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What you need to know about Menus and Calorie Lists

Healthy eating is not a simple as choosing lower calorie foods.

Making decisions on what to eat based on their energy (calorie) density alone may leave you missing out on a lot of key nutrients and may have you noshing on restaurant offerings which are less than nutritious.

This and some future blog posts to come will take a closer look at the the pros and cons of calorie lists.

As of January 1st, 2017, the Ontario provincial government implemented Bill 45, Making Healthier Choices Act, otherwise known as the act that has changed food chains’ display menus to provide calorie information. Although the majority of food chains already provide nutrition information in the form of pamphlets in their stores, calorie information will now be visually displayed for all customers to see as they order.

However, calories only make up a small part of a bigger picture when making healthy choices. Take for example a trip to your local Tim Horton’s to buy yourself a bagel. When looking at the menu, you will find that a Plain Bagel has one of the least amount of calories, with only 290 calories, whereas the 12 Grain Bagel has 330 calories. You may assume that you should choose the Plain Bagel due to its lower calorie amount however; Canada’s Food Guide recommends that you make at least half of your grain products whole grains. With that being said, a 12 Grain Bagel offers more fibre than a Plain Bagel, and may be the healthier option.

Cons: Calorie lists do not differentiate between a more nutritious vs a less nutritious food.

Tips to Navigating the New Menu Boards to Make Healthier Choices:

  • Choose whole grain options. As stated above, Canada’s Food Guide recommends making at least half of your grain products whole grains. When eating out, look for options like “whole wheat”, “multi-grain”, or “pumpernickel” to choose from, or ask your server if they offer whole grain alternatives for your breads, pitas, or pastas.

  • Watch the sodium. When choosing something to eat avoid foods that are labelled as being smoked, or contain soy sauce or teriyaki sauce. Other food items that contain high amounts of sodium include condiments and sauces like ketchup, mustard, and relish, and processed meats and cheeses.

  • Avoid the liquid calories. Choose water or low-fat milk to drink instead of sweetened beverages like fruit juice, soda, ice tea or lemonade. If plain water is boring, try adding flavour to it by squeezing a lemon or lime slice in it. Enjoy carbonated beverages but want to avoid the added sugar and calories that come with it? Try drinking sparkling water.

  • Ask for your salad dressing on the side. Sometimes creamy salad dressings can come packed with added calories and fat. Try dripping your fork in the dressing between bites.

Bottom line: Calories, although important, are a small part to guiding your decisions to make healthy choices. Be consumer smart, and focus on the whole picture!

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