I live in Canada, which means I've learned Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating for as long as I remember. Currently, it's rainbow-shaped, those of you who are older may remember other shapes.
Depending on who you ask, it's either the gospel, or not worth the paper it's printed on. Kids learn it in schools, so it must be a little important, right? My professional opinion is, sort of. There are a lot of great things in there, but also a lot of stuff that can complicate healthy eating unnecessarily.
So here we go, a walk through the food guide.
1. There are 4 food groups for a reason.
The food groups group food with those they are like nutritionally. This means that all the foods in that group offer similar nutrition. Therefore, cutting out an entire food group means you will miss out on a certain group of nutrients. This is never a good idea.
2. The foods within a food group are similar.
Like I just said, foods in a group offer similar nutrition. That means you can eat the food you like, and not the ones you don't like. For example, in the meat and alternatives food group, you can eat meat, or not! Vegetarians and vegans don't have to eat animal products, because there are other foods (tofu, beans, legumes, nuts) that offer similar nutrition to beef, chicken, fish, etc. Similarly, all vegetables are in the fruits and vegetables food group, so if you don't like carrots, don't eat carrots! Variety is the spice of life, but choking down a food you don't like because you feel like you should isn't pleasurable dining. There are lots of foods to choose from, be adventurous, but know that if you don't like it, it's okay.
3. Serving sizes are complicated
There's a large chart on the left of the food guide outlining the number of servings of each people need depending on their age and sex. Does that mean that a 13 year old girl needs to eat fruit and vegetables 6 times a day? Or that a 60 year old man should eat the same amount as an 80 year old woman? Or that a 3 year old boy should eat meat once a day? The answer to all of these questions is no. People can eat more than one serving at a time, but then how many servings of vegetables are there in the salad at lunch? How many servings of chicken are in my taco? Healthy eating doesn't have to be this complicated, ignore that chart. In a future blog post, I will give you an easier way to balance your meals without having to use this chart. Ignoring this chart also means you can ignore the serving sizes under the foods on the food guide (except for juice! This will also be covered in a future blog post).
4. Don't forget about the oils and fats
Fat has gotten a bad rap, it's cut out of every food and people try to burn it all the time. Then, once it's demonized by an entire culture, suddenly people are putting it in their coffee! As I'm talking about the Food Guide in this post, I'll just say that fat is important, but limit your use of it. Don't go crazy, but notice that it's not given it's own food group.
5. The Food Guide is pretty monocultural
The most common version is based on typical, Western foods. We live in a very multicultural world, and people regularly eat foods from other cultures. how do you know which food group hummus is in (what exactly is tahini anyway?). Since there are only a handful of foods per food group on the guide, the Food Guide website allows you to search for other foods or download the food guide in other languages.
There will never be a perfect food guide, but it's a good resource to get started on eating healthier. Start paying attention to the food groups represented in your favourite meals, and try a few new foods!