The New Canada Food Guide — Helping You Understand it Better

A few months ago a new food guide was published for Canadians, there has been some concerns from some people, and specific food industries. It is also open to a lot more interpretation of the general public. Gone are the meat and potato days that many of us grew up with. There are still some ideas it presents that need further clarification. We at Mountain Fitness Training (MFT), went to a couple students of nutrition studies and asked some questions we had. We have Hannah Chapeskie (HC) of Nutrition Studies at the University of Acadia and Macey Lovell (ML) studying at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition.

If you want to learn about the changes from the old rainbow food guide to the new plate guide, read on, and send us questions you have and we will work to find you answers.

Disclaimer: These questions were asked to students of nutrition study programs. The answers are not meant to be a prescription for any health issue or dietary concern. They are written to help people understand more thoroughly the new Canada Food Guide. If you have specific health or dietary concerns, please consult a physician.

MFT: The new Canada Food Guide is more guidelines, ex. Choose food with healthy fats instead of saturated fat. Prepackage food comes with a label telling us these things. When we purchase fresh foods and prepare them at home, how can a consumer be sure they are staying away from saturated fats? Will this be easy for the average person to interpret?

HC: The new food guide recommends decreasing your intake of saturated fats and replacing them with unsaturated fats. It and promotes a message of balance and moderation, as some saturated fat in the diet is necessary. Saturated fats are found in high amounts in many animal products including beef, chicken, lamb, cheese, and butter. However, to make it more confusing, saturated fats are also found in coconut oil, palm oil, and many packaged foods.

As a consumer, nutrition can seem very intimidating, but having general knowledge about nutrition is our own responsibility and important when it comes to food and health. Being aware of what foods contain high levels of saturated fats and including them in your diet in moderation is the only way to ensure your intake is managed.

By eating more plant-based, as recommended by the food guide, and focusing on a whole food diet with moderate animal products, your overall intake of saturated fats will be lower. Furthermore, when preparing your own meals that include meat, choose lean options with less skin and avoid frying.

ML: One way that I learned how to determine what may be a healthy fat versus a non-healthy fats/oils are to think of what it has come from and if you could eat it as is in its natural state without high levels of processing. Think avocado, olives, coconut, nuts, seeds, fish oils, grass fed butter etc.

The new food guide is leading us towards natural whole foods and avoiding processed goods which is super easy! It just takes some practice in the kitchen to learn what you can create from raw ingredients.

MFT: Knowing that healthy fats help our nervous systems develop and function. What foods can we find healthy fats in? What oils should we be cooking with and making our salad dressing and marinades with?

HC: Fats are incredibly important for a variety of functions within the body from the nervous system to our hormones and reproductive system. They allow us to actually absorb the fat-soluble vitamins that we eat in our food and help us to feel fuller for longer. A low-fat diet is never a good idea, but all fats are not created equally.

By focusing on whole foods rather than processed, it becomes much easier to avoid harmful trans and saturated fats. These facts are solid at room temperature and have a structure that allows them to clump together in the body leading to health conditions like heart disease. Healthy fats include monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats which are commonly liquid at room temperature. Monounsaturated fats are found in plant sources such as nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, pecans), avocados, seeds, and olive oil. Polyunsaturated fats are in walnuts, flax seeds, sunflower oil, and fish. The infamous Omega-3 fatty acids are a special type of polyunsaturated fat that we must get from food like fish and walnuts.

When it comes to cooking with oil, vegetable oils such as avocado and grape seed are low in saturated fats and have a high smoke point making them safe to heat. Olive oil is another great low saturated fat option but does not have a high smoke point and should only be used for baking and sautéing, not for frying. For dressings on salads with raw oil, grape seed, flax and olive are healthy and flavorful options.

ML: Think avocado, olives, coconut, nuts, seeds, fish oils, grass fed butter etc. think about the source of the oil, could you eat the source without a lot of processing.

MFT: The new protein section includes, meat and alternatives and dairy, with an emphasis on plant-based protein. How readily does the human body utilize the proteins found in plant-based foods? How much actually meat should we be eating in a week? What are the benefits of eating a more plant-based diet?

HC: The proteins found in animal products are very easily digested by the body at 90-99%. On the other hand, plant proteins are digested less readily at 70-90%, but are still utilized by the body. Animal proteins are also described as “high-quality proteins”, meaning they contain all 9 essential amino acids that we must eat as our body can’t make them for itself. Plant proteins are lower quality as they are often missing one or more of these 9 amino acids. To overcome this, food combination can be very beneficial. By eating different plant-based foods in a meal that “compliment” each other (contain all 9 amino acids when eaten together) a plant-based diet can be very balanced and healthy. Some examples of meals that include complimentary proteins are peanut butter on wheat bread, rice and beans, hummus and pita, lentils and whole grain bread or oatmeal with peanut-butter. For more information and guidance check out this infographic.

When following a plant-based diet that is varied, it is likely that all essential amino acids are included throughout a person’s day and there is no need to worry.

Though it is possible to consume enough protein without eating meat, there are a lot of other important nutrients in meat that are not as readily available or absorbed from plant-foods, for example: iron. The amount of meat that we should be eating in a week is currently ambiguous from my knowledge, but it should be taken into account your own health status, how well your body seems to react to and absorb nutrients from plant alternatives, and of course personal preference.

