Resources for health professionals and policy makers

Applying Canada's Dietary Guidelines

Why each dietary shift is needed

The recommended dietary shifts can help people living in Canada improve their dietary intakes by:

  • improving how much of a nutrient is consumed
  • ensuring nutrients come from the types of foods recommended in Canada’s Dietary Guidelines
  • limiting foods that are top sources of nutrients of concern or replacing them with more nutritious foods

Canada’s Dietary Guidelines consider sodium, free sugars and saturated fat to be nutrients of concern. This is because these can contribute to an increased risk of chronic disease when consumed in excess.

Understanding how each shift can improve the dietary intakes of people living in Canada and bring them closer to recommendations in Canada’s Dietary Guidelines will help when advising on making healthier food choices.

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Why eating more vegetables and fruit, especially dark green and orange vegetables, is important

Most people living in Canada would benefit from eating more vegetables and fruit than they currently do. On average, in Canada, children, adolescents and adults consume less than 25% of their food choices as vegetables and fruit.

Encouraging people living in Canada to make vegetables and fruit the largest proportion of all the foods they eat can help them better align their diet with patterns of eating associated with decreased risk of chronic disease, including cardiovascular disease, and obtain enough important nutrients, such as:

  • vitamins, particularly vitamin A, vitamin C and folate
  • minerals, particularly potassium and, for certain vegetables, calcium
  • dietary fibre

Dark green vegetables are particularly important as a source of folate and can be a source of calcium. Orange vegetables are an important source of beta-carotene, which is converted into vitamin A.

To help reduce excess intakes of nutrients of concern, it is important to encourage the selection and preparation of vegetables and fruit with little to no added sodium and saturated fat, and little to no free sugars.

Why replacing refined grains with whole grains is important

Most people living in Canada would benefit from shifting their consumption towards whole grains, in place of refined grains. On average, in Canada, less than 30% of the total grains children, adolescents and adults eat are whole grain or whole wheat.

Whole grains such as oats and brown rice are naturally low in sodium, free sugars and saturated fat. Foods made with whole grains or whole wheat, such as pasta, crackers, breads, muffins and breakfast cereals, can also be a good choice, when they are lower in sodium, free sugars and saturated fat. This is because they contain dietary fibre and many of the other key nutrients found in whole grains.

Regular consumption of a variety of whole grains, whole grain foods and whole wheat foods, can help people living in Canada improve dietary intakes from nutritious foods in Canada’s Dietary Guidelines, particularly for:

  • folate, thiamin and vitamin B6
  • iron, zinc, magnesium and phosphorus
  • dietary fibre

Enriched, refined grain foods also contribute nutrients to the diet; however, they contain less dietary fibre and can be top contributors of nutrients of concern. For example:

  • bread and bread products are a top source of sodium
  • breakfast cereals and granola bars are a top source of free sugars for many children and adolescents

If refined grain foods are chosen, advise selecting those that have little to no added sodium and saturated fat, and little to no free sugars.

Why shifting some choices within protein foods is important

Most people living in Canada would benefit from shifting their consumption within protein foods to help move their patterns of eating closer to the recommendations in Canada’s Dietary Guidelines.

Most protein foods contribute important minerals, such as iron, magnesium and phosphorus.

Protein foods are also important to help improve intakes of many B vitamins. For example:

  • animal-based protein foods contribute vitamin B12
  • plant-based protein foods such as tofu, legumes, nuts and seeds contribute folate

Certain legumes such as soybeans, navy beans and white beans, tofu (prepared with calcium), unsweetened lower fat milk, yogurt and kefir, and unsweetened fortified soy beverages are protein foods that are important contributors of calcium to the diet. Some of these foods also provide vitamin D and vitamin A.

For many people living in Canada though, protein foods are top sources of sodium, free sugars or saturated fat. For example:

  • cheese is a top source of saturated fat and sodium
  • flavoured or sweetened yogurt is a top source of free sugars
  • red meat, poultry, or milk can be top sources of saturated fat or sodium

Advise replacing meats, poultry and dairy products that are high in saturated fat, free sugars or sodium with:

  • eggs
  • cheeses lower in fat and sodium
  • unsweetened fortified soy beverages
  • lean poultry and poultry without skin and trimmed of visible fat
  • lean red meat, including wild game such as deer, moose and caribou
  • unsweetened lower fat milk such as skim, 1% M.F. (milk fat) or 2% M.F.
  • fish and shellfish that are lower in sodium and without breading or batter
  • unsweetened lower fat yogurt or kefir, such as those with less than or equal to 2% M.F.

Reducing intakes of saturated fat and sodium can also be achieved by replacing some animal-based protein foods with plant-based protein foods, such as legumes, tofu, nuts or seeds. On average, in Canada, of the total protein foods children, adolescents and adults consume, less than 20% are plant-based.

Why limiting certain foods is important

Most people living in Canada consume more sodium, free sugars and saturated fat than the recommended limits.

Reducing intakes of highly processed products can help lower their intakes of nutrients of concern. Highly processed products that are among the top 10 sources of these nutrients include:

  • salty snacks and higher fat snacks such as potato chips, popcorn and pretzels can be a top source of sodium, particularly for adolescents
  • sugary drinks such as flavoured waters with added sugars, fruit-flavoured drinks, 100% fruit juice, soft drinks, sports and energy drinks, other sweetened hot or cold beverages such as iced tea and coffee beverages, sweetened milks and sweetened plant-based beverages are top sources of free sugars
  • bakery products such as brownies, cakes, cookies, croissants, doughnuts, pies, squares and bars, sweet rolls and breads and other pastries are top sources of sodium, free sugars and saturated fat
  • sugars, syrups such as molasses and honey, and preserves such as jams and jellies are top sources of free sugars
  • processed meats such as bacon, beef jerky, corned beef, ham, hot dogs and sausages are top sources of sodium and saturated fat
  • sauces, dips, dressings, gravies and condiments are top sources of sodium and/or saturated fat
  • desserts such as puddings, ice cream, ice milk and frozen yogurt, and confectionaries such as candies, candy bars, chocolate and chocolate-coated treats, and fruit leathers are top sources of free sugars and/or saturated fat

Resources to use with consumers