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  • Writer's pictureMolly Gallant

The Food Guide: then and now

Updated: Aug 12, 2019


Canada’s recently updated food guide seems to be populating headlines everywhere – and for good reason. The last time the food guide was updated was in 2007 and if there’s one thing most of us can agree on, it’s that this version is now heavily outdated.

As we begin to examine and form opinions on the new food guide, it is interesting to step back and contemplate where it started and what function it serves today.

The first rendition of the food guide was published in 1942. Entitled “Canada’s Official Food Rules”, this rudimentary document was created to ensure Canadian soldiers were strong and well-fed. Motivated by food consumption surveys showing food security and malnutrition to be prevalent, the government created this document to improve the health of Canadians, despite food rationing and poverty. It was in this guide that we were first introduced to the concept of food groups – although in 1942 there were six (Milk; Fruit; Vegetables; Cereals and Breads; Meat, Fish, Eggs, etc. and Eggs).

Image of Canada's official food rules from 1942.
Retrieved from:

Certainly, we have come a long way both as a society and in terms of our understanding of nutrition. However, in many ways the simple concepts underlying today’s food guide have not shifted dramatically.

As the food guide progressed over the years and six food groups became four, the document was continually used to shape federal nutrition programs and arguably to a lesser degree, individuals’ diets. As the Government of Canada’s website states;

"The same intent underlies all of the guides between 1942 and the present version: guiding food selection to promote the nutritional health of Canadians."

Despite noble intentions on behalf of our government, the long vindicated 2007 edition of the food guide has been suggested to be implicated in the advancement of today’s obesity epidemic. An article published in the National Post in 2016 went so far as to suggest that due to compliance with the food guide, the Canadian population has gotten both “fatter and sicker”. As a headline; “The Canada Food Guide is killing you” certainly evokes fear – as do many of today’s headlines about food.

Image of steak and arugula and tomato salad on a wooden chopping board.

In 2014, Brazil updated their food guide in a manner that is still considered today to be nothing short of revolutionary. Endorsed by many, it eliminates categorizing diets by groups, pyramids, nutrients or position on a plate and instead, focuses on how food is made. Encouraging consumption of unprocessed or minimally processed foods (that your grandmother might recognize!), it takes a simplified, friendly approach to food and healthy eating. Furthermore, it emphasizes a set of wholesome rules encouraging Brazilians to sit down for meals with friends and family in order to enjoy both the food and the experience – a notion that gets back to the basics of the family meal more than any food group model I’ve ever seen.

Image of people sitting around a table passing food and eating.

This version of the Brazilian food guide was created in consultation with University of Montreal professor Jean-Claude Moubarac. It should therefore come as no surprise that the 2019 edition of the food guide shows some similarity to the Brazilian guide.

The 2019 version of the Canadian Food Guide is, in many ways, simple and approachable. The photo we’ve been seeing on our newsfeeds since the food guide’s release on Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019 emphasizes four basic principles;

  1. Have plenty of vegetables and fruit

  2. Eat protein foods

  3. Make water your drink of choice

  4. Choose whole grain foods

Image of Canada's 2019 updated food guide suggesting consumers eat a variety of healthy foods each day.

Alongside seven guiding principles;

  1. Be mindful of your eating habits

  2. Cook more often

  3. Enjoy your food

  4. Eat meals with others

  5. Use food labels

  6. Limit foods high in sodium, sugars or saturated fat

  7. Be aware of food marketing

In my opinion, this edition of the Food Guide is definitely a shift in the right direction, simple and easy to interpret. For some, that might be seen as a strike against – where is the innovation? What’s novel and new? How will simple and uncomplicated visuals and advice address modern-day health problems?

If you ask me, simple and uncomplicated is just what we need.

Making healthy food choices does not need to be enormously difficult or scary.

By simplifying the advice given to Canadians through the broader dissemination of the Food Guide, I believe we are doing them a great favour. Returning to basic principles, being mindful of your eating, cooking more often, making water your drink of choice, I believe that it is with these simple ideas that we can do the greatest good for our nation’s health.


Recommended citation format: Gallant, M. “The Food Guide: Then and Now”. Food Focus Guelph (9), Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Guelph, January 25th, 2019.



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