We read the new food guide (so you don’t have to)

After lots of anticipation and more than a few rumours, Canada’s new food guide was finally released this week. From removing the four food groups to doing away with servings per day, the new version is simpler, cleaner and much easier to understand. Which is a good thing, because it’s packed with common sense nutritional tips, advising Canadians to go lighter on sugary drinks and animal products – and to load their plates up with fruits, veggies and plant-based proteins. So what does that look like for the everyday eater? We’re here to break down and summarize their advice so it’s easier to digest (sorry, couldn’t resist).

A variety of healthy foods

The biggest take-home message in the new food guide? Eat a variety of healthy foods per day, filling about half your plate with fruits and veggies and a quarter each of whole grains and protein. First up, fruits and veggies. Not everyone wants half their plate to look like a garden salad for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but there are other ways to work more of these nutritional powerhouses into your diet.

  • For breakfast, add berries or a banana to your cereal, yogurt or oatmeal.
  • At snack time, grab a piece of fruit or some veggies and dip rather than chips or cookies.
  • Short on time? Keep your freezer stocked with frozen veggies, so you can easily add a little extra nutrition to soups, casseroles, pasta, curries, rice dishes…and the list goes on.
  • Always keep washed greens, some assorted veggies and a salad dressing in your fridge, so it’s extra easy to whip up a side salad with your dinner.
  • Throughout the day, try to eat a variety of different-coloured produce, so you get all the nutritional benefits.

Next up on your plate, protein-rich foods. In the old food guide, Meat and Dairy had their own “food groups,” with plant-based options merely listed as alternatives. This time around, not only are plant-based proteins given the same importance as animal products – they are actually recommended as a healthier choice, thanks to being higher in fibre and lower in saturated fats. Which has vegans across the country doing a serious happy dance. But for people not already following a plant-forward diet, it sure sounds daunting. But trust us – it couldn’t be easier to get all the protein you need from plants.

  • Stock up on nuts and nut butters, and add them to your breakfast, whether it’s stirring chopped nuts into your oatmeal or adding a dollop of nut butter to your favourite smoothie.
  • Keep your pantry filled with easy add-ins for familiar recipes. You can add sunflower seeds or chickpeas to just about any salad, and lentils or white beans are a great addition to most soups. Having a Mexican night? Make sure you have black beans on the table!
  • Pair legumes with whole grains to make a complete protein. Making a rice pilaf? Just add beans or lentils. Whipping up a bean chili? Throw in a little quinoa.
  • Try to keep protein-rich snacks on hand, whether it’s mixed unsalted nuts or a tub of hummus.

Finally, whole grains! While some diet trends have people cutting out carbs completely, the fact remains: for the vast majority of us, the health benefits of whole grains can’t be overstated, in terms of nutrition, brain function and all-around happiness. And with so many easy ways to swap out refined flours for whole grains, this category is a serious nutrition win. Here are just a few of our favourite tips…

  • Swap out your pasta, rice and bread for brown or whole grain versions (but read the label! Not all “brown” breads actually use the whole grain).
  • Cook a big batch of whole grains, and keep it in your fridge to add to soups and salads, or to warm up as a side dish. Get creative with different grains from quinoa to farro to amaranth. The bulk bins are your friend!
  • Try to find whole-grain versions of your favourite snacks, from pita chips to pretzels to granola.

Mindful eating habits

But the food guide doesn’t end at what you put on your plate. It also talks about maintaining good eating habits – and a healthy relationship to food in general. That means being aware of what you’re eating and how you eat it, and paying attention to your everyday eating decisions. By creating a healthy eating environment and paying attention to your food impulses, you can better learn how to make smart food choices.

Like when 3pm hits at the office and you power-eat a chocolate bar? That might teach you to stock your desk with healthier afternoon snacks for the next time you get a little hangry. Or when you get home from an evening out with a whole pizza in tow? Maybe next time you’ll have your pantry stocked with whole-grain tortilla chips and other healthier (but still tasty!) snacks – or better yet, you’ll just go to bed and sleep it off. By asking yourself why you eat, you’ll learn to better anticipate your own food needs.

