Few public documents are as universally recognized by Canadians as Canada’s "Food Guide." In fact, preliminary findings of a study conducted by Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, senior director at the Dalhousie University Agrifood Analytics Lab and the University of Guelph in Ontario, show that 91% of Canadians are aware of the "Food Guide," and 74% know that the government of Canada recently published a new version.
"Canada’s Food Guide: Canadians’ Awareness, Understanding & Barriers to Adoption & Affordability" is a study released jointly by Dalhousie University and the University of Guelph. The new "Food Guide" is a substantial departure from the previous version, focusing on plant-based eating and doing away with the four food groups most Canadians have grown up with.
Although more than one-quarter of those surveyed said the new "Food Guide" recommendations are not affordable, the second part of the study showed that a family of four will save, on average, 6.8% on their annual grocery bill if they prepare food at home using the new guidelines. This is based on a cost comparison of foods and proportions recommended by both the 2007 and 2019 versions of the guide.
Student Brenda Nyambura Wambui, a research assistant and team member, played an integral role in conducting this important research. “What surprised me the most was that the increase in portion sizes of fruits and vegetables in the new guide did not make the average plate more expensive,” she said. “Because the current prices of meats and alternatives are higher than fruits and veggies, the new food guide actually recommends a cheaper Canadian diet.”
In the short term, following the new "Food Guide" could make Canadians more food secure due to the 6.8% average savings. However, as more consumers adopt an increasingly plant-based diet, the demand for fruits and vegetables may go up. This could lead to price increases or price volatility, causing that savings margin to narrow or even disappear, the researchers said.
“The new 'Food Guide' points to the issue of productivity in Canada,” Charlebois said. “If we don’t increase our production capacity for fruits and vegetables, more Canadian families will likely become food insecure over time.”
While 30% of Canadians have viewed or referenced Canada’s "Food Guide" in the last 12 months, survey participants put the guide in sixth place for sources of healthy eating advice, after family and friends, general research, social media, cookbooks and magazines and TV programs.
“We found that almost two-thirds of participants have not used the 'Food Guide' in the last 12 months and that it has a minor impact on Canadian food choices. This point is troubling,” said co-author Dr. Simon Somogyi, Arrell chair in the business of food at the University of Guelph. “We also see that Gen Z and Millennial consumers get much of their food information from food bloggers and celebrities. Perhaps Health Canada needs to engage with social media influencers and celebrities to get the message of the new 'Food Guide' out to a younger demographic.”
The majority of Canadians (52.4%) said they face barriers to adopting the new "Food Guide." In addition to Canadians’ perception that the new guide means a more expensive plate, about 20% of respondents said the recommendations don’t fit their taste preferences, and almost 20% said the guide either doesn’t reflect their dietary needs or that preparing the recommended foods would be too time consuming.
The study was conducted over two days in February 2019. It surveyed 1,071 people across the country, including Quebec, in both English and French.