Chapter 2. Guidelines for Health Eating

Introduction to Dietary Guidelines

Learning Objectives

By the end of this chapter you will be able to:

  • Describe Canadian healthy dietary guidance and apply towards building healthy eating patterns
  • Identify and apply components of food labels to assess and compare the nutritional value of foods
  • Define personal nutrient needs according to estimated energy requirements and Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI)
  • Recall and apply basic principles of food safety

Developing a healthful diet can be rewarding, but be mindful that all of the principles presented must be followed to derive maximal health benefits. Frequent inadequate and/or excessive nutrient intake can lead to many health issues in a community such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Therefore, it is important to employ moderation and portion control by using all of the principles together to afford you lasting health benefits.

The first Canadian dietary recommendations, ‘Canada’s Official Food Rules’, were set by the Canadian Council on Nutrition as a wartime nutrition program of 1942 to address concerns of poor access to food and undernutrition in some populations.[1] Around the same time, the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) were first established in Canada and the United States out of concern that World War II troops overseas were not consuming enough daily nutrients to maintain good health.[2] These were disseminated to officials responsible for food relief for armed forces and civilians supporting the war effort. Over the years, the dietary guidelines are continually revised to keep up with new scientific evidence-based conclusions on the importance of nutritional adequacy and physical activity to overall health.

While dietary recommendations set prior to 1980 focused only on preventing nutrient inadequacy, the current dietary guidelines have the additional goals of promoting health, reducing chronic disease, and decreasing the prevalence of overweight and obesity. Additionally, RDAs were expanded to Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) in 1997 and are also continually updated in response to advances in nutrition science.[3]

Establishing Human Nutrient Requirements for Worldwide Application

The Department of Nutrition for Health and Development, in collaboration with FAO, continually reviews new research and information from around the world on human nutrient requirements and recommended nutrient intakes. This is a vast and never-ending task, given the large number of essential human nutrients. These nutrients include protein, energy, carbohydrates, fats and lipids, a range of vitamins, and a host of minerals and trace elements.

Many countries rely on WHO and FAO to establish and disseminate this information, which they adopt as part of their national dietary allowances. Others use it as a base for their standards. The establishment of human nutrient requirements is the common foundation for all countries to develop food-based dietary guidelines for their populations.

Establishing requirements means that the public health and clinical significance of intake levels – both deficiency and excess – and associated disease patterns for each nutrient, need to be thoroughly reviewed for all age groups. Every ten to fifteen years, enough research is completed and new evidence accumulated to warrant WHO and FAO undertaking a revision of at least the major nutrient requirements and recommended intakes.

Why Are Guidelines Needed?

Instituting nation-wide standard policies provides consistency across organizations and allows health-care workers, nutrition educators, school boards, and eldercare facilities to improve nutrition and subsequently the health of their respective populations. At the same time, the goal of dietary guidelines is to provide informative guidelines that will help any interested person in obtaining optimal nutritional balance and health. These guidelines are developed based on the review of thousands of scientific journal articles by a consensus panel consisting of more than two thousand nutrition experts with the overall mission of improving the health of the nation.

Canadian Dietary Guidelines

The latest Canadian Dietary Guidelines[4] were released in January 2019 following an extensive scientific review and consultation process of stakeholders across Canada and provide the background for Canada’s Food Guide. The guidelines were developed for healthy Canadians two years of age or older to be applied in food and nutrition policies, health promotion programs and education resources to promote healthy eating patterns and practices.

The 2019 Canada’s Food Guide[5] replaces the last food guide that was released in 2007 entitled, ‘Eating Well With Canada’s Food Guide‘,[1] which included recommended serving sizes and number of servings for four food groups: ‘Vegetables & Fruit‘, ‘Grain Products‘, ‘Milk & Alternatives‘, and ‘Meat & Alternatives‘. The 2019 Food Guide includes three food groups: ‘Vegetables & Fruits‘, Protein Foods’ and ‘Whole Grain Foods‘, which are depicted proportionally on a plate; one half, one quarter and one quarter of the plate, respectively. The ‘Protein Foods‘ group includes foods of the ‘Milk & Alternatives‘, and ‘Meat & Alternatives‘ food groups of the 2007 food guide. The current Food Guide also encourages to “make water your drink of choice”. In addition to guidance on what to eat in a healthy eating pattern, there is additional, new guidance in the current food guidance on how to eat, including mindful eating habits; cooking more often; enjoying one’s food; eating with others; using food labels; limiting intake of processed foods high in sodium, sugars, and/or saturated fat; and being aware of food marketing.

Review Canada’s Food Guide directly on Health Canada’s website (required reading):

The rationale and evidence behind Canada’s Food Guide is explained in the report entitled Canada’s Dietary Guidelines for Health Professionals and Policy Makers and the following sections and pages from this report are optional readings for the course and provide an introduction to some nutrient specific topics that will be covered throughout the course:

Canada’s Dietary Guidelines for Health Professionals and Policy Makers

Canadian Food Labels

Canada’s Food Guide recommends to use food labels. The following links refer to some helpful resources and required readings from Health Canada on ‘Understanding food labels‘:


  1. Health Canada. History of Canada's food guides from 1942 to 2007. Published January 2019. Accessed June 29, 2019.
  2. Murphy SP, Yates AA, Atkinson SA, Barr SI, Dwyer J. History of Nutrition: The Long Road Leading to the Dietary Reference Intakes for the United States and Canada. Adv Nutr. 2016;7(1):157–168. doi:10.3945/an.115.010322
  3. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Use of Dietary Reference Intakes in Nutrition Labeling. Dietary Reference Intakes: Guiding Principles for Nutrition Labeling and Fortification. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); A Brief Review of the History and Concepts of the Dietary Reference Intakes. Available from: Published 2003. Accessed July 18, 2019.
  4. Health Canada. Canada's Dietary Guidelines for Health Professionals and Policy Makers. Published 2019. Accessed June 29, 2019.
  5. Health Canada. Canada's Food Guide. Published January 2019. Accessed June 29, 2019.


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Human Nutrition Copyright © by Langara College, Nutrition and Food Service Management Program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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