Featured Food & nutrition Sunnybrook Academic Family Health Team Wellness

The low-down on Canada’s new food guide

Canada's Food Guide

Canada’s Food Guide just went through a major overhaul. So what’s in and what’s out? Three Sunnybrook registered dietitians – Annie Hoang, Marsha Feldt and Jill Zweig – offer their insights on the changes and what they mean for Canadians.

How often is Canada’s Food Guide updated, and who decides the changes?

Canada’s Food Guide was first developed in 1942, and there have been five revisions since.  The most recent was in 2007, and this new version is a significant departure from the previous ones.  The latest version was produced in consultation with the general public, policy makers and healthcare professionals, and was developed to be inclusive of our Canadian diversity, including Indigenous Peoples.

What are the biggest changes in this latest update?

This newest version of Canada’s Food Guide extends beyond talking about what to eat, and provides guidance on how to eat.  Most notably, the “four food groups” are no longer. Instead, healthy eating behaviours, such as cooking more often, eating with others, being mindful of your eating habits and enjoying your food, are emphasized. The update encourages plant-based eating, with more focus on vegetables, fruit and whole grains.  The new protein group encourages a variety of foods in addition to meat, such as fish, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds and low-fat dairy.  Canadians are also encouraged to consume whole foods and limit processed foods, which are often high in sugar, sodium and saturated fats.

This update also replaces the old rainbow background many people will remember with a new icon: a plate. The plate model gives a useful visual snapshot of what healthy meal portions look like, and the importance of overall balance.

What do these changes mean for Canadians?

A few important things. First, it will help Canadians identify healthy food choices, and will encourage healthy lifestyle behaviours. That’s because the new Guide encourages Canadians to think beyond just food choices, and to consider eating in a more mindful and healthy way.

It is also a more practical educational resource that can be adapted to a range of individual and cultural needs and preferences. Following a balanced plate, according to the Guide, is a simple and effective way to create a healthy meal. This approach also puts less emphasis on specific serving sizes.

The new online version of Canada’s Food Guide is currently available and is user-friendly, easy to navigate and provides additional tips and useful resources such as recipes.

Are there recommendations that haven’t changed?

The recommendation to eat more vegetables and fruit continues to be prominent in this update.  And while the former Guide mentioned whole grains and fats and oils, this version provides clearer guidance on choosing whole grains, and healthy fats.

What’s would you like people to take away from all this?

The bottom line is that healthy eating behaviours and balancing good nutrition is a key part of a healthy lifestyle.  Eat more plant-based, minimally processed foods and enjoy them mindfully.  Healthy eating can be simple and enjoyable!​ 

Any other thoughts?

The revision of Canada’s Food Guide is a great opportunity to revisit our eating habits, and work on implementing healthier eating strategies.  It’s already generating a lot of discussion around healthy eating, and the benefits of making healthier food choices.

As a tool, it can help point Canadians in the right direction when it comes to building overall healthy eating habits. For those who have more specialized nutritional needs, working with a registered dietitian can help create an individualized nutrition care plan.