What nutrition experts want from Canada’s new food guide

Canada's new food guide will likely emphasize vegetables and other plant-based foods, a move nutrition experts are cheering. Paul Chiasson / The Canadian Press

Canada’s new food guide comes out sometime in 2018 to help Canadians understand how to eat a healthy diet. It’s been 10 years since the guide was revised, and the old version was sometimes criticized for its servings-based approach.

READ MORE: Explaining Canada’s Food Guide and how it works

We have some clues about what the new food guide will include. Some draft “guiding principles” were posted by Health Canada in June. These are broad-strokes guidelines and will help shape the more specific advice to come in various Food Guide documents.

They recommend:

  • The regular intake of vegetables, fruit, whole grains and protein-rich foods, especially plant-based sources of protein
  • Eating foods that include mostly unsaturated fat instead of saturated fat
  • Eating more plant-based foods
  • Limiting the intake of processed and prepared foods
  • Avoiding processed beverages that are high in sugar (soft drinks, fruit drinks, etc.)
  • Sharing meals with family and friends
  • Planning and preparing healthy meals and snacks

Here’s what some nutrition experts had to say about this:

Story continues below advertisement

Plant-based foods

The first three points above deal mostly with an emphasis on plant-based foods, which is exactly what David Jenkins wants to see. Jenkins, who is the Canada Research Chair in Nutrition and Metabolism at the University of Toronto, says that this is “long overdue.”

“I personally would like to see a big emphasis on plant foods and a reduction in animal food use,” he said.

“I think this diet is suitable both for human health and for environmental health.”

He thinks that if more people emphasized plant-based foods, there would likely be less cardiovascular disease, less obesity and less diabetes.

Cooking your own food

Kate Comeau, a registered dietitian, and spokesperson for the Dietitians of Canada, was happy to see the recommendations on preparing food. “They’re not only focusing on what to eat but how to eat,” she said.

People are often confused by guidelines that give recommendations for the amounts of different nutrients that they should be eating, she said. “So what’s really helpful is when we can give food-based recommendations or talk about the types of foods that those are.”

For example, the recommendation about eating less processed food can address things like sodium and fat intake without requiring people to do math every time they reach for a snack.

Story continues below advertisement

READ MORE: What it’s like to eat according to Canada’s Food Guide

“We know the percentage of Canadians’ diets coming from processed, pre-packaged foods and restaurant foods is quite high and it’s growing. We think there is room there to shift that back to eating less-processed foods and that in itself will tend to diminish the amount of sodium, added sugar and unhealthy fats in the diet.”

Easier to understand

These draft recommendations are only articulating the policy at the highest level, said Comeau. “These guiding proposals won’t be what you will hang on your fridge or what your child will bring home from school. There will be a suite or a set of various tools in various formats that will come out of these guiding principles.”

That’s important, she said, because people of different age groups don’t have the same level of reading comprehension. She’s hoping that whatever Health Canada ends up publishing will be tailored to give appropriate advice to different groups of people.

WATCH: Global News reporters James Armstrong and Heather Loney tried following Canada’s Food Guide to the letter. Here’s what they learned in their one-week unscientific experiment.

Culturally-appropriate advice

David Lau, a professor of medicine, biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Calgary and editor-in-chief of the Canadian Journal of Diabetes, said that nowadays, this advice also needs to be tailored to different ages and cultural groups.

Story continues below advertisement

“We now have more senior citizens who are over 65 and our population is becoming more ethnically diverse,” he said. So when the food guide suggests different foods that people can eat to meet their dietary needs, they should keep in mind cultural preferences.

Many people of East Asian heritage, for example, drink very little milk, he said. Telling them to drink a glass or two of milk per day doesn’t make sense, “because it’s so foreign to this population.”

WATCH: On October 24, 2016, federal Health Minister Jane Philpott announced that the government was seeking input from Canadians about particular dietary concerns and the food guide.
Click to play video: 'Health minister announces revision of Canada’s Food Guide'
Health minister announces revision of Canada’s Food Guide

Portion size

Lau also thinks that the food guide should include advice on portion size. “People are under the impression that if I eat healthy, the portion doesn’t matter, when in fact it does,” he said.

Jenkins agrees.

“We mustn’t eat too much. You can get too much of a good thing, you know what I mean?”

Story continues below advertisement

Lau hopes that the guide will help people realize what an appropriate amount of food is. He also thinks that it should consider condiments, which were left out of the previous guide. He thinks they can make a big difference to the overall healthiness of a meal.

Public consultation

What do you think of the proposed guidelines? Health Canada wants to know. They’re asking for public feedback through a survey on their website until August 14.

Sponsored content