Canada's Food Guide will now focus on more than just food

A look at the brand new, revised Canada Food Guide. (Health Canada)

The new edition of the Canada Food Guide puts more focus on healthy eating habits and food literacy, rather than what and how much to consume.

The update, released on Tuesday, doesn’t feature specific food groups or serving suggestions, as it has in the past. It instead creates a foundation for healthy eating and food skills, with updated guidance on saturated fat, sodium and sugar.

The Canada Food Guide was first launched in 1942, under the name Canada’s Official Food Rules. The resource is based on scientific research and consultation and is intended to be implemented in schools, promoted by doctors and used as a reference guide in public institutions like daycares and long-term care facilities.  Past incarnations of the document have grouped foods into different categories and included suggestions on how many daily serving of each to eat. The last version of Canada’s food guide was released in 2007.

While the current guide doesn’t centre on different food groupings, it does encourage regular consumptions of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and protein foods, with an emphasis on the inclusion of more plant-based options. The new guide also promotes behavioural eating habits like cooking more often, eating meals with people from different cultures and generations and observing food-based tradition.  

How vs. How much

Nazima Qureshi, a Toronto-based registered dietician, says nutritional information is constantly evolving and the guide was in line for an update. By shifting the focus to how we eat rather than how much we should eat, the guide can have an impact on Canadians’ food habits.

“I find it really interesting that it’s more focused on how we make decisions,” she tells Yahoo Canada News. “Whether it’s eating together, being more mindful, cooking more at home, as well as keeping in mind environmental concerns.”

The push to incorporate more plant-based foods feels relevant, Qureshi says, as meatless lifestyles becomes increasingly mainstream.

“They aren’t saying that everyone should be a vegan or vegetarian, but incorporate more plant-based proteins,” she says. “That could mean having vegetarian meals once or twice a week as a family and including more lentils, chickpeas and tofu.”

Since starting in her field three years ago, Qureshi’s noticed people are more inclined to use social media or food bloggers as a nutritional resources, rather than consult with a professional. This has the potential to lead to fad diets, which thrive on hashtags, but can be dangerous to those with compromised health.

Nutritionists over Food Guide?

“There’s a lot of trends, and there’s really no backing to it,” she says. “Unless you’re speaking to a dietician to get an idea if this is something you should be following, it could be harmful to your health to introduce an extreme new diet.”

The new Canada’s Dietary Guidelines, a guide intended for health care professionals and policy makers, warns that some fad diets can “be restrictive and pose nutritional risks.”

Qureshi hopes Canadians find the new guide useful, but stresses those with health issues or dietary concerns should always consult with professionals.

“Nutritionists and dieticians are a safe place for people to come and get a better understanding on how how their diets can change and how to make positive improvements,” she says.