Canada's food guide

Canada’s Dietary Guidelines

What are Canada’s Dietary Guidelines?

Canada’s Dietary Guidelines set out Health Canada’s guidelines and considerations on healthy eating.

Guidance on nutrition during infancy, including breastfeeding, is available in the guidance document Nutrition for Healthy Term Infants.

Breastfeeding—exclusively for the first six months, and continued for up to two years or longer with appropriate complementary feeding—is important for the nutrition, immunologic protection, growth, and development of infants and toddlers.

  • The objectives of the guidelines are to promote healthy eating and overall nutritional well-being, and support improvements to the Canadian food environment.
  • The intended audience is health professionals and policy makers.
  • The guidelines are a resource for developing nutrition policies, programs, and educational resources for members of the Canadian population two years of age and older.
  • Individuals with specific dietary requirements, including those receiving care in a clinical setting, may need additional guidance or specialized advice from a dietitian.

Related tools and resources

Canada’s Healthy Eating Pattern1 is a resource that builds on and complements the contents of this report.

  • The objective of the healthy eating pattern is to provide more specific guidance on the recommended amounts and types of foods as well as life stage guidance (such as recommendations for young children and seniors).
  • The intended audience is also health professionals and policy makers.
  • The healthy eating pattern can be used as an additional resource for developing procurement policies in institutions, such as long term care facilities and hospital settings.

The Healthy eating recommendations in Appendix A translate Canada’s Dietary Guidelines into simple, relevant, and evidence-informed messages. The recommendations form the basis of a mobile-responsive web application that is modern and easy to use. This web application houses tools and resources that will help Canadians apply the guidelines in their daily lives. Examples of tools and resources include:

  • An interactive tool2 that provides custom information for teens, adults, parents, and older adults in a variety of settings including at home, at work, at school, on the go, grocery shopping, and eating out.
  • Web resources, such as factsheets, videos and recipes, to help Canadians apply Canada’s Dietary Guidelines.

Overview of this report

This report is based on the best available scientific evidence. It contains healthy eating guidelines and considerations that are relevant and applicable to the Canadian context.

The report is presented in four sections:

Section 1  focuses on nutritious foods and beverages that are the foundation for healthy eating.

Section 2  describes the types of foods and beverages that can have a negative impact on health when consumed on a regular basis.

Section 3  highlights the importance of food skills as a practical way to support healthy eating.

Section 4  describes the importance of creating supportive environments for healthy eating.

The considerations provide complementary guidance on issues of public health importance, while recognizing the context within which Canadians live, learn, work, and play. This includes considering that the food supply—and people’s ability to access the food supply—varies across regions. Some considerations take into account Canada’s diversity, while others are based on Canadian health statistics and consumption data. Some considerations also reflect factors and conditions that influence food choices and eating behaviours, including the determinants of health.

A full list of the guidelines and considerations is in Appendix B.

How this report was developed

Health Canada developed a multi-step decision making process to establish these guidelines, which is described briefly in Appendix C.

Health Canada used the best available evidence to translate the science on food and health into healthy eating guidelines. This included evidence published between 2006 and 2018.1,2 To find out more about our evidence review, refer to the Food Nutrients and Health: Interim Evidence Update 2018.

Guidelines 1 and 2 were developed based on convincing findings from scientific reports that included extensive systematic reviews of the literature on the relationship between food and health.1,2 The reports are listed in Table 1. These convincing findings are supported by a well-established evidence base and are unlikely to change in the foreseeable future as new evidence emerges. Probable, possible and insufficient findings from all reports included in the evidence review1,2 were also considered during the policy development process. Health Canada primarily drew evidence for Guideline 3 from its analysis of findings on food skills, including interventions aimed at promoting and improving these skills.3-5

The considerations as well as Section 4 of this report help support the implementation of the guidelines by health professionals and policy makers. They also reflect Health Canada’s population health approach to developing dietary guidance. This approach considers the broad range of factors and conditions that have a strong influence on health.

Throughout the development of this report, Health Canada’s scientists, as well as population health and nutrition experts, collaborated with other Government of Canada departments and agencies. Input was sought from academics, members of provincial and territorial governments, health professional regulatory bodies/organizations, health charities, and National Indigenous Organizations.

In addition, Health Canada considered the results of two rounds of public consultation on the revision of the Food Guide which were held in the fall of 2016 and summer of 2017. This helped to develop dietary guidance that is relevant and clear to the general Canadian population.

Further, Health Canada considered dietary guidelines from other countries to gain a broad perspective on the communication of guidelines, such as how they are developed, their content, and their use in education and health promotion.6

The importance of dietary guidance

What we eat influences our health.

