A long-awaited update to Canada's Food Guide has been unveiled that finally accounts for age and gender differences in its recommendations.

The new guide is the first update to the bible on nutritional standards in more than 14 years.

As expected, it encourages eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and recommends limiting foods high in calories, fat, sugar and salt.

But it also emphasizes the importance of combining regular physical activity with healthy eating.

And for the first time, it accounts for the different caloric intakes of men and women, as the previous guide didn't, and provides clear advice on portion sizes.

For example, one Food Guide serving of Grain Products is:

  • one slice of bread
  • 1/2 a bagel
  • 1/2 a pita
  • 1/2 a bun

In another first, it also includes more culturally relevant foods from a variety of ethnic cuisines.

Many had complained that the previous guide was suitable only for adults and offered no advice to seniors. This new guide recommends a Vitamin D supplement for Canadians over the age of 50, noting that it's difficult for seniors to obtain adequate vitamin D from their diet alone.

Health Minister Tony Clement says the new guide provides "the best, most current information available for eating well and living healthy," and its recommendations are consistent with the latest evidence linking a healthy diet to a reduced risk of chronic diseases.

Some the tips the new Guide offers include:

  • Eat at least one dark green and one orange vegetable each day
  • Have vegetables and fruit more often than juice
  • Enjoy vegetables and fruit prepared with little or no added fat, sugar or salt
  • Have vegetables steamed, baked or stir-fried instead of deep fried
  • Have meat alternatives such as beans, lentils and tofu often
  • Eat at least two Food Guide Servings of fish each week
  • Select lean meat and alternatives prepared with little or no added fat or salt
  • Include a small amount - 30 to 45 mL (2 to 3 Tbsp) of unsaturated fat each day.

A new, interactive Web component, "My Food Guide," on the Health Canada website helps users personalize the Food Guide information according to their age, sex and food preferences.

Health Canada is also developing a specially tailored Food Guide for First Nations, Inuit and Metis people that will be released this spring.

Canadians will also soon be able to print "My Food Guide" in a number of different languages.


Dieticians, medical and food experts praised the updated food guide for being more inclusive when it comes to food choices, and for being more specific about quantities of servings than the previous incarnation.

"There's more guidance on how much to eat, the number of servings somebody should be getting per day, and also the quality of the foods they're choosing," Registered Dietician Leslie Beck told CTV.ca.

Beck also lauded the fact that the new guide lists alternatives to meat and milk and products.

"I'm very happy to see this. We have to look at people who are lactose intolerant, or people who can't or choose not to eat meat. There are also different cultural reasons as to why people can't consume these foods," said Beck.

Donna Wood, the event director for the Ethnic & Specialty Food Expo in Toronto, said new guidelines do well in encouraging people to start thinking in terms of the variety of healthy, "less processed" types of food available.

The guide "dovetails beautifully into what 'ethnic' cuisines have been practicing for decades: very little process, even when it does come conveniently packaged," Wood told CTV.ca, adding that it encourages people to use "as much 'authentic' ingredients as possible ... "

Meanwhile, Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute, agreed that while the new Canada Food Guide is a "major improvement" from the previous version, he still gave it a "B minus" grade.

Freedhoff, who dedicates his practice in Ottawa to the treatment of obesity, said the new guide "completely ignores calories" -- a fact he said is lamentable considering Canada's obesity problem.

Following the food guide, said Freedhoff, would provide Canadians with more calories than the average person needs. "A person following the food guide will likely gain weight," Freedhoff told CTV.ca.

For example, Freedhoff points to the guide's recommendations that adults drink two cups of milk (either one or two per cent) each day.

"First of all, it should be recommending skim milk for adults," said Freedhoff. "But if you were to choose two per cent milk, for someone who wasn't consuming milk and adding it to their diet, that would contribute 25 pounds per year."

Another problem, said Freedhoff, is the guide's recommendation to "limit" trans fats in your diet.

"Why limit them when we should be eliminating them outright?" said Freedhoff.

While most experts interviewed by CTV.ca agreed with the guide's recommendations based on age and gender, some say it didn't go far enough.

Under a table listing recommended number of food guide servings of vegetables and fruit per day, for example, the guide lists 7 servings for males and females 51 years of age and over.

"For the older Canadians, grouping every one over 51 is a very broad range," Dr. Sheila Innis, director of the National Research Program at B.C.'s Child and Family Research Institute, told CTV.ca.

"Given the many Canadians moving upwards, some thought to older Canadians with lower activity would be useful," she said.

The Canada Food Guide was first published during the Second World War. Since 1942, it has been transformed many times, adopting new names, new looks, and new messages.

It is the second-most requested government document -- after income tax forms.

This latest guide cost $1.5 million and nearly two years to develop, and used input from advisory committees that included dietitians, physicians, food industry representatives and other stakeholders.