Are you getting enough?

Canada's Food Guide - which was revised in 2007 - is arranged as a rainbow, with four bands representing the four main food groups. Fruits and vegetables make up the largest component of the rainbow.
It took three years of consultations, discussions, negotiations and revisions for Health
Canada's Food Guide is arranged as a rainbow, with fruits and vegetables making up the largest component. (Health Canada)
Canada to overhaul Canada's Food Guide in February 2007 — the first revamp in 15 years.

There were major changes from previous versions of the guide:

  • Information targeted to specific groups - children, teens, women, men and the elderly. 
  • Serving sizes instead of just how many servings from each food group. 
  • Advice to adults over 50 to take a vitamin D supplement every day, to help reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
  • A recommendation that people strive to get their fruit and vegetable servings from fresh fruits and vegetables instead of juice, as much as possible.
  • More emphasis on fruits and vegetables: that category makes up the largest band of the food guide rainbow. The Meat and alternatives category make up the smallest band.

The guide also recommends that Canadians eat foods with little or no added salt, though it's not clear whether a low-salt diet provides added benefits for healthy people. It also recommends that Canadians include some fats and oils in their diet, with the focus on unsaturated fats such as olive and canola oils. The guide recommends that people limit trans fats, as much as possible.

If you've ever wondered what nutritionists mean when they refer to a serving, you can turn to the guide for advice. Take grapes. Twenty of them equal one fruit serving. So does a medium-sized apple. Half a cup of cooked bok choy is one vegetable serving.

If you're having a stir fry for dinner, one cup of mixed broccoli, carrot and sweet red pepper would give you two vegetables and fruit servings, and 75 grams of chicken would constitute a meat and alternatives serving.

Don't like meat? You could substitute 150 grams of tofu for the chicken in your stir fry.

Half a medium potato equals one serving of vegetables — so Mr. 45-year-old Male, if you piled the mashed potatoes on your Christmas dinner plate, you probably filled your fruit and vegetables requirement for the day. And that's not taking into account all the other goodies that surrounded the potatoes. 

Evolution of the guide

Back in 1942, the first food guide, Canada's Official Food Rules, was released. One of the six food groups it listed was milk. It has played a prominent role in the food guide ever since. In the 2007 overhaul, "milk and alternatives" form one of four groups. Critics of the guide argue there's too much emphasis on dairy and not enough on alternatives. The guide suggests soy beverage as an alternative to milk.

According to the guide, 250 ml (one cup) of milk or fortified soy beverage equals one serving. If you're between the ages of nine and 18, the guide recommends three to four servings every day. Other dairy-based recommendations include cheese, kefir or paneer.

The guide recommends that adults between 19 and 50 consume two servings of milk or alternatives every day. Once you're past 50, add another serving every day to help protect against the brittle-bone disease osteoporosis.

When it comes to grain products, the guide suggests seven servings a day for teenage boys and six for teenage girls. You can get one serving each from a slice of bread (whole grain, please), 125 ml (half a cup) of cooked pasta or 30 grams of cold cereal (one of those individual-sized serving boxes).

Health Canada's website provides a wide range of tools to customize the food guide for your age group and gender. It also provides some specific advice on the types of foods you should be eating. For instance, the guide advises that among your fruit and vegetable choices, you should consume at least one dark green and one orange vegetable every day — and that you should eat vegetables and fruit more often than juice, which lacks fibre and can pack on more calories.

Canada's Food Guide remains a key source of information on healthy food choices for most people. It is, though, a guide and not the "official food rules" that the 1942 version was labelled.