As a dietitian, I find myself defending Canada’s Food Guide (CFG) to Healthy Eating often, to friends and even some of my patients.  The problem, as I see it, is that the CFG isn’t on par with diet books making best-seller lists or doing the circuit of daytime talk shows.  It doesn’t have the cachet of a new diet book with new and exciting ideas.  What it does have, however, is scientific backing and longevity.

Canada’s Food Guide was given an overhaul in 2007 after many years and remains a rainbow image.

Each band in the rainbow represents one of the four food groups: vegetables and fruit, grain products, milk & alternatives and meat & alternatives.  The larger the band of the rainbow, the more we should choose from the food group (i.e. vegetables and fruit).  The overhaul changed the focus to veggies and fruit and highlighted healthier fats and food sources of them including nuts and seeds, among others.

Where some of the criticism comes in is about the servings sizes of different foods and whether one could actually lose weight following the CFG.  Serving sizes, as long as I’ve been in practice, are confusing to most and aren’t the most intuitive part of the Food Guide.  This I agree with.  However, in practice, I often refer to common objects like a tennis ball (for an apple serving), a deck of cards (for a meat or alternatives serving, like chicken or fish) and a closed fist for a 1 cup serving (cereal, pasta, cut fruit or veggies).  This, to most people, makes more sense. I mean, do you really know what ½ cup of ice cream looks like?

As for weight loss, a Health Canada spokesperson was quoted, after the re-release of the food guide in 2007, as saying that the Guide was never intended as a weight loss tool but rather as a healthy eating tool (yes, they are different).  So, the bottom line is that if you follow the Guide (more or less), you won’t necessarily shed the pounds unless you were eating a lot of the less healthy stuff not found in the Guide, like frozen dinners, donuts or sweets.  Including more leafy greens, high fibre grains, low-fat milk products and lean protein will undoubtedly make you feel better, be healthier but you might not see it in the mirror.  Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not helping – and sometimes that’s the hardest reason to believe because it doesn’t seem tangible somehow.  But, trust me as someone who’s seen in practice with my patients, it is – it really is a great tool and a great way to a healthier you.

Stay tuned for Sarah’s opposing view to the usefulness of Canada’s Food Guide…