Basic nutrition

Dr. Vic Weatherall
Updated December 2014

(Note: This article is based on the old Canada’s food guide. For information on new guide, see The New Canada’s Food Guide.)

Proper nutrition is important at all ages to provide adequate operating energy and building blocks to the body. This article is based largely on the excellent content contained in Canada’s Food Guide and its associated website. The guide presents the fundamentals of basic nutrition and provides practical guidelines for healthy eating.

Eating the amount and types of foods recommended in the guide will help you to

  • meet your needs for vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients
  • reduce your risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer, and osteoporosis
  • contribute to your overall health and vitality

The guide is based on the concept of eating “servings” of food from four food groups:

  • vegetables and fruit
  • grain products
  • milk and alternatives
  • meat and alternatives

The guide and website provide information on

Health Canada’s website provides an interactive tool called My Food Guide that enables you to build your own food guide.

Some additional nutrition links are located at the end of the article.

Along with healthy eating, you need to be active every day. For a good start, see the article Starting an exercise program.

What is a Food Guide Serving?

A Food Guide Serving is simply a reference amount to help you understand how much food is recommended every day from each of the four food groups. In some cases, one serving may be close to what you eat, such as an apple. In other cases, such as rice or pasta, you may serve yourself more than one serving.

The following examples below show how much food the size of one serving.

Vegetables and fruit

  • 125 mL (1/2 cup) fresh, frozen or canned vegetable or fruit or 100% juice
  • 250 mL (1 cup) leafy raw vegetables or salad
  • one piece of fruit

Grain products

  • one slice (35 g) bread or 1/2 bagel (45 g)
  • 1/2 pita (35 g) or 1/2 tortilla (35 g)
  • 125 mL (1/2 cup) cooked rice, pasta, or couscous
  • 30 g cold cereal or 175 mL (3/4 cup) hot cereal

Milk and Alternatives

  • 250 mL (1 cup) milk or fortified soy beverage
  • 175 g (3/4 cup) yogurt
  • 50 g (1 1/2 oz.) cheese

Meat and Alternatives

  • 75 g (2 1/2 oz.)/125 mL (1/2 cup) cooked fish, shellfish, poultry, or lean meat
  • 175 mL (3/4 cup) cooked beans
  • two eggs
  • 30 mL (2 Tbsp) peanut butter

How much food you need every day

The Choosing Foods page from Canada’s Food Guide shows how much food you need daily from each of the four food groups.

Special advice for different ages and stages of life

People of different ages and at different stages of life have specific nutrient needs in addition to following Canada’s Food Guide. They include

  • children
  • women of childbearing age
  • women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • men and women over the age of 50

The amount of energy you need

The amount of daily energy you need, calculated in the energy units of calories, is based on your age, gender, and level of activity. See the Estimated Energy Requirements from Canada’s Food Guide.

While it is important to maintain a good calorie intake to ensure health, over consumption may lead to excess weight gain, and cardiac and other systemic problems which adversely affect your health. Conversely, extreme decreases in caloric intake can be hazardous to your health and even result in long term increases in weight.

How to read nutrition labels

If you are wondering how to obtain the proper balance of nutrients in packaged foods, the key is to read the nutrition labels on the foodstuffs you buy.

My Food Guide

My Food Guide is an interactive tool that will help you personalize the information found in Canada’s Food Guide. After entering information, such as your age and gender, selecting various items from the four food groups, and choosing different types of physical activities, you can your own food guide.

Enjoy the following nutrition and health related links: