Canada's Food Guide

Canada's Food Guide is a daily eating plan designed to help people of all ages choose their food wisely. The Dietary Standard for Canada recommends a daily nutrient intake for Canadians, but because people select food and not nutrients, nutrient recommendations have been translated into food choices. The guide enables many individuals to meet their nutrient needs by following a simple daily food pattern based on 4 food groups. Each food group has its own key nutrients which are needed daily. Some studies reveal that the pattern will not supply the Recommended Daily Nutrient Intakes for all individuals; women, for instance, may need more iron.

Canada's first food guide, the Official Food Rules, was developed in 1942 to encourage adequate nutrition for Canadians, which was instigated by the necessity to ration food during World War II. These rules were revised several times between 1942 and 1961 to address changing social circumstances.

The Canadian Council on Nutrition was first appointed in 1938, and it worked on the food guidelines until 1969. The group comprised a variety of health and nutrition scientists and other specialists. These experts approved food guides and developed Canadian dietary standards. The intent of the guides until 1949 was to improve the health of Canadians by increasing knowledge of nutritional needs in the context of poverty and international food shortages. The importance of limiting excessive food was first mentioned in the 1949 guide and moderation has remained a key focus ever since. The Food Guide has been revised approximately each decade since the 1960s.

The most recent guide continues to emphasize moderation in food intake and the importance of balancing food with exercise for Canadians of all ages. Another focal point of the modern Food Guide is the emphasis on the overall diet; through the 1970s the food guides only described the minimum nutritional requirements for individuals. Currently the serving ranges of different food groups reflect the dietary needs of a broad population base, from young children through to adults over age 50. A specific guide for Indigenous Canadians has also been developed that includes recommendations for traditional and non-traditional foods.

Nutritional Requirements

Because nutritional requirements are highly dependent upon individual characteristics (eg, weight, sex, age, activity levels, etc), the guide provides a wide range of servings for each of the food groups to ensure the nutritional requirements of all Canadians can be achieved. The guide recommends that the following should be chosen every day from each of the 4 food groups: milk products (children 2-3 servings, adolescents 3-4 servings, adults 2-4 servings), grain products (6-8 servings), vegetables and fruit (7-10 servings) and meat and alternatives (2-3 servings). Making the appropriate number of choices from each of the 4 food groups will help Canadians obtain the nutrients they require for optimal health.

Central Principle

The central principle of Canada's Food Guide is variety. This is because each food group offers its own particular pattern of key nutrient strengths, but no single food or food group can supply all the nutrients needed. Some people, however, because of allergies or digestive problems, budget limitations, calorie requirements, food availability, personal preferences and dislikes, or philosophical or religious beliefs, may not eat a food or foods within a food group. The guide is sufficiently flexible to accommodate these factors.

Not all foods are included in Canada's Food Guide (eg, candy, pop, alcohol, coffee, butter, margarine, salad dressing, snack foods, etc). These foods may add taste and enjoyment to our diet and can be included as part of a healthy diet. However, they tend to be higher in fat and lower in nutritive value and according to the Guide should be chosen in moderation.