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Canada’s Food Guide gets a makeover


Doug Cook, RD MHSc, CDE

Canada's first food guide, the Official Food Rules, was introduced to the public in July 1942. This guide acknowledged wartime food rationing, while endeavoring to prevent nutritional deficiencies and to improve the health of Canadians. Since 1942, the food guide has been transformed many times - it has adopted new names, new looks, and new messages, yet has never wavered from its original purpose of guiding food selection and promoting the nutritional health of Canadians.


The last major revision to Canada’s Food Guide came out in 1992 – long before words like trans-fat, omega-3 fats, or ‘good carbs’ ‘bad carbs’ became both a concern of Canadians and part of our everyday language.


Ten years after the release of the last food guide, Statistic Canada released the results of the Community Health Survey on May 8 2002 which found that between 1994/95 and 2000/01, the number of obese Canadians aged 20 to 64 grew by 24% to almost 2.8 million.  Two years after that study, Health Canada announced that the Food Guide would receive a makeover to address changes in the eating patterns, food supply and diets, as well as advances in nutritional science.


The Food Guide is just that; a guide. The challenge was to come up with a one to two page educational tool that tries to give simple messages on healthy eating to individuals yet distributed at a population level. The biggest source of confusion and criticism was with the number of servings from each food group. The old food guide gave broader ranges knowing that the number of servings that a person required would ultimately depend on where a person was in the lifecycle. Younger growing children who have greater energy and protein requirements would require more servings that a more sedentary elderly person and therefore wider ranges were given, for example, the number of servings from the grain products was 5-12 per day.


Many critics in the past have suggested that the Food Guide was responsible for the growing number of overweight and obese individuals with serving sizes being the root cause. The problem with that statement is the disconnect between the standardized serving sizes in the Food Guide and food manufacturers serving sizes. Case in point: a Food Guide grain serving is half a bagel (45g) or about 110 calories.

A quick glance at the Nutrition Facts table of a Dempster’s bagel shows that the nutrition information is based on 1 bagel which clocks in at 113g and 270 calories. Most people would assume that this is one serving. Manufacturers are making bagels a lot bigger now than they did 20 years ago – knowing that a Food Guide bagel serving is 45g then the savvy consumer would know that a whole bagel, in this case, is 2.5 Food Guide servings [113g/45g = 2.5]. Portion sizes still count – a dietitian can help personalize the number of servings you need based on your age, gender and level of activity.

What’s new with the Food Guide?

  • A great range of servings based on gender and age.
  • Recommendations to include sources of poly and monounsaturated fats such as olive and canola oils.
  • To include one green and one orange vegetable daily.
  • To have whole fruit and vegetables more often than juice.
  • Aim to have at least half your grains as whole grains each day [obviously more is better].
  • To include good sources of calcium and vitamin D every day either with lower-fat dairy or alternatives such as fortified soy [can also use rice and almond beverages].
  • Include alternative sources of protein [beans, lentils etc] more often.
  • Have two servings of fish each week [char, salmon, sardines, mackerel or trout].
  • Choose foods with little to no added salt, sugar, or fat.
  • Use the Nutrition Facts table on packages to make healthier choices.
  • Satisfy your thirst with water.
  • Women of child-bearing age should include a multivitamin containing folic acid and women that are pregnant need to make sure their multivitamin contains iron.
  • People over 50 should take a daily vitamin D supplement with 400IU.
    • [because 10-30% of those over 50 can’t absorb B12 from food, they should also get their B12 from a supplement or B12 fortified foods] – a basic multivitamin with address both vitamin D and B12 needs.


Link to Canada’s Food Guide


Doug Cook, RD MHSc, CDE

Registered Dietitian