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Canada’s New Food Guide: Limiting Highly Processed Foods for Your Health

February 11, 2019 by HealthyFamilies BC

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This blog post is the second in a series of four posts about Canada’s new Food Guide, which was released by Health Canada on January 22. Last week we discussed the recommendation to eat more plant-based protein foods and what it means for your health and your dinner plate. If you haven’t already, you can check it out here.

When it comes to receiving nutrition advice, few things are more frustrating than being given a list of everything you can’t eat or drink. We think Canada’s new Food Guide can be applauded for its positive approach to healthy eating. It focuses on what you can have for optimal health by centering our food choices on vegetables and fruit, whole grains, and protein foods. It encourages us to make water our drink of choice. It even goes beyond the “what to eat” to help us build overall healthy eating habits, something we’re going to discuss more next week.

Yet no matter how positive Canada’s Food Guide is, some messages need to be cautionary. Health Canada recommends that we “Limit highly processed foods. If you choose these foods, eat them less often and in small amounts.”

Highly processed foods include processed meats, deep-fried foods, sugary breakfast cereals, biscuits and cake, confectionaries, sugary drinks, and many ready-to-heat packaged dishes. These foods and beverages are high in sodium, free sugars, and/or saturated fat, nutrients that are linked to chronic diseases when eaten in excess. Even so, Canadians are purchasing more of these foods than ever.

Free sugars are sugars that have been added to foods and drinks by manufacturers, cooks, or consumers. They also include naturally-occurring sugars in honey, syrups, fruit juices, and fruit juice concentrates. Free sugars do not include naturally occurring sugars in vegetables, fruit or unsweetened milk.

It’s not surprising that processed foods are popular. They are widely available, quick and easy to use, often very affordable, and let’s face it, many of them taste good too. The good news is that most of them come with a nutrition facts table on their label that gives you the information you need to make an informed decision.

The % daily values (% DV) is a quick and easy way to find out if a product has “a little” or “a lot” of a nutrient like sodium, saturated fat, or sugars. A 5% DV or less means “a little,” while a 15% DV or more means “a lot.” You can use this information to decide if you’re going to purchase a food item, or you can use it to compare two similar products (for example, crackers or chips). For more information on reading food labels, click here.

However, the best way to limit the amount of highly processed foods you eat is to cook more often, another key recommendation in Canada’s new Food Guide. Cooking your own meals allows you to control what you eat much more than if you eat out at a restaurant or bring home prepared foods. However, many people find the thought of cooking overwhelming because of busy schedules or lack of experience in the kitchen. Check back here next week when we discuss healthy eating habits in more detail and provide some strategies and resources to help you get started and give you new ideas to support you in the kitchen.

Remember: no positive change is too small when it comes to healthy eating. It all makes a difference! 


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Facts About Sugary Drinks

Sugary Drinks: How much sugar are you drinking?


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