What’s on Your Plate?


The 2019 Canada Food Guide and 5 Reasons I Love It

Yesterday, part one of the much anticipated updated Canada Food Guide, 2019 was released. It was last updated in 2007 and much has changed since then. It is a significant departure from past versions of the Food Guide. My initial observations were that:

  • It is relevant, modern and based on the latest evidence

  • It looks at not just what we eat but how we eat

  • It embraces diversity in eating by including a range of foods

  • It encourages skill-building around foods

  • It is user friendly, presented in an infographic format, with visual cues that stick

  • As a living document it can be readily updated

  • Provides resources such as recipes right from the Health Canada website.

The consultation process was comprehensive and involved input from multiple stakeholders, including the public, organizations and professionals. Notably absent from the consultation process were members of the food and beverage industry.

The new Guide embraces stakeholder feedback and uses current evidence for healthy eating for everyone over the age of two years. The guiding principles were created to serve 37 million Canadians, helping individuals and families to make informed choices and encouraging self-efficacy to protect their health and wellness. No small feat.

In addition, diet is one of the key drivers of health and our public institutions have to get this right. This document will provide direction to institutions such as daycares, schools, prisons, hospitals and long-term care homes. It is a powerful tool for change.


Key takeaways from the new guide:

  • Eat a variety of healthy foods  - veggies and fruits, whole grain foods and proteins every day

  • Choose plant-based proteins such as beans and nuts more often

  • Make water your drink of choice

  • Practice mindfulness around food and eating

  • Cook more often

  • Take pleasure in your food

  • Eat with others and share food traditions

  • Limit foods high in the three ‘S’s: Sugar, Saturated Fat and Salt

  • Eat highly processed foods less often

  • Read food labels

  • Awareness that marketing can influence your choices


Food Guides Then and Now

 Food guides were first introduced during WWII as a means of preventing malnutrition, especially in children, during the food shortages and rationing common at that time. One goal of better health during that period was to improve immunity for the fight against viruses and bacteria. Antibiotics against bacterial infection were only just being introduced and most were being sent to Europe for the soldiers.

We have moved into a different health landscape where chronic disease is profoundly impacting the quality of peoples’ lives every day in Canada. Preventing chronic disease such as heart disease, stroke, dementia, type 2 diabetes and cancer, has become a key motivator for healthy eating and healthy lifestyles. This guide represents a timely response to the changing needs of a society that is facing a huge burden from chronic disease.

5 Reasons Why I Love This New Food Guide:

1. Food groups have been replaced with food patterns and groupings.

This is a wonderful way to better reflect the way that people think about eating in their daily lives.

2. Food portions have been replaced by plate proportions.

Food portions, while still useful in some circumstances, are somewhat unwieldy and often confusing. Inherent in a ‘Mindful’ approach to eating is recognizing and responding to hunger and fullness cues rather than having externally imposed portion sizes dictate how much to eat. Dietitians may use a ‘Hunger and Fullness’ scale to assist clients rediscover, appreciate and trust their personal food needs and satiety at any given snack or meal.

 3. Encourages Plant based Eating

I support clients every day who want to make positive changes to their health through the food choices they are making. An increasing evidence base, that I have watched grow over the years, supports the value of plant-based eating. A largely plant-based diet has health advantages and has been associated with:

  • Lower risk of heart disease

  • Lower cholesterol

  • Lower blood pressure

  • Lower risk of type 2 diabetes

  • Protection against some cancers

  • Healthier weights

  • Healthier gut microbiomes

  • Improved mental health such as anxiety and mood

 4. The New Guide addresses the social component and pleasure of food.

While food serves a functional role to support our physical health, it plays a more global social role. There is profound value in shared meals.  Family engagement over a meal has been shown to improve mental health outcomes in teens, such as reducing anxiety and improving mood. Lighting a candle can encourage people to hang around a little longer at the dinner table.   

5. Awareness of the influence of advertising, product placement and the ubiquitous presence of food.

The environment in which we buy and consume food is addressed acknowledging the often subtle, yet powerful, messaging of advertising through mass marketing and product placement. Recognizing the influence and tricks of the intentional placement of food items in our everyday environment provides leverage in taking back your own power to choose what will best serve your health. The current advertising and food consumption opportunities that a person is exposed to in any given day can overwhelm our brains and impedes the ability to make healthy choices.

Health Canada has listened to the evidence and responded with an on-point document for change.  However, another part of the health equation is food security and affordability. Many people in Canada can afford to follow the principles outlined in the new Food Guide, but one in eight Canadian households are unable to afford the foods that we know can prevent the steady decline into chronic illness. Affordability is a significant barrier to healthy eating and a predictor of health and illness. I am grateful to the dietitians and other stakeholders who continue to work to influence governments and advocate to make healthy choices affordable choices for all Canadians.

All content provided on this website is for general information purposes only and is not intended to replace medical or specialist advice.

A qualified Medical Herbalist is always your best resource for information related to herbal medicines.

Registered Dietitians are a reliable and trusted resource for nutrition related information, always up to date and always ready to work with you to realise your goals.

Jill Burns