Dietary guidelines /
Canada's new plant-focussed Food Guide ditches the dairy

Canada's Food Guide has been updated for the first time in ten years!

Public consultations held last year by the federal agency Health Canada allowed individuals, organisations, and industry to provide input with regard to their vision for the guidelines. Importantly, however, Health Canada remained strongly committed to excluding industry representatives from the actual revision process (i.e. meetings and other such lobbying efforts were prohibited). This seems to have encouraged a different and more progressive message to emerge.

What does it tell us?

  • Eat a lot more vegetables and fruits (these should make up half of any meal);
  • Choose plant-based protein sources (such as legumes- which include beans, peas, and lentils) more often than animal-sourced ones (e.g. meat, fish, eggs);
  • Consuming dairy foods is not necessary (i.e. 'milk and alternatives' is no longer a food group of its own);
  • Grains should be whole (e.g. quinoa, whole grain bread, whole oats or oatmeal, whole grain brown or wild rice), as opposed to refined;
  • Water should be the drink of choice

The images below summarise the new guide's main messages and features:

The regular intake of plant-based foods—vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and plant-based proteins— can have positive effects on health. This is because patterns of eating that emphasize plant-based foods typically result in higher intakes of dietary fibre (associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, and type 2 diabetes) vegetables and fruit (associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease), nuts (associated with decreased LDL-cholesterol) and soy protein (associated with decreased LDL-cholesterol). Shifting intakes towards more plant-based foods could also encourage lower intakes of: processed meat (such as hot dogs, sausages, ham, corned beef, and beef jerky), which have been linked to increased risk of colorectal cancer, and foods that contain mostly saturated fat.
Canada's Dietary Guidelines for Health Professionals and Policy Makers, 2019

Anna de Mello & Jono Drew

Founders, Plant-Based Living Initiative

January 23, 2019

Topic / Food Policy

Introduction /
Canada's upcoming Food Guide: A revamp for the ages

EAT-Lancet /
Eating in the Anthropocence

Relevant articles

Dietary Guidelines /
Canada Food Guide

Importantly, the Food Guide now directs people toward the consumption of whole foods- a change that, if not as bold as it could be, is much more in keeping with the evidence base.

According to The National Post:

"Gone is the rainbow of the old four food groups [fruits and veggies, grains, dairy, meat]... Instead, foods are now grouped into three categories: fruit and vegetables; whole grains (such as brown rice and quinoa); and protein foods. Also gone are recommendations for specific portions or servings... Instead, it lists foods Canadians are encouraged to eat on a regular basis, and which ones to limit.''

The new Food Guide has also managed to remove the emphasis on meat:

"Lean meat is included as one of the guide’s protein foods... but it’s no longer the main attraction. And that’s a good thing. High intakes of red meat have been tied to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer. Eating more protein from plants, on the other hand, has been associated with a lower risk of premature death from cardiovascular disease." -The Globe and Mail

The Food Guide can be found by clicking here.



Encouragingly, messages within the new Food Guide share similarities with the EAT-Lancet 'Planetary Health Plate' - a component of the newly released EAT-Lancet report- compiled by a team of 37 international experts working across a range of scientific disciplines to define healthy and sustainable eating patterns for a future global population of 10 billion people.

EAT-Lancet advocates for huge reductions (more than 50%) in the global consumption of red and processed meats, along with a doubling of plant-food intake (vegetables, fruits, legumes), so as to avoid millions of deaths worldwide while helping to mitigate climate change and other environmental catastrophes.

The Planetary Health Plate is certainly bolder than Canada's Food Guide, recommending just 98 grams of red meat (pork, beef, or lamb), if any, per week (that's just 14 grams per day), along with at least five servings of fruit and vegetables (500 grams) and at least 75 grams of legumes on a daily basis. The report is also focussed on highlighting the co-benefits of its recommended eating pattern for personal and planetary health.

Messaging within the new Food Guide, in contrast, is certainly not focussed on environmental sustainability. Although the guide has taken a major step in the right direction, it should explicitly mention both the climate crisis and planetary boundaries as justification for its recommendations, and should recommend stronger and more explicit limits around the intake of red and processed meats, in particular.