Canadian Medical Association

Whether it’s on the fridge at home or the wall of the doctor’s office, Canada’s Food Guide — with its red, blue, yellow and green cover — is a familiar sight for many Canadians. For years, it’s been one of the federal government’s most requested publications and an important tool for doctors and other health care professionals in helping patients choose a healthy diet.

But after 10 years without any revisions, the guide had become dated. CMA members began calling for an update back in 2014, to better reflect Canadians’ new understanding of a healthy diet. So, when the federal government began seeking input on the development of a new food guide, we were there, making our final recommendations in June 2018 in our brief to the House of Commons.

“So much has changed in the past decade when it comes to our understanding of food and health. It’s time we had a guide that looked at the bigger picture of nutrition, at things like food insecurity and cultural preferences, so we can better support all Canadians in living healthy lives.”

Dr. Gigi Osler
CMA President

In early January, Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor unveiled the revamped Canada’s Food Guide, and the CMA was pleased to note that all six of our major recommendations were implemented in some form.

Canada Food Guide
Cover of the new Canada's Food Guide

Here’s a recap of what we asked for and what ended up in the guide.

CMA recommendation #1: The food guide must go hand in hand with efforts to increase access to affordable, healthy food
What’s in the guide: The new guide acknowledges the role social determinants play in eating behaviour and recognizes that Canadians do not have equal access to nutritious food. Identifying barriers to accessibility and availability will help create more supportive environments for healthy eating, and the guide should play a supporting role in these efforts.

CMA recommendation #2: The food guide must be based on sound nutritional research
What’s in the guide: Along with considering the links between nutrition and disease, Health Canada did extensive research on how dietary guidelines are developed, what they should contain and how they should be used in education and health promotion. In addition to referencing existing guidelines from other countries, Health Canada gathered input from Health Canada scientists, population health and nutrition specialists, academics and other experts.

CMA recommendation #3: The Government of Canada must assure Canadians that the revision process is evidence based
What’s in the guide: Along with an extensive consultation process, Health Canada also reviewed the latest research on the relationship between food and health, focusing on evidence-based studies authored by health organizations with expert panels involved. They did not use reports commissioned by industry or organizations with business interests.

CMA recommendation #4: The food guide must reflect the changing eating patterns of our evolving and increasingly multicultural society
What’s in the guide: Acknowledging that “healthy eating is about more than just eating certain types and amounts of food,” the new guide recognizes the important relationship between culture and food, the social aspect of eating and the significance of traditional foods and eating practices. Through the new guide, Canadians are also encouraged to develop cooking skills by learning recipes or cooking methods from their own and other cultures.

CMA recommendation #5: The food guide must encourage Canadians to reduce their reliance on processed foods
What’s in the guide: Highly and ultra processed products are clearly identified to increase awareness of foods and beverages with high levels of sodium, sugars or saturated fats, such as processed meats, deep-fried foods and sugary drinks. The guide makes the link between these foods and the rising rates of obesity and chronic disease and encourages Canadians to limit their intake to help reduce their risks.

CMA recommendation #6: The Government of Canada must produce simple, practical products for Canadians and clear dietary guidance for health professionals
What’s in the guide: Health Canada drew from the results of two rounds of public consultation to ensure the information in the new guide was relevant and clear to the general population. The guide will be followed later this year by a series of complementary documents for health professionals. The goal is to provide practical tools to support their conversations with patients, including guidance on amounts and types of foods throughout the life stages.

Now that the new Canada’s Food Guide is complete, the CMA will continue to advocate on the key role food plays in our health and well-being by recommending the federal government move forward with two other initiatives currently before Parliament: introducing front-of-package labelling and eliminating the marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks to children.

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