New food guide an improvement

On Jan. 22, Health Canada released the new Canada's Food Guide, a significantly revised and updated version of 2007's Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide.

The long overdue revision was made to ensure current recommendations are based on current evidence and concerns regarding the previous guide were addressed. The recommendations now being made send the message that a healthy diet does not require a "one-size-fits-all" approach but is personal to each individual and is strongly influenced by eating behaviours.

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The previous food guide was criticized as being difficult to follow and implement in everyday life, as well as being unrealistic and inflexible for the average person; not every male aged 19-50 wants to, or needs to, eat eight servings of grains or eight to 10 servings of vegetables everyday. The previous food guide recommendations were also not considerate of cultural diversity, sustainability and the traditional foods of many Canadians.

Dietitians encourage healthy eating habits, but instead of focusing on behaviours, the previous food guide felt more like a rigid diet plan; one where foods should be weighed or measured to determine appropriate portion sizes. This was not a realistic strategy for healthy eating and so the previous food guide was not something I, and many other dietitians, used in practice.

The 2019 Canada's Food Guide has ditched the previous rainbow visual in favour of food photography featuring healthy food choices and a selection of online resources for a variety of users and is now available in a mobile-friendly web application. The terminology used in the guide has also changed, dropping the previous food groups for more commonly used terms such as "protein foods." There are also no longer recommendations for serving sizes or number of servings.

The new guide provides advice on how to be a more mindful eater, to allow you to be more conscience of your eating habits, leading to healthier choices. Another approach to behaviour change addressed in the guide involves identifying hunger cues. Being able to identify whether you're actually hungry or eating due to stress, fatigue or boredom is an important skill in managing a healthy diet.

The new guide uses reliable, current evidence on food and health to make recommendations, excluding industry-commissioned reports to avoid the perception of bias. One criticism of previous food guides, including the American version, was that the food and beverage industry had substantial say over the nutritional recommendations being made. However, officials from Health Canada's Office of Nutrition Policy made the purposeful choice to not meet with representatives from the food and beverage industry to, once again, avoid bias.

The 2019 food guide has been endorsed by Dietitians of Canada as "modern, relevant, informed by scientific evidence and in line with the recommendations provided during consultations." By focusing on not just what foods constitute a healthy diet, but the skills and eating behaviours that are important components of healthy dietary habits, the new food guide provides more useful recommendations and direction, with accessible, user-friendly resources.

The guide also acknowledges individuals with specific dietary requirements and those receiving care in a clinical setting, steering them towards the specialized services of a dietitian, something the old food guide did not do.

If you're looking to make healthy diet changes and need some direction, or even if you're just looking for some healthy new recipes, the 2019 Canada's Food Guide could be a valuable resource for you. You'll find tips on meal planning, eating on a budget, grocery shopping, healthy cooking methods, eating around the holidays and a variety of other topics, as well as accompanying one-page resources.

The guide addresses the different environments in which we eat, with specific resources and tips on eating at home, school, work, in the community and out at restaurants. The specific nutritional needs of infants, teens, adults and seniors are also addressed, as well as the nutritional challenges that can be associated with these populations.

For more information on the 2019 Canada's Food Guide, go to food-guide.canada.ca.

Kelsey Leckovic is a Registered Dietitian with Northern Health working in chronic disease management.

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