Canada’s Food Guide: A Win for Designers

One of my passions is healthy eating, so I was really excited when Canada announced plans to unveil a new food guide. I thought it would be interesting to reflect on the influence of visual communication through current and past food guides.

Let’s start with Canada’s new Food Guide:

Simple, Clean Design

I really like the simple look of this new guide. I suppose it’s not so much a guide as it is a simple visual. They have removed the recommended portion sizes, which I thought was a nice touch because we tend to fixate on serving sizes rather than a holistic view of health. Now, when I am planning a meal, I can easily picture this in my mind and plate my meal to be more health-conscious. The simple directions next to the plate of food provide gentle considerations for the next meal. I think this design makes healthy eating more accessible, not to mention it looks delicious! (This is a step up from previous food guides.)

The current American Food Guide doesn’t have any food pictured:

The design is clean, but it doesn’t do anything for me. In fact, it looks quite juvenile (especially compared to Canada’s newest food guide). I want to see delicious, healthy food that I can picture myself eating. It’s fun to talk about food, but this visual makes it hard to get conversation going. Plus, it seems to reinforce that a glass of milk is needed with each meal. Dairy and beef are two major industries in North America, but they haven’t been known to be the best for the environment, or our health.

The vibrant colours hurt my eyes on the screen, which is where I imagine most people will see this visual. I wonder if they shared these visuals with a broad audience and got feedback before sharing it with the public. Do people find this a helpful reference when they plan meals? My gut reaction is no, although I think it’s a step up from some of the retro food guides I grew up with…

90s Throwback

This is the American Food Guide from the 90s. It’s ironic that the Atkins diet was all the craze, since breads and grains are the centrepiece of this guide. I find the dots really distracting, and again the food doesn’t look appealing. It’s interesting the “USE SPARINGLY” section of the pyramid is about as big as the dairy and meat sections. Overall, the pyramid communicates a confusing message to viewers.

In the past, designers have made an obvious choice to steer clear of “real looking” food, as evidenced in Canada’s previous Food Guide:

I don’t really understand this choice, since food is the easiest thing to photograph! It can’t go anywhere!

Final Thoughts

It’s interesting how a simple visual can have such a visceral impact. It makes sense, since our visual senses are our most powerful senses. When done well, a visual can inspire change and have lasting impact. Done poorly, they can confuse the public and even mislead them. There’s a big responsibility to get visuals right, especially now that they are finally taken as a serious way to share information. Go, Canada!

An interesting article on the history of American Food Guides:


1992 Food Guide Pyramid image from Choose my Plate:

2011 MyPlate image from Choose my Plate:

Canada Food Guide image from Government of Canada:

Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide image from Government of Canada:

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