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Is Canada’s Food Guide Rainbow Still Relevant?

In 2019, the Government of Canada released a food guide to help Canadians choose foods. It aims to improve individuals’ health by meeting nutritional needs and reducing the risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease. In addition, the guide takes a less prescriptive approach by foregoing the number of recommended servings for each food group. Instead, it endorses a variety of healthy food choices and highlights the recommended servings for each food group. In this blog post, we explore changes made in Canada’s new food guide from the previous food rainbow.

Dairy Products

One of the biggest changes made to the guide was the removal of the dairy food group. Dairy foods are now included as part of the protein section. It is recommended to choose more low-fat cheeses, unsweetened low-fat yogurt and unsweetened low-fat milk.

Equally important, the new guide also recommends choosing soy and plant-based beverages more often. This is because they tend to be lower in saturated fats, which raise LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol levels. Unfortunately, Canada’s previous rainbow gave no suggestions for alternative dairy products outside of naming the food group “dairy & alternatives.” All in all, the inclusion of soy and plant-based dairy products puts Canada’s new food guide a step ahead.

Polina Tankilevitch, Pexels

Fruits and Vegetables (1/2 plate)

Instead of including the daily number of fruit and vegetables, the new guide recommends filling half of your plate. This method is convenient and easy to remember and visualize when meal planning, something that many Canadians have found doesn’t apply to the previous food rainbow. However, the old guide emphasized the importance of fruits and vegetables by making the group the largest portion of the rainbow. This is in line with the recommendations set out in the new guide as this portion of the old food rainbow is still relevant, but the use of serving sizes is confusing.

Engin akyurt, Unsplash

Grains (1/4 plate)

The 2019 guide recommends filling a quarter of your plate with whole-grain foods. For instance, whole grains are high in fibre and linked with improved cardiovascular health, highlighting an important distinction. Therefore, this recommendation is different from the previous which recommends making only half of your grain products whole grains. In this case, the food rainbow is a step behind the updated 2019 guide. Consequently, it is important to choose whole grain products and limit your intake of white breads, rice, and sugary cereals.

Jeremy Bezanger, Unsplash

Meats and Alternatives (1/4 plate)

In addition, the new guide recommends filling a quarter of your plate with protein foods and incorporating plant proteins wherever possible. This is because plant proteins are often lower in trans and saturated fats, which are associated with high-cholesterol and cardiovascular disease. For this reason, enjoying more of them can be a great way to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

The rainbow recommends eating 2-3 servings of daily meat and alternatives, while also suggesting beans, lentils, and tofu as examples. This falls in line with the recommendations highlighted in the new guide as well, offering a clearer perspective on portion sizes. 

Polina Tankilevitch, Pexels

Rainbow Food Guide vs. Plate

When comparing the old food rainbow with the new 2019 guide we can see that, while some changes have been made, many of the core ideas remain the same:
  • Eat fruits and vegetables more than the other food groups
  • Choose more whole grain foods
  • Limit dairy or choose low-fat dairy options
  • Choose plant proteins when possible and limit your intake of fatty meats

As the old rainbow does still make these recommendations, it can still be relevant today. However, it falls short in its inability to communicate effectively. The use of serving sizes and numbers is confusing, making it difficult to visualize exactly how much of an item should be eaten. It also fails at being inclusive to all Canadians by focusing only on Eurocentric foods and failing to offer culturally inclusive healthy meal ideas.

There were other cultural versions, but this was not always the most promoted. This is remedied in the new food guide snapshot which provides a summary of Canada’s dietary guidelines and includes food based on:
  • Cultural relevance
  • Cost
  • Availability
Polina Tankilevitch, Pexels

Final Thoughts

While the old food guide makes some healthy eating suggestions that are still relevant, its complicated food groups and portions and its lack of cultural diversity makes it less impactful in current Canadian society. The 2019 food guide explains these guidelines in a way that all Canadians can easily understand and incorporate into their day-to-day lives. Following the new recommendations is a great way to maintain a healthy lifestyle, meet nutritional needs and lower the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.


Government of Canada. “Revision Process for Canada’s Food Guide.” Government of Canada, 2021,

Government of Canada. “History of Canada’s Food Guides from 1942 to 2007.” Government of Canada, 2021,  

Government of Canada. “Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide 2007.” Government of Canada, 2021,  

Government of Canada. “Canada’s Food Guide.” Government of Canada, 2021,

Government of Canada. “Canada’s Food Guide Eat Protein Foods.” Government of Canada, 2021,

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