What’s up with Canada’s new Food Guide (and should we even care)?

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What’s up with Canada’s New Food Guide (and should we even care)?

If you’re a Canadian who cares about health, you’ve probably been hearing about the “new & improved” Food Guide. If you’re a nutrition professional like me, you’re probably wondering whether or not to even pay attention to it for your practice. If you’re either, you may have contributed some comments toward shaping it.

I don’t need to tell you how fundamentally important our food choices are to our overall health & wellness, right? Our diets are the #1 contributor to disease and death! #quotemeonthatone

The leading risk factor in Canada is dietary risks.

The big question is: What’s up with Canada’s new Food Guide (and should we even care)?

While the details have not been officially released yet (part 1 later this year, and part 2 in 2019), there are a lot of people who have insight as to what’s up. Last night, I heard from several of them. The Waterloo Region Food System Roundtable hosted an event called: Canadian Food Guide – Eating for People and the Planet.

Yes, people AND the planet! Right there you can see one of the advances that the Food Guide is going through (hello environmental impact!). #hint

More importantly:

  • Will there be updates to the recommendations themselves, and if so, will they be based on science, special interest groups, or industry pressure?
  • What other factors are considered in the recommendations (i.e. environmental impact, physical activity)?
  • How will the recos will be presented and communicated so the Food Guide becomes a more useful tool for “Joe Canadian?” (or “Bob & Doug McKenzie” or “Mike from Canmore” –  or Jann Arden, Sarah McLachlan, Alanis Morrisette, and the other millions of lovely Canadian women.) 🙂

So, let’s start with the tidbits I learned about what is being ditched from the old Food Guide.


Out with the old….


Canada’s food guide has evolved with 8 updates over the past 76 years.

And, yep, in the past, the food industry has sat at the table with other stakeholders to help shape the food guides. If you haven’t heard yet – that is NOT the case here!

Out with the old stakeholders…


You know those “foods to limit” – what are the limits anyway?

Right now, the Food Guide has a category for “foods to limit.” This includes typical “junk” foods that are high in sugar, salt, fat, and calories. Do you know how much the limit is for these foods? How much leeway does our current Food Guide, if followed to a “T,” have for such foods?

The answer is 5% of calories/day. Yep, a whopping 100 cal/day for the average adult who should eat 2,000 cal/day. That’s about 2 Oreo cookies, or less than one sugar-sweetened beverage. PER DAY.

So, if you are one of the 0.5% of Canadians who eat the recommended 5-10 servings of fruits & vegetables per day, etc. You have about 100 calories left per day for a treat!

While I don’t know if this is going to be ditched or not, I hope it will be made clearer in the updated Food Guide so that more people will know and understand this!


In with the new…


Science vs Industry

I’m pretty happy about the fact that industry has been kept at arms length! Of course they, just like you and I and all Canadians, were welcome to give feedback, industry is NOT sitting at the table with Health Canada to put the new Food Guide together.

There is a strong emphasis and transparency around the pursuit of making the recommendations based on the science alone. Not special interests. Not big food. Not big ag. Just the science.

No conflicts of interest.

Industry was allowed to comment, just as you and I were – but they were NOT consulted in determining the future of Canada’s new Food Guide.

And, while nutrition science may seem to be messy (newsflash: much of the mess is social media & news reporting), there are a lot of fundamental recommendations that have held water in study after study.

Nix the juice

One thing that may be removed from the new version of the Food Guide is juice. Juice, especially pre-packaged juice, is essentially sugar water with maybe a vitamin or two. I can’t put it better than Yoni Freedhoff, MD as he eloquently explained in one of his critiques of the Food Guide a few years ago:

Juice is NOT a F@*#$*&g Fruit! … Juice is sugar water with vitamins. It has drop per drop the same amount of sugar as soda pop and in some cases more (like that grape juice which has double the sugar of Coca-Cola – 10 staggering teaspoons a glass). Liquid calories don’t satiate, and they don’t pack the fibre and phytonutrients of actual fruit.


Consider different populations

Health Canada is moving away from the 1-page format, to include multiple tools and is considering the traditions of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people.

What’s staying the same?

Apparently Health Canada’s position on sodium and trans fat has been re-affirmed. So, we should not expect any changes in these areas. I didn’t get much more info on what is for sure staying the same.

Other non-food factors considered

I already hinted as to the environmental considerations. Last night, Goretty Dias, PhD, a University of Waterloo professor in the school of Environment, Enterprise and Development had some great news. We probably know that the carbon footprint of our Canadian diets is quite high. Dr. Dias published her study on the Global Warming Potential of Ontario food consumption and waste. She found that

The findings suggest that Ontario residents prefer DPs rich in animal products (particularly beef) that have very high GWP. Further, reducing food waste could reduce GWP by up to 8%.

It’s likely that Canada’s new Food Guide will focus more on plant-based eating, and possibly how to reduce food waste too!

