Canada’s food guide
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Applying Canada's Dietary Guidelines

Selecting nutritious foods with little to no added sodium and saturated fat, and little to no free sugars

There is a wide variety of nutritious foods to choose from when applying Canada’s Dietary Guidelines.

This provides flexibility to respect personal preferences, cultures and food traditions, while helping to reduce excess intakes of sodium, free sugars and saturated fat. Sodium, free sugars and saturated fat are considered nutrients of concern.

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Promoting the selection and preparation of nutritious foods lower in sodium, saturated fat and free sugars

Canada’s Dietary Guidelines recommends cooking and food preparation using nutritious foods as a practical way to help support healthy eating. Nutritious foods can be fresh, frozen, canned or dried.

When preparing foods, methods with little to no added sodium or saturated fat, and little to no free sugars should be used, such as:

  • baking
  • grilling
  • broiling
  • roasting
  • steaming
  • stir-frying and sautéing

When prepared or processed foods are used, focus on those that have little to no added sodium and saturated fat, and little to no free sugars. Food labels are a tool that can help people living in Canada make informed food choices.

Vegetables and fruit

Many vegetables and fruit are naturally low in nutrients of concern; however, the way these foods are processed or prepared can contribute excess sodium and free sugars, especially if they are highly processed and consumed on a regular basis. For example:

  • canned vegetables and tomato-based pasta sauces can be high in sodium
  • canned fruit in syrup or juice, sweetened frozen or dried fruit and fruit purees can be high in free sugars
  • deep-fried vegetables such as French fries, hash browns and onion rings can be high in saturated fat and sodium
  • vegetables prepared
    • with cream, high fat milk or cheese, butter, lard or animal fat such as mashed and scalloped potatoes are often high in saturated fat and sodium
    • from dehydrated or dry mixes such as instant potatoes and dehydrated soups can be high in sodium or saturated fat 

Select fruits and vegetables that:

  • have little to no added sodium
  • are unsweetened, without free sugars or sugar substitutes 
  • use preparation methods such as stir-frying and baking instead of deep-frying

Dried fruit is sticky and often adheres to teeth. The sugars contained in foods like dried fruit can contribute to dental decay. If dried fruit is consumed, it should only be consumed with meals.

Whole grains, whole grain foods and whole wheat foods

Single whole grains, such as oats, rice and quinoa are naturally low in sodium, free sugars and saturated fat. They can be incorporated in a meal, as a side dish, or in a recipe without adding sodium, free sugars or saturated fat.

However, when whole grains are used in foods the amount of sodium, free sugars and saturated fat can vary greatly, depending on the recipe or method of preparation. For example:

  • snacks such as flavoured, salted, or oil popped popcorn can be high in sodium or saturated fat
  • hot or cold cereals that are sweetened, flavoured or have sweetened dried fruit can be high in free sugars
  • muffins, crackers, pancakes, waffles, breads and bread products such as bagels can be high in sodium or saturated fat

Select whole grain foods that:

  • list whole grains as the first ingredient in the ingredient list on the food label
  • have little to no added sodium and saturated fat, and little to no free sugars

Whole wheat foods can also be a healthy choice, as they contain dietary fibre and many of the other key nutrients found in whole grains.

Enriched, refined-grain foods also contribute nutrients to the diet, but they contain less dietary fibre. If refined grain foods are used, advise selecting those that have little to no added sodium and saturated fat, and little to no free sugars.

Protein foods

Protein foods contribute important nutrients to the diet, but choices that are higher in sodium, free sugars or saturated fat can contribute to an excess of nutrients of concern when consumed on a regular basis.

Legumes, tofu, nuts and seeds

Many of these foods are naturally low in nutrients of concern, although the way they are processed or prepared can contribute to an excess of nutrients of concern when consumed on a regular basis. For example:

  • canned beans, peas or lentils can be high in sodium 
  • baked beans, refried beans or chili can be high in sodium, free sugars or saturated fat
  • salted, sweetened or oil-roasted nuts and seeds can be high in sodium, free sugars or saturated fat
  • simulated meat products (e.g. meatless sausages, chicken, fish sticks, luncheon slices, vegetarian fillets) can be high in sodium and saturated fat

Meat, poultry, eggs, fish and shellfish

Meat includes beef, pork, lamb, veal, goat and wild game, such as venison, bison and elk. Poultry includes chicken, turkey, duck, geese and other game birds, such as grouse.

The type of meat and poultry selected can contribute different amounts of saturated fat. When including meat and poultry in the diet, advise selecting leaner cuts of meat such as:

  • beef cuts, like
    • rump roast
    • sirloin steak
    • strip loin steak
    • tenderloin with visible fat trimmed
    • round steaks or roasts (inside round, outside round, eye of round)
  • pork loin and tenderloin
  • organ meats, such as liver, heart and kidney
  • ground meat that is extra lean, or ground poultry
  • poultry without the skin and trimmed of visible fat
  • most wild game, such as bison, caribou, deer, elk and moose

Fish and shellfish prepared with little to no added sodium and saturated fat, and little to no free sugars are also a good protein food choices.

Traditional food improves diet quality among Indigenous Peoples. Some traditional foods commonly consumed across a number of regions include meat, poultry, fish and shellfish such as:

  • shellfish along the coastlines
  • sea mammals (seal and whale)
  • birds (ducks, geese and grouse)
  • large and small land mammals (moose, deer, elk, hare/rabbit and caribou)
  • fish (coastline fish such as salmon, cod and arctic char, and lake fish such as trout, walleye, whitefish and northern pike)

Milk, fortified plant-based beverages, yogurt, kefir and cheese

To help reduce excess intakes of nutrients of concern, encourage the selection of: 

  • cheeses lower in fat and sodium 
  • unsweetened lower fat milk, such as skim, 1% M.F. (milk fat) or 2% M.F.
  • unsweetened fortified plant-based beverages, such as soy, oat and almond
  • unsweetened lower fat yogurt or kefir, such as those with less than or equal to 2% M.F.

Unsweetened means foods and beverages that do not contain free sugars or sugar substitutes

Resources to use with consumers