many schools and daycares across Canada.” He argues for the importance of a federally-mandated national school food program to bring nutritional standards closer to that advocated by the new Food Guide. He expresses concern that, “in a country like Canada that introduced the right to food for its citizens over four decades ago”, the new Food Guide “emphasizes drinking water, but yet communities across this country still don’t have access to safe drinking water in their homes”.

He argues for the food guide to be linked to a national food policy, noting that, whilst the heavy emphasis of the new Food Guide on plant-based foods “is good for a multitude of reasons, but the recent Canadian Food Price Report indicates that in 2019 fruits are projected to increase in cost by 3 per cent and vegetables by 6 per cent.” Based on his experience of the “huge demand for affordable, accessible and culturally diverse produce” from people accessing the 46 Foodshare Toronto produce markets across the city, his concern is that “most people know what is healthy for them to eat, but access and affordability makes the picture of the plate in the new food guide unattainable for far too many in this country.” He advocates for “policies that will meaningfully address hunger, poverty, and inequitable access to food and water” nationwide.

Shared Services Canada offers the following guide to meal planning at

UBC Food Services offer a series of accessible posts, based on the updated nutrition and sustainability targets, designed to assist with nutritional eating on a limited budget, such as “8 Tips for Healthy Eats and a Happy Wallet.”