Plate breakdown
UHN registered dietitians who offered feedback on the new Canada Food Guide say the simplicity of the plate model and focus on plant-based foods are positive changes. (Photo: Health Canada)

Boiling it all down, UHN dietitians say the new Canada Food Guide is a welcome upgrade to encourage healthy eating.

Health Canada unveiled a new and improved food guide in January, steering away from the concept of the four food groups – fruits and vegetables, meat and legumes, dairy and grains – and focusing on what to eat regularly, what to avoid and the importance of preparing more meals at home.

It sets the table for healthy eating, overall nutrition and encourages being mindful of our environment.

"Nutrition is complicated and it can't be defined with simple recommendations," says Karla Dawdy, a registered dietitian on UHN's nephrology team. "But the new Canada Food Guide is one step to help us achieve better health outcomes."

Karla was invited to provide feedback in a focus group when Health Canada began its revision process in 2017. The guide was previously revised in 2007.

"I jumped at the opportunity because at one point, I had stopped using the guide to promote healthy eating in my practice," she says. "It appeared that clients were looking for something more."

To mark Nutrition Month in March, Karla asked a team of UHN dietitians for their take on the new guide, which received an overall positive response.

"It's extremely difficult to create a resource that will satisfy everyone, but it's definitely an improvement from the previous guide," Karla says. "It's closer to meeting the needs of a younger generation, which is crucial for disease prevention."

A snapshot of the new guidelines includes:

  • Be mindful of your eating habits
  • Eat protein-rich foods daily and choose plant-based protein more often
  • Have plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Water should be the beverage of choice
  • Choose whole grains
  • Cook more often
  • Enjoy your food
  • Eat meals with others
  • Use food labels
  • Limit foods high in sodium, sugars and saturated fats
  • Be aware of food marketing
  • Eat well. Live well.
Cook More Often 

The good – what the new guide got right:

  • The simplicity of the plate model
  • No more counting out the servings from each food group
  • A focus on a plant-based diet and its benefits
  • A trend for reducing waste when buying ingredients and preparing meals
  • Recognizing the experience of eating and how it impacts our well-being
  • Less focus on industry as a foundation for the food groups
  • It's available online to reduce paper waste and to meet the needs of a tech-savvy population
Enjoy Your Food 

The challenges – questions dietitians have about the new guide include:

  • How do you make sure people are getting enough or too much of one food category?
  • What are the right portions and how does the guide apply across the lifespan?
  • Does it oversimplify the diet?
  • Does it send the message that dairy products and animal-based proteins are generally unhealthy?
  • How do you include foods with higher sugar and fat in a healthy way?
  • Is the new guide inaccessible for those who don't have access to or lack the skills to use the internet?
  • Is the new guide culturally inclusive?
  • Are the guidelines financially achievable for low-income Canadians?
Limit Sodium Sugars 

Intended for the general population

The new food guide is research based, but it is intended for the general population.

"If you have special nutrition requirements, it's recommended to seek out the advice of a Registered Dietitian (RD)," Karla advises.

There are also specific guidelines available for nutrition during pregnancy, lactation and infant feeding.

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