The New Canada Food Guide – high carbohydrate & limited saturated fat

The new Canada Food Guide was officially released in Montreal today, January 22, 2019 and the suite of Food Guide resources includes;

  • Canada’s Dietary Guidelines for Health Professionals and Policy Makers
  • Food Guide Snapshot
  • Resources such as actionable advice, videos and recipes
  • Evidence including the Evidence Review for Dietary Guidance 2015 and the Food, Nutrients and Health: Interim Evidence Update 2018
Canada Food Guide “plate”

Canada Food Guide – directed towards healthy Canadians

According to Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide – A Resource for Educators and Communicators the goal of Canada’s Food Guide is to ‘define and promote healthy eating for Canadians’ and to ‘translate the science of nutrition and health into a healthy eating pattern’. By definition, Canada’s Food Guide is directed towards a healthy Canadian population so they can meet their nutrient needs and reduce their risk of obesity and chronic diseases.

“By following Canada’s Food Guide, Canadians will be able to meet their nutrient needs and reduce their risk of obesity and chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer and osteoporosis.”

The New Canada Food Guide – no more rainbow

The familiar “rainbow” visual has been replaced with clear, simple photography illustrating food choices. In response to feedback from focus groups that the draft of the Guide focused too much on “how to eat” but didn’t provide adequate direction on “what to eat”, the final version clearly illustrates the proportion of vegetables and fruit, grains and protein foods to eat on a plate.

“Protein Foods”

As anticipated in the draft, the new Canada Food Guide dropped the Meat and Milk groups replacing it with an all-inclusive Protein food group which includes approximately equal amounts of animal-based and plant-based proteins.

Protein Foods Group

Animal-based proteins included beef, poultry, fish, egg and yogurt. Noticeably absent from animal-based proteins was cheese.

Plant-based proteins included legumes and pulses (beans and lentils), nuts and seeds and tofu.

Whole Grains

Whole Grains Food Group

The Whole Grain group is visually exemplified by whole grain bread, pasta, rice, wild rice, and quinoa and the link that relates to “whole grain foods” contains the following information;

  • Whole grain foods are good for you
  • Whole grain foods have important nutrients such as: fiber, vitamins and minerals
  • Whole grain foods are a healthier choice than refined grains because whole grain foods include all parts of the grain. Refined grains have some parts of the grain removed during processing.
  • Whole grain foods have more fibre than refined grains. Eating foods higher in fibre can help lower your risk of stroke, colon cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes
  • Make sure your choices are actually whole grain. Whole wheat and multi-grain foods may not be whole grain. Some foods may look like they are whole grain because of their colour, but they may not be. Read the ingredient list and choose foods that have the word ”whole grain” followed by the name of the grain as one of the first ingredients like; whole grain oats, whole grain wheat. Whole wheat foods are not whole grain, but can still be a healthy choice as they contain fibre.
  • Use the nutrition facts table to compare the amount of fibre between products. Look at the % daily value to choose those with more fibre.

Vegetables and Fruit

Vegetable and Fruit Food Group

The new Guide illustrated that 1/2 the plate should be comprised of vegetables and fruit and the plate showed mostly non-starchy vegetables as broccoli, carrot, shredded peppers, cabbage, spinach and tomato, with a small amount of starchy vegetables as potato, yam and peas.

Fruit as blueberries, strawberry and apple was illustrated as a small proportion of the overall.

Beverage of Choice – water

The place setting showed a glass of water with the words “make water your drink of choice”; which indicates that fruit juice and pop (soft drinks) are not included as part of a recommended diet, but what about milk?

It is good that water is promoted as the beverage of choice, but why does the Guide doesn’t also illustrate a small glass of milk? The absence of milk in the new Guide seems odd.

Note: with both cheese and milk being limited in this new food guide, adequate calcium intake may be of concern; especially since vegetables that are high in calcium will have that calcium made unavailable to the body due to the high amounts of phytates, oxylates and lectins that are contained in the grains, nuts and seeds that are also in the diet.

Healthy Food Choices

The link for “healthy food choices” indicates;

  • Make it a habit to eat a variety of healthy foods each day.
  • Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, whole grain foods and protein foods. Choose protein foods that come from plants more often.
  • Choose foods with healthy fats instead of saturated fat
    Limit highly processed foods. If you choose these foods, eat them less often and in small amounts.
  • Prepare meals and snacks using ingredients that have little to no added sodium, sugars or saturated fat
  • Choose healthier menu options when eating out
  • Make water your drink of choice
  • Replace sugary drinks with water
  • Use food labels
  • Be aware that food marketing can influence your choices

Eating Habits

The link for “healthy eating habits” indicates;

  • Healthy eating is more than the foods you eat. It is also about where, when, why and how you eat.
  • Be mindful of your eating habits
  • Take time to eat
  • Notice when you are hungry and when you are full
  • Cook more often
  • Plan what you eat
  • Involve others in planning and preparing meals
  • Enjoy your food
  • Culture and food tradition can be a part of healthy eating
  • Eat meal with others

Additional links on the web page include, Recipes, Tips and Resources.

First Impressions of the New Canada Food Guide

Overall, I think the new Canada Food Guide is visually clear, well illustrated and in terms of a communication tool is a huge improvement over its predecessor. It promotes a whole food diet with minimum processing, advises people to limit refined carbohydrates and sugary beverages as well as encourages people to cook their own food. It is neat, clean and appealing to look at and use.

I have two main concerns with respect to the Guide;

(1) the percentage of carbohydrate in the diet given the number of Canadians who are already metabolically unwell
(2) the focus on avoiding saturated fat as presumably a risk to health

Percentage of Carbohydrate in the Diet

At first glance, it would appear that the overall macronutrient distribution of the new Guide is ~10-15% of calories as protein, 15-20% as fat, leaving the remaining 65-75% of calories as carbohydrate (based on estimates by Dr. Dave Harper, visiting scientist at BC Cancer Research Institute, social media post). While no portions are set out in this new Guide, based on the carbohydrate (and protein) content of the legumes and pulses (beans, lentils) and nuts and seeds contained in the Protein food group, as well as their proportion of the food group, and the fact that they are encouraged to be eaten ‘more often’ than meat, the protein estimate seems accurate. As well, the carbohydrate content seems accurate based on the proportion of the Whole Grain group and carbohydrate-containing other foods relative to the proportion of other foods.

While this diet may be fine for those who are metabolically healthy, research indicates that as many as 88% of Americans [1] are already metabolically unwell, with presumably a large percentage of Canadians as well.

That is, only 12% have metabolic health defined as have levels of metabolic markers “consistent with a high level of health and low risk of impending cardiometabolic disease“. Metabolic Health is defined as [1];

  1. Waist Circumference: < 102 cm (40 inches) for men and 88 cm (34.5 inches) in women
  2. Systolic Blood Pressure: < 120 mmHG
  3. Diastolic Blood Pressure: < 80 mmHG
  4. Glucose: < 5.5 mmol/L (100 mg/dL)
  5. HbA1c: < 5.7%
  6. Triglycerides: < 1.7 mmol/l (< 150 mg/dL)
  7. HDL cholesterol: ≥ 1.00 mmol/L (≥40 mg/dL) in men and ≥ 1.30 mmol/L (50 mg/dl) in women

When looking at only 3 of the above 7 factors (waist circumference, blood glucose levels and blood pressure) more than 50% in this study were considered metabolically unhealthy [1]. Given the slightly lower rates of obesity in Canada (1 in 4) as in the United States (1 in 3), presumably there is a slightly lower percentage of Canadians who are metabolically unhealthy, but the similarity of our diets may make that difference insignificant.

This would indicate that for a large percentage of Canadians that are  metabolically unwell, a diet that provides provides ~325-375 g of carbohydrate per day (based on a 2000 kcal per day diet) is not going to adequately address the underlying cause. While there is evidence that a high complex carbohydrate diet with very low fat and moderately-low protein intake (called a “whole food plant based” / WFPB diet) will improve weight and some markers of metabolic health, there is also evidence that a WFPB diet doesn’t work as well at improvements in body weight and metabolic markers as a low carbohydrate higher protein and fat (LCHF) diet. This will be addressed in a future article.

The purpose of Canada’s Food Guide is to provide guidance for healthy Canadians so in actuality, this diet may only be appropriate for ~15% of adults.

Saturated Fat

The indication to “choose foods with healthy fats instead of saturated fat” and to “prepare meals and snacks using ingredients that have little to no added sodium, sugars or saturated fat” sends the message that saturated fat is unhealthy.

