In January 2019, Canadians finally got to see the long-awaited revision to Canada’s Food Guide, and it’s quite a departure from previous versions. Gone is the traditional rainbow model, in favour of a “food guide snaphot”, which is a picture of a balanced plate of food.
One of the biggest departures from the old Food Guide is the new emphasis on including plant-based proteins in the diet. At first, this notion had some pundits worried that meant an exclusion of meat or chicken, but now we know it just means a change in the name for food groups.
The former “meat and alternatives” and “milk and alternatives” food groups have merged into one grouping, collectively known as “protein foods.”
While meat, fish, poultry, eggs and milk products are still part of this grouping, Canada’s Food Guide says to “choose protein foods that come from plants more often.” It explains that eating plant-based foods regularly can mean eating more fibre and less saturated fat, which can have a positive effect on health, including a lowered risk of cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Plant-based proteins include beans, lentils, soy, nuts and seeds.
To be clear, the new guide is not a call for all Canadians to become vegan. In an all-foods-can-fit environment, the new guidelines simply emphasize plant-based foods, because they are not on the radar of many Canadians. This new direction is intended to help Canadians eat more vegetables, grains and beans, in order to boost fibre and minimize saturated fat in the diet, which is good for overall health.
Plant-based foods can replace meat in a well-planned diet, as they are a source of protein, iron and zinc (just like meat!). The idea is to go meatless “sometimes” and add variety to the diet.
SO MANY BENEFITS
Well-researched dietary patterns — like the Mediterranean Diet, DASH Diet and MIND Diet – are all largely focused on plant-based foods. And we know from many years of clinical studies that these diets can help reduce the risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, high blood pressure and some types of cancer. It’s important to note that these diets do not exclude poultry or meat altogether – they simply emphasize choosing plant-based foods more often.
Eating plant-based foods provides the body with a synergy from healthy fats (including omega 3s), antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fibre, which seem to work together to protect our health.
In addition to being beneficial for our health, plant-based foods are also good for the planet. Farming cows and chickens to produce meat, milk and eggs uses one-third of the world’s fresh water. And cows raised for beef and milk account for the majority of livestock emissions (almost 60 percent). When you choose plantbased lunch or dinner options once in a while, you cut back on water use and harmful emissions. So really, it’s all about balance.