Note: this article is both an editorial (expressing my personal opinion on the subject) as well as a Science Made Simple article, rooted in the literature.
The new Canada’s Food Guide (CFG) hangs on three Guidelines and unfortunately many people discount the Guide entirely because of the caveats to which they are linked. In my opinion, this is a little bit like “throwing the baby out with the bath water”. The essence of the three Guidelines are sound and worth considering.
I have elaborated at length in previous fully referenced articles (such as here and here) as to why I believe that one of these caveats; the insistence that dietary saturated fat is associated with heart disease is less than clear. Even the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation position statement titled “Saturated Fat, Heart Disease and Stroke“ released in September 2015 concludes the same, but that does not mean that the Guidelines themselves should be entirely discounted or discarded.
I have also explained in a few previous articles (such as this one and this one) why I believe that a diet that is highly carbohydrate-centric may not be suitable for the vast numbers of people that are already metabolically unwell (88% based on a recent US study) and that a meal pattern that has a lower percentage of carbohydrate would be better suited to those who are insulin resistance, or who are already pre-diabetic or have Type 2 Diabetes already. That said, the three Guidelines on which the new Canada’s Food Guide is based are largely correct.
In this article, I will highlight what I feel the new Canada Food Guide got entirely right.
Guideline 1 – Real, whole food
Guideline 1 of the new CFG is that nutritious foods are the foundation for healthy eating and the Guide defines nutritious foods as vegetables, fruit, whole grains and protein foods that include fish, shellfish, eggs, poultry, lean red meat including wild game, milk, yogurt, kefir and cheese, as well as legumes, nuts, seeds, tofu and fortified soy beverages.
The caveat to this advice that plant-based should be chosen more often and that animal-based foods be lower in fat and sodium and this is based on the enduring belief that foods containing saturated fat and/or sodium contribute to heart disease.
As mentioned above, I’ve already addressed the saturated fat issue in several previous articles and the concern about excess carbohydrate-based foods for those who are metabolically unwell, but it is true that nutritious foods as vegetables, fruit, whole grains and protein foods that include fish, shellfish, eggs, poultry, lean red meat including wild game, milk, yogurt, kefir and cheese, as well as legumes, nuts, seeds, tofu and fortified soy beverages are nutritious foods.
Whole vegetables and whole fruit, and a variety of animal based and even plant-based protein foods and even unrefined grains are nutritious foods and suitable for healthy individuals.
How much and what types of fruit and how much and what type of carbohydrate-based foods a given person should consume will vary depending on a their specific metabolic health, however there is no reason to vilify any whole food as being unhealthy.
For more information about why I don’t believe that carbohydrates are inherently “evil” please read my previous article titled Carbohydrates Are Not Evil located here.
Vegetarians can choose their protein as tofu, nuts and seeds, yogurt, kefir, eggs and cheese, whereas pescatarians can include fish and seafood, and omnivores can include meat, including wild game — and all can include whole vegetables and fruit. Inclusion of “healthy whole grains”, as well as how much and how often really depends on which meal patterns someone has chosen, as well as their metabolic health. The matter as to whether one can exclude an entire food group is addressed in this previous article.
Regardless of a person’s chosen meal pattern — be it whole-food plant-based, whole-food pescetarian or omivore, Mediterranean or low carbohydrate, whole, real food is nutritious food.
I decided to pull some food out of my own fridge and take a picture of what whole, real, food looks like in my own meal pattern (low carbohydrate omnivore), but this by no means defines or limits what nutritious food can look like for you!
Perhaps the idea of buying a chicken the way I choose to doesn’t appeal to you and you’d prefer to buy yours boneless and skinless wrapped in plastic on a Styrofoam tray. Go for it! It’s still nutritious, real food.
Buying a whole rotisserie chicken at the store is totally good, too!
So is buying pre-made salad or veggies that are already cut up and frozen or packed ready-to-cook!
If it looks like something your grandparents or great grandparents would recognize as real food, it has a greater chance of falling in what is “nutritious food”.
Guideline 2 – Limit Processed or Prepared Food
Guideline 2 of the new Canada Food Guide is that processed or prepared foods should not be consumed regularly, as these undermine healthy eating.
The caveat to this advice is that these contribute to excess sodium, free sugars or saturated fat which are believed to pose a risk to health and while I’ve previously addressed some of these in earlier articles, regardless of meal pattern processed foods make more energy available for absorption than the whole food from which they are made. In the case of those who have pre-diabetes or Type 2 Diabetes, they also make more carbohydrate available for ready digestion, contributing to a higher insulin response and higher blood sugar response. More information is available in this article as well as this one).
Regardless of the type of meal pattern a person follows, processed or prepared foods ought to be “sometimes foods” and not “everyday foods” — and it doesn’t matter if the processed food is a bake-and-eat frozen pizza, a low carb fat-head pizza or a pre-prepared fake meat burger. These aren’t real, whole foods. Sure, they are nice for an occasional treat but as elaborated on in several previous articles (links above), foods prepared from refined, processed foods have a very different impact on blood sugar response and insulin response than the whole foods from which they are made.
Remember, real, whole foods are usually ones that your grandparents or great-grandparents would recognize as real food.
Guideline 3 – Know How to Prepare and Cook Food
Guideline 3 of the new Guide is that food skills such as buying, preparing and cooking are needed to navigate the complex food environment and support healthy eating.
Unfortunately, it is my experience that many people lack the basic skills to buy foods as simple as raw vegetables such as whole broccoli, or a whole squash and know how to prepare them for eating.
In fact, so many young people lack basic food preparation skills such as how to prepare a simple meal that some school districts have toyed with the idea of bringing back “home economics” to the secondary school curriculum.
Of course, not everyone needs to know how to cut up a chicken (such as I did to the one above) but knowing how to cut up chicken legs into drumsticks and thighs, cut up broccoli or cauliflower or prepare a salad can save people money and increase their availability to eating nutritious (real, whole) food.
Some Final Thoughts…
I said in one of my earlier articles that I consider myself a “nutritional centrist” — that I don’t feel it is necessary to be “tribal” about food allegiances.
People choose different types of meal patterns for all kinds of reasons; from vegetarianism for religious or ethical reasons, to low carb for health reasons, and my role as a Dietitian is to help support them in eating healthy, nutritious food that fits the meal pattern they have chosen.
While I have two specific misgivings about the new Canada’s Food Guide (1) their continued insistence that saturated fat is associated with heart disease and (2) a carbohydrate-centric meal pattern approach when much of the public is already metabolically unwell, there are three things the new Guide got right;
- Real, whole foods are nutritious and should be foundational for healthy eating
- It is preferable to limit processed and prepared foods
- Food skills such as buying, preparing and cooking are needed to support healthy eating.
If you would like to learn how the essence of these Guidelines can be adopted to you, I can help.
You can learn more about my services under the Services tab or in the Shop. If you have questions, please feel free to send me a note using the Contact Me form above and I will reply as soon as I can.
To your good health!
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LEGAL NOTICE: The contents of this blog, including text, images and cited statistics as well as all other material contained here (the “content”) are for information purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, medical diagnosis and/or treatment and is not suitable for self-administration without the knowledge of your physician and regular monitoring by your physician. Do not disregard medical advice and always consult your physician with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or before implementing anything you have read or heard in our content.
- Health Canada, What are Canada’s Dietary Guidelines? https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/guidelines/what-are-canadas-dietary-guidelines/
- Health Canada. Food, Nutrients and Health: Interim Evidence Update 2018. Ottawa: Health Canada; 2019.
- Health Canada. Evidence review for dietary guidance: technical report, 2015. Ottawa: Health Canada; 2016.