Yep! There’s an app for that!

If  you didn’t know, there IS an app for the Food Guide. When you enter your info, it helps to customize a daily food plan for you AND includes physical activities. Plus, it specifically recommends satisfying your thirst with… you guessed it – WATER! This app is based on the current Food Guide, and hopefully there will be a revision with the new one.

HOW we eat

Another possible addition to the Food Guide is about HOW we eat. We know that eating food isn’t just about nutrition, right? I mean, Food = Nutrition + Social + Delicious, right?   Food = Nutrition + Social + Delicious, right? #food #nutrition #social #delicious Click To Tweet     They are all part and parcel of the experience of eating, so will they be included in the latest update? I don’t know many details, but presumably eating with others instead of alone, eating slower and possibly more mindfully come to mind. I will be looking out for what this looks like once the final version is released!

Other (greater) impacts to how people eat

Any food guide is an educational tool. It is meant to help people make healthier decisions and get balanced nutrition. We know that almost everyone thinks they eat according to the current guide (80%), yet when measured, almost no one actually does (0.5%).   Why does this matter?   First of all, we can’t go blaming the food guide for all of the health issues and diseases that are rampant in our society. Perhaps we can partially blame how the messages have been communicated, but if people don’t follow it, the recommendations themselves are not to blame. I mean, even if you disagree with some of the current recommendations itself (e.g. 1/2 cup of juice is one serving of fruit), very few people are even getting some of the non-disputable recommendations of at least 5 servings of vegetables each day. So, if we consider the Food Guide to be one tool in the toolbox that can help guide individual food choices, let’s set reasonable expectations around how effective that can be. But, what about everything else?   Let's consider the Food Guide to be 1 tool in the toolbox to guide individual food choices - let's set reasonable expectations around how effective that can be in light of other, much larger, factors. #Canada #foodguide #healthyeating Click To Tweet

Desire to eat and convenience

Leia Minaker, PhD is a professor at University of Waterloo’s School of Planning. She gave a great presentation about the other (often stronger) factors that influence an individual’s food choices. In the grand scheme, our individual choices are directed by many more and powerful factors. Factors including Interpersonal (i.e. who are we with? Are we at a party?; Organizational (i.e. what’s in the cafeteria? Is it pizza day?); Community (i.e. how close am I to buy food & what kind of store is it? Is there a drive-through on the way home?); and Public Policy (i.e. agricultural subsidies, advertising/labelling regulations, etc.) As chef and restaurateur Nick Benninger said:

It’s not lack of commitment, it’s desire to eat the foods I’m surrounded with.

Nick said that people are now eating out or getting restaurant food delivered far more often than they used to.   (Not so) FUN FACT: Today’s average restaurant meal has grown 500+ calories since the 1970s! So, how can people in a competitive industry like restaurants make healthy food sexy? How can the menu, or even Instagram pics do more toward helping people eat better? How can people in a competitive industry like restaurants make healthy food sexy? #restaurant #healthyeating #competition Click To Tweet   One way is by consistently getting requests from their customers. Forward-thinking entrepreneurs want a competitive edge. They want to tap into emerging trends. They don’t want to be taxed on French fries. They want to see an increase in both healthy eating AND profit!

Satisfying hunger

Let’s go one step further than desire and convenience and talk about the physiological need to actually satisfy hunger. On an individual basis, as described by Ellen Gregg, RD, PhD, our choices are made by our “executive functioning.” This is the part of our brain that drives willpower, and yes, it becomes less effective when we’re hungry. This is where the term “hangry” comes from. The impact that hunger has on our moods and minds. It’s kind of unfair if you think about it. When we’re hungry and we need to eat is the time when we have a lower capacity to make good and healthy decisions. As Dr. Minaker says, and we can all probably agree:

Often opportunities to eat less healthfully are more abundant and less expensive.

So, whether there will be public policy changes coinciding with Canada’s new Food Guide remains to be seen.

Quote of the night award…





When Canada’s new Food Guide is finalized and officially published we can all have a closer look to see the actual recommendations, other factors, and how it’s presented and communicated.

More importantly, we can recognize that it is an educational tool that nutrition pros and everyone else can use as one part of the whole food equation when it comes to diets.


Signing off and toasting: To being cautiously optimistic that the new food guide will be based on science, in a format that is meaningful, and communicated in a way that is understood!


Over to you


What are your thoughts on the current Food Guide? Or comments on the intel for the soon-to-be-released Food Guide? I’d love to know (in the comments below)!



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I'm Leesa Klich, MSc., R.H.N.
Health writer – Blogging expert – Research nerd.

I help health and wellness professionals build their authority with scientific health content. They want to stand out in the crowded, often unqualified, market of entrepreneurs. I help them establish trust with their audiences, add credibility to their services, and save them a ton of time so they don’t have to do the research or writing themselves. To work with me, click here.


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