It is well-known that saturated fat raises LDL-cholesterol however it must be specified which type of LDL-cholesterol increases. There are small, dense LDL cholesterol which easily penetrates the artery wall and which are associated with heart disease [2,3,4,5] and large, fluffy LDL cholesterol      which are not [6,7].

The long-standing and apparently ongoing recommendation to limit saturated fat is based on it resulting in an increase in overall LDL-cholesterol and not on evidence that increased saturated fat in the diet results in heart disease.

What do recent studies show?

Eight recent meta-analysis and systemic reviews which reviewed evidence from randomized control trials (RCT) that had been conducted between 2009-2017 did not find an association between saturated fat intake and the risk of heart disease [8-15] and the results of the largest and most global epidemiological study published in December 2017 in The Lancet [16] found that those who ate the largest amount of saturated fats had significantly reduced rates of mortality and that low consumption (6-7% of calories) of saturated fat was associated with increased risk of stroke.

UPDATE: There are 44 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of drug or dietary interventions to lower total LDL-cholesterol that showed no benefit on death rates. (Reference:  DuBroff R. Cholesterol paradox: a correlate does not a surrogate make. Evid Based Med 2017;22(1):15—9.

Canadians are being encouraged to limit foods that are sources of saturated fat. In fact, cheese and milk aren’t even illustrated as foods to regularly include.

Where is the evidence that eating foods with saturated fat is dangerous to health — not simply that it raises overall LDL-cholesterol? I believe that for Canadians to be advised to limit cheese and milk which are excellent sources of protein and dietary calcium and to limit other foods high in saturated fat necessitates more than proxy measurements of higher total LDL-cholesterol.

Dr. Zoe Harcombe a UK based nutrition with a PhD in public health nutrition wrote an article this time last year about saturated fat [17] which is helpful to refer to here.

People have the idea that meat has saturated fat and foods like nuts and olives have unsaturated fats, but Dr. Harcombe points out that;

“All foods that contain fat contain all three fats — saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated — there are no exceptions.”

This article explains may explain why cheese was not included as part of the visual representation of animal-based Protein Foods in the new Guide and why milk was not visually represented because “the only food group that contains more saturated than unsaturated fat is dairy”.

A link off the main page of the new Canada Food Guide explains how to “limit the amount of foods containing saturated fat” such as;

Limit foods that contain saturated fat

“Limit the amount of foods containing saturated fat, such as:


higher fat meats
cheeses and foods containing a lot of cheese

Are Canadians being encouraged to avoid cheese and milk because they are high in saturated fat? Where is the evidence that saturated fat contributes to heart disease?

There is proxy data that saturated fat raises total LDL-cholesterol, but not that saturated fat causes heart disease.  In fact, a review of the recently literature finds that it does not (see above).

If saturated fat actually puts one’s health at risk, then Canadians should be warned that olive oil has 7 times the amount of saturated fat as the sirloin steak illustrated below and the mackerel has 1- 1/2 times the saturated fat as the sirloin steak [16] yet the new Guide recommends that Canadian’s choose foods with “healthy fats” such as fatty fish including mackerel and to use “healthy fats” such as olive oil.

from Reference #17

Final thoughts…

In generations past, Canada food Guide helped Canadians make food choices in order to achieve adequate nutrition for themselves and their families, especially in the early years after WWII.  With current rates of overweight, obesity, Type 2 Diabetes and other forms of metabolic dysregulation, I wonder how few this beautiful new Guide is appropriate for.

If you would like to learn more about how I can help you or a family member achieve and maintain a healthy body weight and to achieve metabolic health, please send me a note using the Contact Me form located on the tab above.

To our good health!


In the following post, I validate the average amount of carbohydrate in this new Canada Food Guide.

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  1. Araíºjo J, Cai J, Stevens J. Prevalence of Optimal Metabolic Health in American Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009—2016. Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders Vol 20, No. 20, pg 1-7, DOI: 10.1089/met.2018.0105
  2. Tribble DL, Holl LG, Wood PD, et al. Variations in oxidative susceptibility among six low density lipoprotein subfractions of differing density and particle size. Atherosclerosis 1992;93:189—99
  3. Gardner CD, Fortmann SP, Krauss RM, Association of Small Low-Density Lipoprotein Particles With the Incidence of Coronary Artery Disease in Men and Women, JAMA. 1996;276(11):875-881
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