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US, Canadian nutritional guides see changes

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's MyPlate and the Canadian Food Guide are prominent and influential nutritional guides in their respective countries. Now, MyPlate has been "simplified," while the Canadian Food Guide has been updated with major changes that include demoting meat and dairy.

MyPlate remains essentially the same, and "continues to be based on sound science," said Julie Garden-Robinson, North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist.

What USDA calls the "simplified" MyPlate involves greater use of social media to promote and spread awareness of the guide, she said.

Over time, many consumers have received misleading or inaccurate information about nutrition, sometimes though social media. USDA is trying to address that through its new approach with MyPlate, Garden-Robinson said.

The Start Simple with MyPlate is "a new initiative to reduce confusion surrounding healthy eating and help people start with the basics. The campaign provides ideas and tips from the five MyPlate food groups that Americans can easily incorporate into their busy lives to help improve their health and well-being over time," USDA said in a written statement.

MyPlate was introduced in 2011, replacing the MyPyramid Food Guidance System.

Canadian changes

The changes to the Canadian Food Guide, published by Health Canada, the department of the national government responsible for public health, are more sweeping.

In the past, the guide featured four food groups, including "milk and alternatives" and "meat and alternatives." The updated version, released earlier this year, contains a cornerstone image of a plate of food, half filled with fruit and vegetables, a quarter filled with whole grains and the final quarter filled with proteins. Dairy and meat now are combined in the proteins category and no longer have standalone status.

The updated guide also advises, "Make water your drink of choice."

The group Dairy Farmers of Canada was critical of the change.

The dairy group "remains concerned that the updated Food Guide does not reflect the most recent and mounting scientific evidence available. There is abundant research that demonstrates that milk products with various fat content can be a part of healthy diet," the organization said in a written statement.

The Canadian Meat Council took a different approach. It stressed that while the food plate "visual" — the primary image depicting what Canadians should eat — has changed, meat retains a valued place in the updated nutritional guide.

"The advice to enjoy lean red meat with lots of vegetables, fruit and whole grains remains the same as previous iterations of the Food Guide," Chris White, CEO and president of the Canadian Meat Council, said in a written statement.

It appears some Canadians have concerns about the new guide.

A study by Dalhousie University and the University of Guelph found that 52.4 percent of Canadians say they face barriers to adopting it. More than a quarter of respondents said the updated guide will increase their food costs, with about 20 percent saying the recommendations don't fit their taste preferences and almost 20 percent saying it doesn't reflect their dietary needs or that preparing the recommended foods would take too much time.

But the study also found that a family of four will save, on average, 6.8 percent on their annual grocery bill if they prepare food at home using the new guidelines. That could change over the next few years, however, due to the availability of produce, Canadians' fluctuating diets and fluctuating food costs, according to the study.

More information on the Canadian Food Guide:

More information on the Start Simple with MyPlate: