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What You Really Need to Know about Canada’s New Food Guide

Canada’s Food Guide has been kicking around – in one form or another – for more than 75 years. You’ve probably got an old one stuffed inside your kitchen junk drawer or posted on your fridge, behind layers of take-out menus.Its latest incarnation, which Health Canada says took several years to research and compile, aims not only to give people simple advice on the foods we should be eating, but also to help us develop better food habits.

In keeping with the times, it’s no longer only a stand-alone printed guide. There’s now a swath of online resources, including recipes, videos, meal-planning tips and customized advice for people at different life stages.

The new guide also looks different. The food group rainbow has been replaced by a single plate or “food guide snapshot” depicting an ideal meal: it’s half filled with vegetables and fruits, with the other side split equally between whole grains and proteins. Beside the plate is a glass of water.

With the mantra of “eat a variety of healthy foods each day,” the guide now has three food groups: vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and protein foods. Health Canada eliminated the old “milk and alternatives” and “meat and alternatives” food groups and combined them into the new protein category.

Also gone are the old (and confusing, many people would say) serving sizes, replaced by a new focus on finding balance when you fill your plate. If that worries you, relax. Part two of the guide, which should be published later this year, will explain the type and amount of foods to eat daily.

Here are some highlights:

Choose more plant-based protein

You can get protein from a variety of sources – not just from meat. The guide suggests choosing plant-based proteins more often; these provide more fibre and less saturated fat, which makes them healthier for your heart. Think about nuts and seeds, beans and lentils, fortified soy beverages, tofu, soybeans and other soy products.

Drink more water

A mainstay of the old guide, fruit juice has been kicked out. The new guide recommends replacing it and other sugary drinks (including chocolate milk) with water. Water is essential for digestion, keeps you hydrated and quenches your thirst. And having it as your first beverage of choice can help reduce your daily sugar intake.

The new guide also suggests limiting energy drinks containing caffeine, as well as alcoholic beverages and specialty teas and coffees that have added sugar and dairy.

Eat more mindfully

The guide is as much about how to eat as what to eat, and touts “mindful eating” as the ultimate goal. Standing at your kitchen counter eating olives from the jar while staring at your smartphone (cue the handy new section on food marketing) doesn’t make the cut.

Mindful eating means being more thoughtful about eating overall: eating slowly and savouring each bite, paying attention to your feelings of hunger and fullness, and having a healthy attitude toward food.

It’s all about enjoying the ritual of food and taking the time to make your meals memorable. That can include creating a positive eating environment, eating and sharing food with others, and trying new foods, which Health Canada hopes will translate into people making better food choices.

Will the new Canada Food guide inspire you to re-think how you eat? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.