Still, only one in three of us eat what we should. For most people with diabetes, Canada’s Food Guide can provide the foundation for an appropriate diet. Most of us are aware of the food guide but perhaps don’t understand how it developed and is structured.
Canada’s first food guide, the Official Food Rules, was introduced to the public in 1942. This guide acknowledged wartime food rationing, while trying to promote adequate nutrition and improve the health of Canadians.
Since 1942, the food guide has been transformed many times. It has been given new names, new looks, and new messages. However, it has never wavered from its original purpose of guiding food selection and promoting nutritional health for Canadians.
In 1982, the guide shifted its dietary advice in an attempt to reduce chronic diseases that were hitting Canadians in ever-rising numbers. A message to limit fat, sugar, salt and alcohol was added.
In 1992, the Food Guide's design changed again – this time to a rainbow. The largest of the rainbow's rays show grain products, vegetables and fruit, which we should eat more often. Smaller rays are for milk products, meat and alternatives. Choosing lower fat products is suggested.
With the latest revision in 2007, Health Canada decided to include more culturally diverse foods, information on trans fats, customized recommendations, and exercise guidelines.
Unlike the general portion recommendations in the old food guide, this edition offers detailed suggestions based on age and gender. For instance, male teens should eat eight servings from vegetables and fruits, seven from grain products, three to four from milk and alternatives, and three from meat and alternatives.
A range of new foods, such as bok choy, quinoa, and fortified soy beverages, appears in the guide. This reflects the needs of a culturally diverse population.
The guide also emphasizes that physical activity is a way to curb health problems including diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis and certain types of cancer. It is not enough for us just to eat well. We must also exercise regularly.
This Food Guide contains simple messages on the best nutritional choice within each food group, and many ideas on healthy eating.
Vegetables and fruit
Vegetables and fruit make up the largest arc of Canada's Food Guide rainbow. Daily recommendations range from four servings for children aged two to three years to 10 servings for men 19 to 50 years. A serving size is one-half cup (125 mL) fresh, frozen or canned vegetables or fruits, one medium fruit, or one cup (250 mL) raw leafy vegetables. A healthy diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruit may help reduce the risk of some cancers and heart disease.
Having at least one vegetable or fruit at every meal and as a snack will help you get the amount of vegetables and fruit you need each day. Explore the variety of colours, tastes and textures this food group offers. (See box above for more ideas.)
Choose whole grains rather than processed flour products, which are often made with white flour and little fibre. Fibre rich foods can help you feel full and satisfied. A diet rich in whole grains may also help reduce the risk of heart disease. Daily recommendations range from three servings for children aged two to three years to eight servings for males 19 to 50 years. A serving is one slice of bread, one-half cup (125 mL) cooked pasta, rice, bulgur or quinoa, 30 grams of cereal, or three-quarters of a cup (175 mL or 150 grams) of hot (cooked) cereal.
Milk and alternatives
Milk and alternatives contain important nutrients like calcium, magnesium and vitamin D that are good for your bones. Having milk or fortified soy beverages every day provides the nutrients that you need for healthy bones and the best possible health. Daily recommendations range from two servings for children aged two to three years to three servings for males 19 to 50 years. A serving size is one cup (250 mL) of milk or fortified soy beverage, three-quarters cup (175 mL) yogurt, or 1½ ounces (50 grams) of cheese.
Meat and alternatives
Meat and alternatives provide protein, fat and many other important nutrients including iron, zinc, magnesium and B vitamins.
You do not need to eat large amounts from this group to satisfy your nutritional needs. The daily recommendations range from one serving for children aged two to three years to three servings for males 19 to 50 years. A serving size is 2½ ounces (75 grams) of cooked fish, poultry, or lean meat, three-quarters cup (175 mL) legumes or tofu, two eggs, two tablespoons (30 mL) of peanut butter, or one-quarter cup (60 mL) shelled nuts and seeds.
The eating patterns of many Canadians may be quite different from the recommended amount and type of food. A good exercise to help you learn about Canada’s Food Guide is to keep track or make a tally of the food you eat for a day or two.
Compare the amount of food you eat in a normal day to the recommended number of Food Guide servings for each of the food groups. (See adjacent serving size box). Note whether you are meeting or exceeding the recommended number of servings for each food group. As well, compare the food you choose to the type of food recommended in Canada’s Food Guide. This can help you identify changes you can make to follow a healthier eating pattern.
By eating more fruits and vegetables, you are more likely to lose weight, feel full, have fewer cravings, control blood glucose, and generally feel better.