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Canada’s new Food Guide is here and it’s like none before it. Instead of recommending specific portions of various foods to be eaten throughout the day, as previous versions did, the new guide offers more general recommendations about what to eat and how to enjoy it more. Another plus: It acknowledges that healthy food choices can be adapted into any cultural traditions, preferences, or values.

Based on current scientific research, the guide recommends Canadians have less free or added sugars (not just table sugar but also foods where sugar is naturally present, such as fruit juices) and sodium; choose healthy fats (such as canola and olive oils, and nuts and seeds); and eat fewer processed or prepared foods. It also places more emphasis on eating plant-based rather than animal-based foods.

The suggestions in these guidelines not only help people avoid developing certain chronic diseases, such as diabetes, but are also beneficial for those already living with the disease.

If you live with diabetes, you have probably heard most of this advice before, including choosing water instead of sugary drinks, and whole grains rather than refined ones. Now, it is considered good advice for everyone.

What should be on your plate?

“The new Food Guide emphasizes the ‘plate method’ of portioning, which Diabetes Canada has promoted for a long time,” says Joanne Lewis, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, and director of healthy eating and nutrition programming at Diabetes Canada. “This dietary pattern helps people understand portions at a glance without necessarily having to measure out foods.”

The guide suggests that half of your plate should be filled with vegetables and fruit. Lewis recommends that people with diabetes focus more on the vegetables and less on the fruit, which contains more sugar. “Save fruits for a snack or dessert, and limit the portions to a medium-size fruit twice a day,” she says.

Starchy vegetables, such as potato and corn, are included in the Food Guide with all other vegetables, but Lewis suggests being cautious with your portions of these veggies because of their high carbohydrate content. Instead, choose lower-carb vegetables (such as dark leafy greens, cauliflower, and zucchini) to help keep blood sugar levels from climbing.

Enjoy plant-based proteins

The guide recommends regularly incorporating more plant-based proteins—such as pulses (dried peas and beans), soy, nuts, and seeds—rather than animal ones. This does not mean you have to give up animal foods altogether: Just include a smaller portion so you can include a plant-based protein on your plate as well.

Many plant-based proteins have a low glycemic index, which is helpful for blood sugar control and weight management. Plus, plant proteins are easier for the kidneys to process than animal proteins, and that is an important consideration if you have diabetes, given that you are higher risk for kidney disease.

There are many new meat alternatives (such as burgers, ground meat, and sausages) on the market today, and they may look like an easy way to go meatless—but a word of caution. They are ultra-processed, tend to be higher in sodium, and lack many nutrients (including fibre), all of which means they are not as good for you as whole foods, such as lentils and chickpeas.

Make your own meals more often

Sample new recipes, or consider revising family favourites. Lewis says, “Get creative with your recipes and learn new food skills to become less dependent on highly processed ready-made foods and eating out.” For example, if you love chili, switch out the meat and use beans instead, or use less meat and more beans. Making the dish yourself will make it easier to keep the amount of sodium and sugar you consume at healthier levels while upping your fibre.

Choose healthy fats

Another new recommendation from the Food Guide: Choosing foods with healthy fats instead of saturated fat can reduce the risk of heart disease—the leading cause of death in Canada. If you live with diabetes, you know you are already at a higher risk for heart disease than the average person. Healthy fats can be found in foods such as nuts and seeds, vegetable oils such as canola and olive oil, avocados, and fatty fish. Eating lower-fat dairy products, small portions of well-trimmed meats, and fewer processed foods can also help to reduce the amount of saturated fat you consume.

Did you know?

You can save time in making nutritious meals by planning ahead. For example, if you are preparing chicken and vegetables for dinner, double the amount, and use the leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day. Leftover grilled chicken would be tasty in a chicken quesadilla or salad, while leftover vegetables can make a delicious marinated salad. For more information, visit Basic Meal Planning.


For the first time, Canada’s Food Guide looks not only at how much food you are eating but at other aspects, such as the social side of eating. Here are three recipes for you to enjoy with others.

Chickpea Mushroom Cakes

Here is a main course, from my kitchen, for your Meatless Monday. If you like, you can serve it on a whole-grain pita with chopped tomatoes and cucumbers, and topped with tahini sauce.

