Canada’s New Food Guide: What You Need to Know

Canada's New Food Guide: Everything You Need to Know | Dr. Ali Ghahary

Canada’s Food Guide has undergone a major overhaul, its first revision since 2007. The biggest change of all, perhaps, is that the food guide no longer focuses on food groups or recommended serving sizes. Instead, the emphasis is put on incorporating more plant-based foods our diets while also urging Canadians to educate themselves when it comes to making healthier food choices.

As mentioned, it’s recommended that we include more plant-based foods in our diets. These include fruits, vegetables, plant-based protein, and whole grains. Fruits and vegetables are good for you as they are rich in important nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fibre. While the new Canadian Food Guide is void of portion sizes, it’s still recommended that at least half of your plate consists of a variety of fruits and vegetables. Some examples include apples, pears, peaches, berries, zucchini, broccoli, cabbage, and leafy greens (such as spinach, kale, or romaine lettuce.) While fresh fruits and vegetables are the best, ones that are frozen or canned can be just as healthy as long as they don’t contain any added sugars, sodium, seasonings, or are smothered in rich sauces. How you prepare your fruits and vegetables is also important, and it is recommended that you either bake, roast or steam them. Stir-frying is also another cooking method you can use, especially if you are incorporating your vegetables into meals like teriyaki chicken. To enhance the flavour of your vegetables, try adding a small amount of fresh herbs or spices along with olive oil, lemon juice, or vinegar. If you’re making soup, you can also add pureed pumpkin or squash to make it rich and creamy. Raw vegetables such as cucumber, carrots, peppers (yellow, green or red), and cherry or grape tomatoes also make for great snacks and can be served with a low-fat, low-calorie homemade dip (such as ranch dip, hummus, or tzatziki.) Similarly, fruits can be considered a healthy after-meal dessert either on their own or by adding them into Greek yogurt.

When it comes to grains, you’ll want to avoid those that are refined and instead consume whole grain foods. Whole grain foods, like fruits and vegetables, also contain important nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fibre, which can help reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and even colon cancer. Much of the grain-containing foods we like are high in sodium, saturated fat and sugar. These include foods like bread, muffins, crackers, and pasta. You’ll want to avoid these and should instead focus on things like quinoa, and whole grain brown or wild rice. If you are going to be wanting pasta or bread, you should make sure they are whole grain as well. It is important to note that whole wheat foods are not the same as whole grain but can be just as healthy as they also contain fibre. Other great whole grain foods include oats, buckwheat, farro, freekeh, amaranth, and barley.

When you think of protein, the most common thing you probably think of is chicken. While this is a great food to incorporate in your diet, there are other healthy meat-based proteins, too, such as turkey, beef and pork. You’ll also want to make sure you’re choosing leaner cuts. In addition to meats and poultry, we should also focus more on plant-based protein. Quinoa, as mentioned above, is not only a grain, but also high in protein, as are various nuts and seeds such as peanuts, almonds, cashews and sunflower seeds, fish such as shrimp, salmon, scallops and sardines, low-fat dairy products like milk and yogurt, as well as beans, peas and lentils such as split peas, chickpeas and kidney beans. When preparing protein, make sure you remove any skin from poultry and trim visible fat from meat. When cooking protein, use methods that require little to no added saturated fat, such as baking, grilling or roasting, and drain off any fat after cooking. You can also enhance the flavour of protein with different herbs or salsa, as well as by using a small amount of oil – such as olive or canola.

Now that you know which foods to include more of in your diet, you also need to be aware of the foods to avoid. Some of the worst foods are those that are processed, which includes things like fast food (French fries and burgers, for example), frozen/microwavable entrees, chocolate, candy, ice cream, processed deli meats, and bakery products (such as cakes, muffins, and other pastries.) These foods are high in sugars, sodium and saturated fats which can potentially lead to heart disease, diabetes, cavities, and even obesity. If you’re someone who regularly eats highly processed foods, you’ll want to limit them as much as possible for avoid them all together. If you’re craving a sugary drink, like fruit juice or soda, replace it with water and add in some lemon and lime for extra flavour. You can also add your favourite fruit to water, too. It’s also easy to run into highly processed foods when dining out, so if you are going to be eating at a restaurant, try to look at the menu ahead of time to figure out what you want. If you’re unsure of the nutritional value of the food you’re going to be ordering, you can always call the restaurant ahead of time or ask your server for recommendations.

Lastly, you should also be mindful of your eating habits. This not only includes what you eat, but when you eat, how you eat, where you eat, how much you eat, and why you eat. For example, did you eat slow or fast? Did you eat because you were hungry or were you emotional-eating? What time was it when you ate? These are all important questions to ask yourself as they can help you make more healthy and positive choices in the long-run. It’s also important to be aware of your eating environment. Certain environments can come with distractions, as well as less-healthy options. For example, schools or work often have cafeterias or vending machines, which don’t usually have the healthiest of choices, so it’s recommended that you make your meals at home ahead of time.

Click here for more information on Canada’s updated Food Guide