The dietary landscape can be confusing, but there's a new tool to help guide Canadians on not only what foods to eat but also how and why to eat in order to foster life-long healthy eating habits.
Health Canada has launched the new Canada's food guide, and advocates are heralding this new version as easier to follow, more interactive and supported by science-based research. Filomena Vernace-Inserra, a registered dietitian in Vaughan, Ont., believes Health Canada "has it right this time."
"The revised Canada's food guide has used a simple, colourful visual of how Canadians need to balance their plate with food choices to maximize health," says Venace-Inserra. "It also emphasizes the importance of whole foods, with a focus on whole grains, plant-based protein-rich foods, and a variety of vibrant vegetables and fruits."
Let's dig in
Among the recommendations, we're now encouraged to compose half our plate with plenty of vegetables and fruits, while the other half is divided equally between whole grains and protein sources, many of which should come from plants more often. This new direction is widely supported by health professionals, and a similar dietary direction has been adopted by other countries. A review of the evidence by Health Canada showed that increasing the intake of vegetables and fruit significantly reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.
• Be an informed consumer. Food marketing can influence your choices and contribute to poor eating patterns. Food marketing can take many forms, including social media posts, celebrity endorsements, and product placement in movies and TV shows.
• Use food labels to guide choices. Compare the nutrition facts tables and ingredient lists of products so you can make an informed choice. For example, "Canadians should read food labels and choose breads, crackers and pastas that are labelled 100% whole grain," says Vernace-Inserra.
• Limit highly processed foods to cut down on sodium, saturated fats and sugar.
What's on your plate?
Focus on enjoying a variety of foods every day.
• Eat mostly vegetables and fruits; whole-grain foods (brown rice, quinoa, barley, whole-grain breads and pastas); protein foods (legumes, nuts, seeds, tofu, lean meats, fish, unsweetened lower-fat yogurt, lower-fat milk and cheeses).
• Choose foods with healthy fats: nuts and seeds, avocado, fish and unsaturated oils (e.g., olive, canola).
• Limit highly processed foods such as deli meats and fast food.
• Choose water over sugary drinks like soda or fruit juice. Water is the best way to stay hydrated without adding calories.
Bite into healthy practices
Fostering a healthy lifestyle goes beyond choosing nourishing foods. "There's plenty of information and advice regarding habits to digest in the new food guide," adds Vernace-Inserra. Some notable takeaways include:
Be mindful of eating habits: Carve out time to eat, limit distractions at the table (e.g., smartphones) and pay attention to your body's hunger signals.
Cook more often: Get the entire family involved in planning and preparing meals.
Make your own healthier homemade versions of foods: Spice mixes, soups, pasta sauces, pizza crust and muffins, for example.
Enjoy your food: You can enjoy healthy, budget-friendly eating by choosing frozen or canned fruits and vegetables (with no added sodium or sugars) when fresh produce isn't in season or available.
Eating meals with others: Sharing meals with family and friends is a great way to connect, enjoy quality time together and explore cultural and traditional foods.