Cook more often

Okay, we know this one just isn’t possible for everyone, every week. But try to start by setting a goal that feels workable for you – even if its just cooking one big meal per week, so you can enjoy home-made leftovers for one or two lunches. When you cook for yourself, not only do you learn mad new skills in the kitchen; you also end up with a way better idea of just what you’re eating. Many restaurants hide extra sugar, salt and fat in their dishes, so appearances can be deceiving.

To get the most out of your home cooking, try to double your recipes so you have lots of leftovers – and if you don’t want to eat the same lunch for a week, freeze some for later! From chili to stews to pasta sauces, there are tons of great dishes for beginner cooks that scale up well and freeze beautifully. And when you don’t have time to cook out? Try and find health-conscious restaurants that  provide full nutrition info for their dishes (not to toot our own horn…).

Enjoy your food

How happy are we that the Canada food guide includes this amazing and absolutely essential advice?! Food is all about enjoyment, and it’s the perfect excuse to sit back and use your senses. And there are so many facets to getting the most out of your food, from enjoying the flavour to trying new things. Treat food like the joy that it is – whether it’s loading your plate with a rainbow of colours and textures, making healthy choices you can feel good about…or just buying beautiful bowls and plates you love to eat from. Heck, make yourself an hour-long playlist on Spotify and turn your lunch break into a party (are we invited?).

Don’t eat alone

Like cooking more often, this is something that isn’t possible all the time. But putting a little more effort into communal eating can go a long way in terms of your quality of life – and your relationship to food. At the office, try to take your lunch break with coworkers rather than speed-eating while hunched over your computer screen. Not only is it a much-needed break from refreshing your email inbox; it’s a great way to share food traditions and get to know the people around you better.

And in your personal time, why not plan more socializing around food? Whether it’s going out for brunch with friends, starting a monthly potluck dinner or just cooking a homemade meal for the people you care about, food is at the centre of every great gathering. Turn off the TV, banish phones to the other room and take a few hours to connect, in person, over a plate of something nutritious and tasty. It really doesn’t get any better than that.

Read your labels

Food labels aren’t exactly user friendly, but if you learn how to read nutrition facts, you’ll find you are able to start making healthier intuitive choices when you’re at the grocery store, whether it’s comparing the sodium levels between different brands of canned beans or checking for sugar and sodium in salad dressings. And once you start getting familiar with the daily values of certain nutrients, you’ll have a better idea of where you’re covered and what you might be missing.

Say no to processed foods

If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, this one should already be a no-brainer. The less we mess with ingredients, the more nutritional value we get out of them. Highly processed foods load us up with saturated and trans fats, sugar and sodium – and give us very little in the way of nutrition. While it’s fine to occasionally cave and treat ourselves to a sugary snack occasionally, these foods should be a rare special treat, not an everyday thing. And though it might be hard at first, once you cut down on processed foods, you’ll find yourself craving them less and less. Here are a few places to start.

  • Stay away from sugary drinks, and make water your beverage of choice.
  • Don’t tempt yourself! Keep processed foods out of your pantry.
  • Are you a big snacker? Keep your home, office, purse and car stocked with emergency healthy treats, like mixed nuts or whole-grain snacks.

Watch out for food marketing

It might sound obvious to say, but marketers are trying to sell you something. Their top priority isn’t making sure you eat a balanced diet – it’s driving their own sales. Whether your favourite celebrity is gushing over a brand on social media, or you’re at a sporting event that’s sponsored by a food brand, marketing has infiltrated almost every aspect of our lives, and it can be extremely persuasive. So rather than trusting brands when they tell you how healthy they are, use the lessons you’ve already learned here to decide for yourself.

  • Make sure dishes contain a variety of healthy ingredients.
  • Check the nutrition facts for hidden salt, sugar and saturated fat.
  • Seek out foods with more plant-based protein sources.
  • Don’t fall for the marketing hype of “healthy” sugary drinks.

So there you have it! It’s a lot to take in, but so much of this advice is just good common sense, it’s all pretty easy to work towards. If you got to the end of this post feeling like you have some huge changes to make, remember that part of the food guide is enjoying your food. That means you shouldn’t take on more changes than you can handle all at once. Set realistic goals for yourself, and try to find the joy in making healthy choices at mealtime. Before long, the rest should fall into place.

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