Canada Goes Beyond Serving Suggestions in New Food Guide

by Daniel J. Wohl
Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

Policy Name
Food Guide and Dietary Guidelines for Canada


Canada’s new Food Guide (for the general population) and Dietary Guidelines (for health officials and policy-makers) were produced as part of a concerted effort by Health Canada to establish a more effective health and nutrition program country-wide. The Food Guide makes a fundamental shift, from what portion of vegetables/fruits, grains, dairy, and meat should be consumed daily, to what proportion of vegetables/fruits, whole grains, and protein should be prioritized in every meal. They are also trying to encourage a more holistic approach to dietary needs, one that favors a mindful approach to eating and cooking, food media literacy, and science-based nutrition standards. The Food Guide can be summarized as consisting of the following:

5 Keys to a Healthy Diet5 Keys to a Healthy Diet:

  1. Eat vegetables, fruit, and whole grains regularly
  2. Favor plant-based proteins such as beans, nuts, and tofu more often than meat
  3. Choose foods high in unsaturated fats (avocados and peanut butter) and low in saturated fats (meat and cheese)
  4. Drink water instead of soda, fruit juice (including 100 percent fruit juices), alcohol, or flavored milk products
  5. Take time to cook meals at home with others more often than eating ready-to-eat processed meals alone.

The most evident departure from the 2007 Food Guide and Dietary Guidelines was that Health Canada officials consulted with more than 27,000 stakeholders outside of the food and beverage industries. Instead, they engaged with academics, provincial and territorial governments, health regulatory bodies, non-profit organizations, and, for the first time, indigenous communities and experts. The end result is a host of recommendations that seek to build Canadians’ trust in their government rather than to promoting particular agricultural sectors and food trade groups. The Food Guide and Dietary Guidelines are part of a broader initiative by Health Canada to promote government openness and transparency through their Healthy Eating Strategy, which also includes front-of-package labeling and restrictions on marketing food to children

Food Policy Category
Nutrition Standards
Dietary Recommendations
Canadian Government

Progress to Date
Health Canada developed the latest food guide in response to a scientific and cultural review of Canada’s prior Food Guide, which was released in 2007. In 2016 they began the process of consulting with outside groups in order to ensure that it would be useful, understood, and applicable for all Canadians. The content was created and organized between 2016 and 2018 and refined by a series of focus groups. The new Food GuIde was released in January 2019, followed by the Dietary Guidelines days after.

Program/ Policy Initiated
January 21, 2019

Program Goals
Canada’s Food Guide and Dietary Guidelines go beyond the serving suggestions and nutrient equivalencies promoted by the food industry, instead favoring a more involved and informed relationship between Canadians and their food consumption. Health Canada utilizes a science-based consensus to most effectively address the prevalence of nutrition-related diseases and complications.

How it works
A primary goal of Health Canada was to produce a document and web-application that make healthy eating something that is accessible and easily understood. The focus is on encouraging individuals to find out what works best for them, rather than issuing strict requirements to be followed by everyone.

The Food Guide is broken down into two main sections with further sections on recipes, health tips, and local provincial or territorial resources. The two main sections include:

  1. Food Choices – Prioritizing fruits and vegetables, eliminating sugary and alcoholic drinks, reducing sodium and saturated fat intake, de-emphasizing dairy as a protein substitute, using food labels, and better understanding the effects of food marketing.
  2. Eating Habits – Being more mindful of when you’re hungry and full, planning when you eat and setting aside that time, enjoying food as a communal process based on cultural traditions, always eating meals with others when possible.

The Dietary Guidelines are broken down into four main categories to be used in developing nutrition policies, programs, and educational resources. The four categories are:

  1. Foundation for healthy eating – Developing healthy patterns of eating that favor a balance between intake of energy and physical activity. Included is a special consideration of traditional indigenous consumption patterns.
  2. Foods and beverages that undermine healthy eating – Considering the negative health impacts of processed foods, which are often high in sugar, sodium, and saturated fats. Included is the reduction of sugary drinks in all forms, institutional purchasing guidelines, and reduction of alcohol consumption.
  3. Importance of food skills – Encouraging the development of food skills, like cooking and cultivation, in children from a young age at home. Included are media literacy skills, which limit the efficacy of processed-food marketing targeted at children.
  4. Implementation of dietary guidelines – Ensuring that dietary guidelines are followed necessitates addressing food insecurity, including special consideration of remote indigenous communities that lack basic access to most foodstuffs. The issue of food access should be considered in all sectors of the Canadian Government.

Why it’s important
Canada’s new Food Guide and Dietary Guidelines’ primary function is to address major health concerns that are directly affected by diet, including chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, colon cancer, diabetes, and breast cancer. A particular focus of this initiative is the elimination of added sugar and sugary drinks, which have been found to be the number-one contributor to Type 2 diabetes and obesity in children. Health Canada’s simplified approach to addressing this issue is to recommend choosing water with a balanced meal. This is in stark contrast to the prior food guide which recommended two glasses of milk a day as a source of nutrients and drinking 100 percent fruit juices to increase daily fiber intake. This change prompted a great deal of opposition from the influential dairy industry and beverage trade organizations, which argued that the new guidelines would negatively impact h the Canadian economy. However, it is Health Canada’s position that a healthy populace is more vital to the Canadian economy than the food and beverage producers. This trust is essential to the success of the Food Guide and Dietary Guidelines, and the open-government promise of the Healthy Eating Strategy.

Learn more
Canada’s Food Guide
Canada’s Dietary Guidelines
Health Canada’s Healthy Eating Strategy

Point of Contact
Office of Nutrition Policy and Promotion
Laboratory Centre for Disease Control (LCDC) Building # 6
Address Locator: 0603C
Tunney’s Pasture
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0L2

Telephone: 613-957-8329


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