The introduction of Canada’s new food guide has created a significant stir. The new guide has moved away from a historic focus on servings and food groups, to proportions of food presented on a plate. The guide recommends that half your plate be fruits and vegetables, a quarter be proteins, and another quarter whole grains.
Many are suggesting fundamental changes in Canadians’ eating habits will result from these changes but the reality is likely much less extreme. Perhaps this new guide is better viewed as a reflection of the evolution in Canadian diets, rather than driving a revolution in and of itself.
Canadians have been reducing their intake of red meat for many years and this trend is unlikely to stop now.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that about 5% of Canadians identify as vegetarians and another almost 3% as vegan. Interestingly, when responding to survey questions about non-meat main meals, more than half of the vegetarians and vegans acknowledged eating some meat. Virtue signalling and aspiration to “do better” likely means we are overstating the true proportion of completely vegetarian or vegan consumers.
This decrease in consumption is driven by a variety of factors. For one, an aging population will generally eat smaller portions. There is also a significant increase in “flexitarianism.” Flexitarians are not to be grouped with vegans and vegetarians, as they still eat animal protein, just less of it. In our recent survey, a surprising 85% of Canadians said they were eating at least one main meal a month without animal protein and many were eating several non-meat main meals per month.
Regardless, it’s clear that many Canadians are eating less meat than they were in the past (although likely still more than was recommended in the previous edition of the food guide). This is happening for a variety of reasons including health - the main focus of the food guide. Concern about animal welfare, production systems, and the impact of livestock production on the environment also contribute to the decision to eat less meat. Even the desire for novelty and different proteins likely plays a role.
There is significant concern in some areas of livestock production that the new guide will accelerate the rate of decline in consumption of their products. While the changes do codify a recommendation to move towards a more plant-based diet, there is little to suggest that the new Canada Food Guide will create a tectonic shift in Canadians’ eating patterns.
The reality is that the Food Guide is far more a reflection of what’s already happening, rather than a completely new direction of Canadian diets.
The Canada Food Guide is one source of information on making “good” eating choices. Our inclination to confirm our own biases will often drive us to information that supports our choices and there are many sources of information beyond the food guide.
Although the arrival of the new guide has created a buzz, the noise will die down and people will eat as they do while diets evolve based on changing preferences and new information. The guide is but one voice in a cacophony of science and opinion of what we should eat.
In truth, if we eat a balanced diet of healthy foods with quality animal proteins in moderation, we will be fine.
Recommended citation format: von Massow, M. “The New Food Guide – a reflection or driver of change?”. Food Focus Guelph (8), Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Guelph, January 24th, 2019.