Canada’s New Food Guide: A Breakdown

By Henry Gould – Jan 29th, 2019

The new Canada Food Guide was released last week, which proudly declared to be free from industry influence. Despite the majority of people singing praises on the new guide for focusing on plant based foods and proteins, there is still a larger debate within Health Canada about potential mandates that would require producers to have warning labels on food that contained higher than average saturated fat, salt and sugar. Basically, warnings not unlike the ones on a pack of cigarettes (albeit with less graphic imagery) telling you that 2 double stuff Oreo’s will instantly make you go up 3 pant sizes. Or something like that…

A debate about food labeling bureaucracy doesn’t sound like a very fun blog post (!), so I figured it might be more engaging to take a deeper look at the guide itself, what it’s telling Canadians they should be eating on a regular basis, and how this relates to our active community at Yard Athletics.

What’s new in the guide?

Plate Composition

Replacing Health Canada’s past infographics (food pyramids & rainbows) the new “food plate” is composed of 50% fruits and vegetables (broccoli, carrots, blueberries, potatoes, peas, apples), 25% mixed proteins (fish, legumes, yogurt, eggs, meat, nuts) and 25% whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat bread, wild rice, pasta).

Personally I think this is a great visual to accompany the guide, as it quite literally shows you what your average plate of food should look like.

Also incorporated in the picture is a glass of water next to the plate, with the caption “make water your drink of choice”. This is a subtle yet important detail, arguably the most important. As we have become more educated on the role sugar plays with regards to insulin and fat storage (not to mention inflammation and heart disease), we know that drinks like juice, pop and alcohol are probably not the healthiest choices for regular daily consumption.

Growing up, I (like many kids) would drink orange or cranberry juice every morning at breakfast. Previous food guides maintained it was necessary for getting important nutrients like Vitamin C. In reality, juice can contain the same if not more sugar than pop, and be more or less negligible on the health front since all the important fibre is removed.

Being Mindful Of Eating Habits

“Mindfulness” is a trendy word in the health and wellness community these days. To be mindful is to reflect on the situation around you; your peers, lifestyle choices, your health, all of the things you encounter on a daily basis. If we look at mindfulness with respect to eating, this might include asking questions such as:

  • How was this food grown? How did it get to my plate? Was it grown 100 miles away, or 10,000 miles away?
  • Why I am eating? Am I hungry, or am I bored? Do I need to eat right now?
  • What am I eating? What is on my plate, and is it good for me?
  • When am I eating? At 6pm, or at 11:30pm just before I go to bed?
  • Where am I eating?
  • How much did I eat?

I’m sure you don’t want to ask yourself these questions every time you eat a grain bowl, but they do frame eating as having greater implications than just “removing the feeling of hunger”.

For example, Atlantic Bluefin Tuna is nearing extinction. One recent fish sold for a record $3.1 million dollars in Tokyo. Despite the relative scarcity and exceedingly high costs, people still consume vast amounts of Bluefin Tuna in restaurants around the world. Can we morally keep eating a fish that is close to being wiped out? One might make the argument for or against, but it’s definitely a question worth asking.

Even for something more mundane like fruits and vegetables, it makes more sense to support local farmers by buying produce grown closer to where you live, rather than importing things from far away. Getting perfect red strawberries in January means they needed to be grown somewhere far from Canada, thus undergoing a long journey on planes, trains and automobiles to arrive in your bowl. Being mindful of these choices, and asking “why” you’re eating something could subsequently make a different choice easier. Maybe it’s choosing Albacore tuna instead of Bluefin, or a local apple in January as opposed to imported strawberries?

Heathy Eating On A Budget

For the majority of us, eating healthy can often seem at odds with eating on a budget. There’s a reason Whole Foods still hasn’t shed the “Whole Paycheck” nickname, despite people saying costs would go down once Amazon bought them. For a lot of people cooking can be intimidating, and the thought of buying a cart full of groceries to prepare seems way worse than just buying a $20 kale caesar at the hot bar.

This new guide has a great section on Healthy Eating On A Budget, and if you’re looking to start making more meals at home this is a great place to start (other than the amazing recipes here on the Yard Athletics blog…).

Cutting down on waste can be a huge cost savings. Typically food at grocery stores doesn’t get cheaper if you buy more, and since they don’t charge you per visit, why not shop more often and buy less? Increasing store visits can invite impulse buying (guilty!), but if you write a list and stick to it you’re more likely to stay on track.

Protein from animals (Beef, Pork, Fish) can be expensive. Protein from plants? Much, much cheaper. Cooking with things like lentils, beans and quinoa offer complete sources of protein at a much lower cost per gram than meat. They take a little effort to cook, but once mastered it can be very rewarding on the wallet and the waistline.

Also, cooking larger volumes and storing in the freezer can be a huge help to staying on a budget. A large pot of chili might cost at most $20 to prepare, and would make 6-8 meals worth of food. At $3 a portion of chili vs. $15+ for a lunch out, that can add up to serious cost savings when spread over several months.

All good stuff! Have a read through the guide and see what you think.

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