• 1 tbsp (15 mL) extra-virgin olive oil, divided

• 2 cloves garlic, minced

• 1 small onion, finely chopped

• 1 cup (250 mL) chopped mushrooms

• 1 can (540 mL/19 oz.) chickpeas, rinsed and drained

• 2 slices whole-grain bread, moistened with water and squeezed dry

• 1 tsp (5 mL) ground cumin

• ½ tsp (2 mL) ground coriander

• ¼ tsp (1 mL) salt

• ¼ tsp (1 mL) freshly ground pepper

In a large non-stick skillet, heat 1 tsp (5 mL) olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and onion; sauté until softened, or for 3 to 4 minutes. Add mushrooms and continue to cook until moisture evaporates, or for another 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Add mixture to food processor bowl. Wipe skillet to remove any of the vegetable mixture.

In food processor, combine mushroom mixture, chickpeas, bread, cumin, coriander, salt, and pepper until finely chopped. Gently shape into 4 patties.

Add remaining 2 tsp (10 mL) oil to skillet and heat on medium. Add patties and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Turn patties over and cook for another 4 to 5 minutes.

Makes 4 servings

Nutritional breakdown per serving: 20 g carbohydrate, 6 g protein, 5 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 5 g fibre, 228 mg sodium, 150 calories

© Rosie Schwartz

Salmon, Quinoa and Walnut Stuffed Avocados

This example, adapted from California Walnuts, shows how to incorporate plant-based foods along with small amounts of animal-based options.

• 1 salmon fillet (250 g/8 oz.)

• 3 large avocados

• 1½ cups (375 mL) cooked quinoa

• ½ cup (125 mL) walnuts, toasted and chopped (plus additional for garnish)

• ⅓ cup (75 mL) minced red onion

• ¼ cup (50 mL) extra-virgin olive oil

• 3 tbsp (45 mL) lemon juice

• ½ tsp (2 mL) sea salt (type of salt optional)

• 1 clove garlic, minced

• ⅛ tsp (0.5 mL) black pepper

• 2 tsp (10 mL) fresh basil, finely chopped (optional)

Cook salmon on a well-oiled grill over medium-high heat for 3 to 4 minutes on each side or until cooked through. Remove from grill and remove skin. Let cool, then flake with a fork.

Cut avocados in half and carefully remove pits. Cook cut side down on well-oiled grill over medium-high heat for 1 minute or until nicely grill-marked.

Place quinoa, walnuts, and onion in a large bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk together oil, lemon juice, salt, garlic, and pepper; pour over quinoa mixture. Toss lightly to coat, then lightly stir in salmon.

Scoop mixture into avocado halves; top with basil, if desired. Garnish with additional walnuts, if desired.

Makes 6 servings

Nutritional breakdown per serving: 20 g carbohydrate, 13 g protein, 31 g total fat, 4 g saturated fat, 9 g fibre, 230 mg sodium, 390 calories

Eggplant, Roasted Red Pepper, and Goat Cheese Sandwiches

This is a delicious way to enjoy more veggies when having a sandwich. Bonus: If you cook more of the veggies than needed for this dish, you will have leftovers ready to use as a garnish for another day.

• 1 medium eggplant, cut lengthwise into ½-inch (1.25-cm) thick slices

• 2 tsp (10 mL) extra-virgin olive oil

• 250 g (8 oz.) soft lower-fat goat cheese

• 8 slices whole-grain bread

• 2 red peppers, roasted, peeled, and cut into halves

• 8 large basil leaves

• Salt and freshly ground pepper

Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat), or preheat broiler. Brush eggplant slices lightly with oil. Grill until golden, or for about 4 minutes per side. Cool. Spread goat cheese over 4 slices of bread. Top each slice with eggplant slices, roasted pepper, and basil. Season with salt and pepper. Top each with remaining slice of bread.

Makes 4 servings

Nutritional breakdown per serving: 37 g carbohydrate, 9 g protein, 8 g total fat, 2 g saturated fat, 9 g fibre, 275 mg sodium, 280 calories

© Rosie Schwartz

(This article appeared in Diabetes Dialogue, Summer 2019)

Author: Rosie Schwartz

Category Tags: Healthy Living;

Region: National

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