Canada's New Food Guide... will it help us get healthier?

Ok so it's out... Canada now has new guidelines for healthy eating.

I think Health Canada got a lot of things right this time around, but I also think that now that our new guide is out we need to enter into a different conversation about food and health.

What I like most about Canada's new food guide is...

  • There is more focus on fresh food, variety and colour and less focus on portions sizes. The food groups are gone and replaced with a simple visual of a beautiful plate of whole food - 1/2 filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, 1/4 filled with whole, lower glycemic carbohydrates, 1/4 filled with protein.

Beautiful, isn't it? 

  • There is an acknowledgment that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to diet. Instead, the new guide encourages us to understand that while whole food is our fuel and the driver of our health, we each have specific needs and need to tune into those needs in order to feel our best.
  • Water has finally made it into the food guide while juice and milk are gone. Health Canada finally agrees that there is no nutritional need for fruit juice or milk and their absence makes me think that perhaps the food lobby groups have been kicked out of the policy room. Not only is fruit juice no longer included as a "fruit", but it is called out as the sugar-sweetened beverage that it is (did you know that a glass of orange juice carries about the same sugar load as a glass of soda?). "Let water be your drink of choice", Health Canada tells us. Agreed... for so many reasons.
  • Possibly what I love most about this guide is that it encourages us to slow down and enjoy our food. It shines a light on the need to carve out some space for whole, nourishing food amidst our too-busy lives. There is an implicit message in this guide that food brings us not only calories, but that it nourishes us - our minds, bodies and souls - and the guide encourages us to slow down and reconnect with our food.

So, what's missing our our new guide?

While Health Canada has included a beautiful explanation of why nutritional guidance is important and how food effects various aspects of our health, I was disappointed to see that the impact of food on mental health is again left out of the discussion.

What we eat influences how we think, feel, act and function. Many of us know this intuitively, but we also have ample research to support it as well. Early childhood nutrition has been shown to reduce mental illness later in life. Nutrient deficiencies  have been shown to be contributors to ADHD and depression. I have experienced with my own family and with my clients that while it's not usually ONE dietary change that makes a difference, when we explore all corners of a child's diet they start to feel better in their bodies and function better in school.

Overlooking the impact of food on our brains, moods and behaviour yet again (as it is left out of most conversations about mental health), is a major oversight. This needs to be in policy so we can start improving public awareness about it and help more Canadians overcome their mental health struggles.

The other missing piece is a conversation about food security and food accessibility. I can forgive Health Canada for this... its mandate was to create a broad policy for all Canadians, after all. But I'm hoping that with this new food guide we will start to see better public understanding that while healthy eating doesn't need to be complicated, it does need to be fresh, whole, and diverse. And along with that new understanding I am hopeful that we can engage in creative solutions to make sure every single person in our country has access to this kind of quality, whole food.

Until we can make it easier for families do the right thing with food, the crises in health care and in education we're experiencing now will continue to worsen.

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