Thursday 2 June 2011

Good Information

Michelle Obama and the USDA launched a new nutrition icon, MyPlate, and a new nutrition website,, today.  Both the icon and the website are designed to demonstrate healthy portions and are part of a drive to address obesity, poor nutritional habits, and diseases resulting from these issues in the US.  The icon’s a great idea and the information offered on the website is very good indeed.

The announcement got me thinking about Canada’s Food Guide.  Next year the guide will be 70 years old and, while its contents and advice have changed over the years, it continues to be an excellent educational tool. 

Anyone who’s grown up in Canada is familiar with the Food Guide and its nutritional information.  The information in the guide is taught in public schools from kindergarten right through to high school food science and life skills programs. 

Sadly—perhaps because we do hear so much about it in school—many Canadians tend to view the information in the guide as old fashioned and no longer relevant to our day-to-day lives.  In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.  The guide is built through a consultative process with health experts, consumers, literature reviews, food consumption surveys, consumer research, and commissioned scientific reviews.  It's regularly updated.  The result is current, relevant nutritional information, presented in an easy to understand format.

The first version of Canada’s food guide, titled “Canada’s Official Food Rules,” was published in 1942.  It arose from concerns about poor access to food, insufficient money for food, and malnutrition in some areas of the country, and also from the struggles faced by all Canadians as a result of war time rationing.  Its intent was to provide Canadians with the tools needed to achieve good nutrition in the face of the day’s challenges. 

In 1961, the name “Canada’s Food Guide” first appeared.  The new guide stressed its flexibility and wide-ranging application for healthy eating, recognizing that many different dietary patterns could satisfy nutrient needs.  This is the guide that I was taught in school.  It was presented in a format we still recognize today, with different food groups and a number of options listed for each group.

The 1977 Food Guide presented the food groups as four parts of a divided circle that foreshadowed the MyPlate icon.  The presentation has changed since then, but Canada's Food Guide continues to use a four-food-group format, with updated nutritional information.

I’m happy to see that Canada's food guide information remains so relevant.  The guide is a good tool, easily understood and possible to implement.  I’m glad, too, to know that the process of building these guidelines continues to be consultative.  Consultation ensures that our food guides will continue to grow and change as new nutritional science becomes available.   

Both MyPlate and Canada's Food Guide are worth visiting now, and revisiting in the future.  If you would like to find out more about Canada’s Food Guide, you can find it on the Heath Canada website at

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