In Canada, dietary risks are one of the three leading risk factors for disease burden, as measured by death and disability combined.7 Tobacco use and high body mass index (BMI) are the other two. Chronic diseases impacted by diet—namely ischemic heart disease, stroke, colorectal cancer, diabetes, and breast cancer—are among the leading causes of premature death in Canada.7,8

Oral diseases, such as dental decay, share common nutrition-related risk factors with some of the leading chronic diseases in Canada such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.11 Dental decay affects 57% of Canadian children aged 6 to 11 years and 96% of Canadian adults over their lifetime.12 Each year in Canada, children aged 1 to 5 are put under anesthesia to perform dental surgery operations to treat dental decay, with a disproportionate representation of Indigenous children.13,14 In 2015, total expenditures for dental services in Canada were estimated at $13.6 billion.15

The burden of chronic disease in Canada varies across populations. Indigenous Peoples in Canada face a greater burden of chronic disease than the general population. For example, First Nations populations in Canada have disproportionally higher rates of diabetes.9,10 However, the rates vary across communities and between First Nations, Inuit, and Métis populations. In addition, Indigenous Peoples face barriers to adequately managing chronic disease.

In Canada, chronic diseases account for approximately one third of direct health care costs.16 The Canadian population is aging,17 faces high rates of obesity,18,19 and engages in sedentary lifestyle behaviours.20,21 Thus the impact of chronic diseases is likely to continue to increase, unless we take action to address the many factors that influence what we eat.

The food environment influences what we eat.

The food environment influences our food and beverage choices.22  For example, the foods and beverages available in homes, retail food outlets, and restaurants can have a big impact on what and how we eat and drink. Moreover, for Indigenous Peoples, food intakes can be negatively influenced by the limited availability of food acquired in traditional ways (such as hunting, fishing, trapping, and gathering), and the numerous barriers to traditional food access.23-29

In addition to what is available around us, we receive a constant stream of changing (and often conflicting) messages on healthy eating. Food marketing is evolving rapidly, and now includes channels such as social media. This complex and crowded information environment can make it hard for Canadians to make healthy eating choices.

Supporting healthy eating is a shared responsibility.

Canada’s Dietary Guidelines can make an important contribution to nutritional health. Health professionals and policy makers in all sectors and at all government levels can use these guidelines as a resource to support program and policy decisions. For example, policies that reflect these guidelines can improve the food environment in settings such as schools, workplaces, recreation centres, and health care facilities.30, 31 Creating supportive environments across settings can help increase the positive influence that dietary guidelines can have on individuals, families and communities. This is further described in Section 4.

Table 1: Scientific reports that included convincing findings* from extensive systematic reviews of the literature on the relationship between food and health

Source Report title

American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association 2013

Guideline on lifestyle management to reduce cardiovascular risk: a report of the ACC/AHA task force on practice guidelines

Canadian Cardiovascular Society 2016

Canadian Cardiovascular Society guidelines for the management of dyslipidemia for the prevention of cardiovascular disease in the adult

Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee 2015

Scientific report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee: advisory report to the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Agriculture

Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee 2010

Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 2010

Fats and fatty acids in human nutrition – report of an expert consultation

Health Canada 2016

Summary of Health Canada’s assessment of a health claim about vegetables and fruit and heart disease

Health Canada 2015

Summary of Health Canada’s assessment of a health claim about soy protein and cholesterol lowering

Health Canada 2014

Summary of Health Canada’s assessment of a health claim about ground whole flaxseed and blood cholesterol lowering

Health Canada 2012

Summary of Health Canada’s assessment of a health claim about barley products and blood cholesterol lowering

Health Canada 2012

Summary of Health Canada’s assessment of a health claim about the replacement of saturated fat with mono- and polyunsaturated fat and blood cholesterol lowering

Health Canada 2010

Summary of Health Canada’s assessment of a health claim about oat products and blood cholesterol lowering

International Agency for Research on Cancer 2018

IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans – Red Meat and Processed Meat

National Health and Medical Research Council 2011

A review of the evidence to address targeted questions to inform the revisions of the Australian Dietary Guidelines

Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition 2015

Carbohydrates and health report

World Cancer Research Fund International 2018

Continuous Update Project (CUP) report: breast cancer

World Cancer Research Fund International 2018

Continuous Update Project (CUP) report: colorectal cancer

World Cancer Research Fund International 2018

Continuous Update Project (CUP) report: oesophageal cancer

World Cancer Research Fund International 2018

Continuous Update Project (CUP) report: liver cancer

World Cancer Research Fund International 2018

Continuous Update Project (CUP) report: cancer of the mouth, pharynx, and larynx

World Cancer Research Fund International 2018

Continuous Update Project (CUP) report: energy balance and body fatness

World Health Organization 2017

Health effects of saturated and trans-fatty acid intake in children and adolescents: Systematic review and meta-analysis

World Health Organization 2016

Effects of saturated fatty acids on serum lipids and lipoproteins: a systematic review and regression analysis

World Health Organization 2016

Effect of trans-fatty acid intake on blood lipids and lipoproteins: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis

World Health Organization 2012

Guideline: sodium intake for adults and children

*Convincing findings are findings graded ‘High’ by the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association, the Canadian Cardiovascular Society, and the World Health Organization; findings graded ‘Strong’ by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee; findings graded ‘Sufficient’ by Health Canada; findings graded ‘Group 1: Carcinogenic’ by the International Agency for Research on Cancer; findings graded ‘Adequate’ by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition; findings graded ‘Convincing’ by the Food and Agricultural Organization, and the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute of Cancer Research; and findings graded ‘A’ by the National Health and Medical Research Council.
Date modified: 2019-02-26