A more plant-based diet can help lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer and can be a lot cheaper too. If looking to lower your intake of meat, I would recommend starting with only having meat at dinner, and then eventually transitioning to having meat every other day.

ML: I feel that whether a person chooses plant or animal protein is solely based on their personal preference and what their body needs. Bio-individuality really comes into play. Some people may thrive on a completely vegetarian/vegan diet whereas others may feel their best eating omnivorous. My only suggestion here would be to consume wisely.

Be mindful of your sources and try to limit foods that can cause hormone disruption such as Soy based foods like tofu or meat that hasn’t been grass fed.

MFT: The new simply plate divided into 3 portions a meal should typically look like is simple. Is it almost too simple? Do you feel this balance of foods is a step in the right direction?

HC: Rather than what some describe as the “prescriptive” method of the previous Canada’s food guide, the new guide seems to push more of a guided intuitive method of eating. It presents food group portions in relation to an entire meal rather than confusing serving sizes. This erases the need for people to count and keep track of their servings over the span of a day as long as they roughly follow the plate model that is more relate-able and easier to understand. I think that in order for people to feel less intimidated by nutrition, making eating this simple is necessary.

The new division of food groups and weight of each group is very interesting. The plate model shows half of a meal dedicated to fruit and veg, a quarter for proteins (that are mostly plant based), and a quarter for grain products. Dairy has now been grouped in with the protein category and is not emphasized at all. The push of a more plant-based diet that is minimal in dairy is something that most dietitians have been seeking to see with the evidence that is available today. There are not only many health benefits of less animal products in the diet, but also environmental benefits. As a nutrition student with knowledge in this area, I personally feel that this new balance of foods is a step in the right direction and is more representative of what a healthy diet should truly look like.

ML: The Canada food guide took a big step forward, and it has definitely moved in the right direction, but we need to ensure now that the information is being supported by the health care and food industry to continue to promote healthier choices.

MFT: How beneficial do you feel preparing meals together and family meal time is to a healthy relationship with food?

HC: Food is so much more than fuel and nutrients for the body. Food is emotional, social, and pleasurable. We learn in school that involving children at a young age in the preparation of meals is crucial for a healthy relationship with food. The pride and enjoyment that accompanies preparing a meal encourages younger children to try new things and eat healthy foods. In addition, eating with family at a table that is not in front of a TV and having role models that eat healthily encourages this relationship as well. In the long term, these positive interactions can make children less picky, can prevent childhood obesity, prevent disordered eating, and generally builds stronger relationships between family members. This is why the Food Guide is promoting the message of cooking and eating together. When sharing food with the people you love, you are able to connect with them and create memories that will give food and eating a positive connotation for life.

ML: Building stronger, healthier relationships with people close to you and with yourself is honestly the biggest step you can take towards overall health. The happiness and peace in your life creates such a ripple effect on your nutrition choices. We have become very emotional eaters and with such easy access to foods that instantly hit our reward centres it can be very difficult to make wise choices when we are upset. Our brains are wired to grab the first thing that can trigger a dopamine release and a lot of time that ends up being junk food.

MFT: Can you share a quick easy family meal or snack that may help others follow the new Canada Food Guide?

HC: Canada’s new Food Guide actually includes a collection of healthy, simple recipes online that follow its recommendations for families to use as a resource to healthier eating. These recipes include tips to enhance meals and make them easy to prepare for those who have limited cooking experience. They even share ways to re-purpose leftovers and how to involve “little chefs” in the kitchen to further build their positive food relationship. I would recommend trying the “Three Sisters Soup” for something warm and hearty in these last months of winter.

MFT: Is there anything else you would like to add?

HC: Canada’s new Food Guide is finally a resource that is simpler for the public to use, representative of a healthy diet, and to mention aesthetically pleasing. It is important to understand that the science of nutrition is constantly changing and evolving, thus it’s important to focus on the big picture and enjoy foods in moderation rather than whether or not eggs are healthy today because they were deemed “bad” last week.

Navigating healthy eating and food fads can be confusing and frustrating, but it doesn’t have to be so complicated. The food guide is trying to push this idea of moderation and show us that a diet with a focus on real, whole foods that do not come in a package with 20+ ingredients, is we bound to be healthy and enough for all of us.

ML: Something I make quite often throughout the week that is SO quick is tuna salad. Its super convenient and quick when I am always on the go.

  • Canned tuna
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Avocado (acts like mayonnaise)
  • Sauerkraut
  • Mustard
  • Lettuce
  • Tomato
  • Cucumber
  • Olives

Drizzle with coconut vinegar and olive oil!

We would be more than happy to field further questions from our followers about nutrition in future blogs. The discussion of nutrition is something we want to keep ongoing. So comment with a question here or email us we will gather the questions and find a nutrition expert to help answer them.

Disclaimer: These questions were asked to students of nutrition study programs. The answers are not meant to be a prescription for any health issue or dietary concern. They are written to help people understand more thoroughly the new Canada Food Guide. If you have specific health or dietary concerns, please consult a physician.


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