Part 1: Brief History of Canada’s Food Guide (Toronto Dietitian)

* Health Canada has provided a useful history of the food guides from 1942-1992 as well as the revisions made to the current 2007 guide, which I have briefly summarized here. If you are interested, I recommend reading the full articles, as they are very informative.
Canada’s Food Guide has always recognized the role nutrition has on the health of Canadians. From its inception during the war, when food rules were introduced to protect health in times of food scarcity and rations, to the modern day guidelines, where the shift has been to prevention of chronic disease due to excessive intake in our environment of food abundance. The food guide has undergone several revisions over time based on: new nutritional evidence, changes in the food supply, developments in food processing, consumer trends, and group consultations.

Canada’s Food Guide was first introduced during the war in July of 1942 when food rationing was the reality. Then known as “Canada’s Official Food Rules” these rules instructed Canadians on which “health-protective foods” to eat each day to promote the best possible health given the unstable times of war. Eventually times of scarcity led to a more consistent food supply and in 1961 the rules transitioned to guidelines. This change in language and food availability highlighted flexibility; Canadians were given choice in selecting foods to meet nutritional requirements rather than being told what to eat. The subsequent version included recommended number of servings for each food group building on this flexibility of choice. And, for the first time, food consumption patterns were available which were used, alongside a government report on health, to guide recommendations making the food guide more specific to the context of Canadians.

In 1982 there was shift in the messaging of the food guide resulting from an increased awareness of the association between diet and cardiovascular disease (CVD). To help Canadians make healthy choices, guiding statements were added. These statements included the importance of variety within each group, energy balance to prevent general overconsumption of calories compared to activity (leading to weight gain), and moderation to encourage limiting the consumption of sugar, salt, fat, and alcohol – foods known to increase risk of weight gain and CVD. The last update before our current food guide, completed in 1992, was informed by unprecedented research reviews, surveys, and various consultations. The result was Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating. This guide introduced the visual representation of the rainbow illustrating appropriate proportions of intake from each food group (larger bands indicate to eat the most and the smaller bands to eat the least). This guide provided ranges of servings to account for differences in requirements based on age, body size, activity level, and whether the individual is male or female, pregnant or breast-feeding.

Finally, our current guide released in 2007 after 5 years of review using research, consumer trends, statistical mCanada' s Food Guide1odelling, average calorie recommendations, consultations, research regarding chronic disease prevention, and new nutritional guidelines. The 2007 guide was largely influenced by the newly released Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) from the Institute of Medicine completed in collaboration with Health Canada. The DRIs used the best evidencCanada' s Food Guide2e available to provide detailed information regarding the amount of each nutrient required to achieve ideal health and disease prevention amongst the statistical majority of healthy individuals. The DRIs also provide upper limits for some nutrients, to avoid the risk of harm associated with over consumption.

To ensure that Canada’s Food Guide achieved the recommendations of the DRIs food modelling was used. First, food groups were modelled to determine optimal proportions of servings within each group to achieve acceptable DRI levels. This was done in the context of total calorie goals to ensure nutrient goals were met without exceeding healthy calorie ranges. Many of the guiding statements in the food guide are the result of this modelling. For example, by recommending ½ of grain product servings to be whole grain the nutritional quality improved without going overboard on calories. Next, using eating patterns of Canadians, 500 model meals were created using the proportions of servings determined by the food group modelling. This was to ensure that the flexibility of choice afforded to Canadians within each food group would still provide the distribution of nutrients and calories recommended by the DRIs. Pretty cool eh? Lastly, this was completed for various age groups recognizing that nutritional needs differ based on life stage.

A quote from the paper describing the revision made to the 2007 guide sums the purpose of Canada’s Food Guide best, “The purpose of the Food Guide is to assist the people of Canada in making food choices that promote health and reduce the risk of nutrition-related chronic disease”. Over all Canada’s Food Guide is about flexibility, while considering the quality of intake. Think of the food you eat as the fuel for your body; you want to optimize your performance with the best quality fuel. Canada’s Food Guide was designed and tested to ensure the optimal supply of nutrients. Understanding why the food groups, and the nutrients they contain, are recommended is important for appreciating the value of this tool. My next post will discuss why the nutrients recommended by Canada’s Food Guide are important for our bodies and overall health.
Written by: Laurie Wybenga, RD (Toronto Dietitian)

(First published on – Feb. 19, 2015).

* This blog post is not a substitute for medical advice. Different medical conditions require specific dietary interventions; always follow the advice of your Physician and/or Registered Dietitian.
• Health Canada. (2007). Canada’s Food Guides from 1942 to 1992. Food and Nutrition. Available from:
• Otten, J.J., Pitzi Hellwig, J., & Meyers, L.D. (Eds.) (2006). Daily Recommended Intakes: The essential guide to nutrient requirements. Washington, DC: Institute of Medicine The National Academies Press. Available from:
• Katamay, S.W., Esslinger, K.A., Vigneault, M., Johnston, J.L., Junkins, B.A., Robbins L.G… Martineau, C. (2007). Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide (2007): Development of the Food Intake Pattern. Nutrition Reviews; 65(4):155-166. Available from: