When Canada’s long-anticipated food guide overhaul was recently unveiled, the overriding message was loud and clear: eat more plant-based fare. In its first major update in more than 12 years, the new guide has widened its scope and reminds Canadians to cook at home more often, be mindful in their eating habits and be conscious of food marketing in an effort to limit their intake of sodium, sugar and saturated fats. As many health professionals predicted, the 62-page guide also emphasizes the importance of getting protein from plant-based sources such as beans, nuts and lentils, rather than opting for animal-based foods such as meat and poultry. No doubt the verdict came as a surprise to consumers, who grew up learning about the four distinct food groups that Canada’s Food Guide once touted as essential to a healthy diet. So, what exactly has changed? A lot, as it turns out.
Here we look at the major dos and don’ts from Canada’s updated food guide:
1. DO Prioritize Protein-Rich Foods
Pack a protein punch by introducing more nutrition powerhouses into your everyday diet. Items such as nuts, legumes, seeds, tofu, fish, eggs and lean red meat, among others, helps the immune system stay in tip-top shape and keeps us lean. To make the transition a little easier, stock your fridge and cupboards with hard-boiled eggs, canned beans and protein bars or powders so you’ll always have them on hand to add to your favourite recipe or enjoy as a snack.
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2. DO Consider More Plant-Based Foods
While many animal-based foods are nutritious and delicious, the new food guide places a stronger emphasis on plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and plant-based proteins, which can help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. Although this has drawn the ire of big meat and dairy producers, health professionals claim it’s for the betterment of both our health and the environment.
Get the recipes for 20 Easy Vegan Weeknight Dinner Recipes
3. DO Become BFFs With Water
As the latest food guide overhaul makes abundantly clear, water should now and forever be your “beverage of choice.” That’s right, in an effort to keep us hydrated and curb the amount of sugary soft drinks and juices consumed (not to mention alcohol), water is the way to go from here on in. If that all sounds a little… well …repetitive and dull, consider adding flavour to your H20 with a handful of your favourite fruits, veggie slices or a dash of herbs such as mint or basil. Another option is to incorporate more water-rich foods into your diet, such as cucumber, watermelon and zucchini. If all else fails, there’s an app for that! The free Daily Water app can help you track your daily H20 intake and, before you know it, you’ll be opting for water over a soft drink or glass of wine at your next meal or social gathering.
4. DO Expand Your Palate
Canada boasts a rich diversity that can be seen in the variety of traditions, cultures and lifestyles that make up our nation – and the latest guide wants us to expand our food repertoire by exploring recipes outside our palate’s comfort zone. For those less adventurous foodies, you can start by trying something new every day, starting with items in a similar taste group (“flavour families”) as one of your favourite foods. For example, if you prefer sweet foods such as corn, then you’ll probably also enjoy parsnips and butternut squash.
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5. DO Consider the Environment
While the overall health of Canadians is the main focus of the recent food guide updates, our actions – and what we choose to consume on a regular basis – do have a lasting impact on the environment. For example, there is strong evidence that eating more plant-based foods (and, by default, less animal-based products) affects greenhouse gas emissions, the amount of land used and pollutants produced. So go ahead and reduce your carbon footprint by opting for more plant-based proteins.
6. DON’T Confuse Whole Grains with Whole Wheat
With an influx of fibre, iron, plant-based protein and B vitamins, whole grains sure pack a considerable nutritional punch. Whole grain kernels are divided into three distinct parts: bran (outer shell packed with fibre and antioxidants), endosperm (middle layer made up of carbs) and germ (inner layer chock-full of minerals, proteins and vitamins). It also allows for a lot of versatility in the kitchen, as quinoa, wild rice, bulgur, oatmeal and millet, among others, are all considered whole grains.
Get the recipes for 10 Healthiest Whole Grains and How to Cook Them
7. DON’T Netflix and Nosh
We may not want to admit it, but most of us are serial snackers – whether we’re unconsciously doing it while watching TV at the end of a long work day or indulging in an assortment of goodies at a social gathering. A more mindful approach to help you “snack smart” includes selecting healthier versions of some of your go-to staples (instead of fries or chips, for example, you can opt for sweet potato fries. Yum!).
8. DON’T Waste Food
It happens: Produce goes bad, post-party scraps end up in the trash, and sometimes leftovers are tossed out instead of saved for a later date. According to the updated Canada Food Guide, however, a whopping annual average of $31 billion in wasted food is discarded due to impulse shopping, poor storage and unnecessarily large meals. To combat the issue – and help save the planet in the process – consider keeping everything neat and visible in your fridge so you’re always aware of what food you have and, when preparing for a meal, be conscious of serving sizes. You can further reduce household waste by preserving leftovers, donating unused non-perishable items and understanding expiration dates. It’ll save you money in the long run, as well.
See here for 8 Ways to Cut Food Waste in Your Kitchen
9. DON’T Fall for Fad Diets
You’ve seen ads for them everywhere, from TV to Instagram, extolling the virtues of the latest fad diet for quick-fix weight loss. Instead of cutting out certain foods or restricting your intake, consider incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet and opting for portion-controlled meals consisting of lean meats and fish. Enjoying a well-balanced breakfast every morning also goes a long way toward keeping your stomach satiated while waiting for your next meal – no diet required.
10. DON’T Ignore Food Labels – Especially Now
Sugar, along with saturated fat and sodium, are included in a group of items to cut back on. In fact, soft drinks are the number one source of sugar in the average Canadian diet. Cutting back on processed foods and reading food labels are easy ways to reduce your sugar and sodium intake. In addition, Health Canada has updated its nutrition label regulations, requiring that all sugar-based ingredients be listed in descending order by weight going forward. Food producers have three years to comply with this latest regulation.