Backgrounder: The science behind the new Food Guide
Canada’s Food Guide has been around in one form or another since 1942. For more than 75 years, the Food Guide has been underpinning food and nutrition policies and programs across the country, and providing relevant and credible healthy eating information to Canadians.
Eating in accordance with the new Food Guide can help Canadians meet nutrient needs, reduce their risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancer, and promote overall health and well-being. Planning and preparing healthy meals and snacks is an important life skill. The new Food Guide encourages Canadians to practice these skills.
Health Canada follows a rigorous scientific process to review the best available evidence. In developing its recommendations, Health Canada considered only high-quality scientific reports from respected authorities, such as the World Health Organization, the World Cancer Research Fund International and the US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. This process ensures that Health Canada’s dietary guidance remains both scientifically sound and current.
Although we live in an era of conflicting nutrition messages, the totality of evidence is clear. That evidence is agreed upon by many jurisdictions and respected health authorities.
The new Food Guide recommends the regular intake of vegetables, fruit, whole grains and protein foods. Among protein foods, it recommends consuming plant-based more often. Patterns of eating that emphasize plant-based foods typically result in higher intakes of:
- dietary fibre, which is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, and type 2 diabetes
- vegetables and fruit, which are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease
- nuts, which are associated with decreased LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, and
- soy protein, which is associated with decreased LDL cholesterol
Consuming more plant-based foods could also encourage lower intakes of:
- processed meats, which have been linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer, and
- foods that contain mostly saturated fat. Lowering the intake of foods that contain mostly saturated fat by replacing them with foods that contain mostly unsaturated fat decreases total and LDL cholesterol.
While the Food Guide emphasizes the benefits of plant-based foods, it also continues to include nutritious foods such as:
- lean red meat
- lower-fat milk, lower-fat yogurts, and cheeses lower in fat and sodium
Health Canada also emphasizes the regular intake of water to help reduce the amount of sugars people consume and help protect teeth from frequent exposure to sugar. Consuming foods or beverages with added sugars has also been linked to an increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
In recent years, Canadians have been purchasing more highly processed foods. When these foods are consumed on a regular basis, they can contribute to excess intake of sodium, sugars or saturated fat, which are all linked to chronic disease.
The new Food Guide highlights food skills, such as cooking, as a practical way to support healthy eating. When food is prepared and cooked at home, people can reduce the amount of highly processed foods they use, which can help them lower their intake of sodium, sugars, or saturated fat.
The Food Guide also encourages Canadians to make conscious food choices and to take time to eat, to pay attention to feelings of hunger and fullness, and to avoid distractions such as eating in front of a screen. This is known as mindful eating.
Eating with family and friends can increase people’s enjoyment of their food. Eating together can help reinforce positive eating habits and help children develop healthy attitudes towards food.
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