Ontario’s New Menu Labelling Legislation: What do those calorie counts mean and what do you do with them?
(This is going to be a talk heavy post, but stay with me, there’s just so much to cover!)
You may have already noticed that major chain restaurants and outlets have posted calorie counts for meals and food items on their menu boards. This is a result of the new legislation from the Ministry of Ontario that requires major food outlets to clearly post calorie counts on their menus as of January 1st, 2017. You may have also noticed that your favourite spots to eat on campus are also included in this!
One of the primary goals of this legislation is to help consumers make informed choices about what they’re eating when they dine away from home. With Canadians dining out more frequently for a variety of reasons, it became important to help individuals make informed decisions about their purchases. In the past you could ask for a pamphlet or visit the organization’s website for nutritional information. But that’s hard to do when you’re trying to make an informed choice about what to order in the middle of a McDonald’s or Tim Horton’s.
Research in places within the U.S. where calorie labelling had been mandated showed varied results about the effectiveness of posted calorie information. Some evidence pointed to a reduction of calories purchased, while other studies showed that customers looked at information but didn’t necessarily change their purchases because of it.
Regardless, the legislation will add a little more transparency between major chains and their customers. This may also lead restaurants to eventually make different recipes or update current recipes that are more calorie friendly.
Choosing what to eat can feel like a pressured filled moment. In addition to calories, there is a lot of different things to consider with regard to food choice. That’s why many different health associations urged that sodium counts also be included in the legislation. Some associations also wanted to see public education programs so that consumers like yourself could better understand how to use the information. Posted calorie amounts is a good start that will hopefully expand to include other nutritional information for the public to use.
So now that you know that’s it’s here, what should you do with this information?
- What exactly is a calorie?
Firstly, we have to understand what a calorie is. A calorie is a unit of measurement for energy. Your body needs a certain number of calories a day to keep you running at your best. The average adult needs about 2,000 calories a day. However, the amount of calories your body needs per day will vary from person to person for a number of reasons such as, your activity level and your current health status.
- Should I use calorie counts to make my decision?
Look at the calories, but don’t let it be the ‘be all and end all’ deciding factor. Some foods that have great benefits for your body could be higher in calories than you might have thought. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid them.
For example: avocados are full of heart healthy fats so they will likely be higher in calories than other fruits. Whole grain bread is higher in calories than white bread. Don’t let that sway you because whole grains are rich in fibre and other nutrients. Another great example to consider is salmon. We all know it’s full of those great omega-3 fatty acids and other good stuff for your body. Because it’s a rich source of these fats, it may be higher in calories than its protein source counterparts like chicken and beef. Does that mean you should avoid eating salmon? Absolutely not.
- That meal is higher in calories, should I still eat it?
Building off the last tip, if something is higher in calories than you think, try to take a quick second to think about what it’s offering. Is it a fibre rich whole grain? Is it full of healthy fats like olive oil in a balsamic vinaigrette? Or is it deep fried? Is it topped heavily with sauces? If it’s the latter two, you may want to consider other options that are going fuel your body well.
- I really want to eat that meal that has a high calorie count, what do I do?
Moderation, Balance, and Enjoyment. We’ve all heard these words before but how do we apply them to our choices. It is ok if you want to eat a calorie heavy meal. The key is to eat those meals in moderation or to consider them ‘sometimes meals’. Save those meals for every once and a while and balance your eating patterns with other great choices more often.
When you do eat a calorie rich meal (or when you eat any meal in fact) try to be mindful and enjoy what you’re eating. Put aside the feelings of guilt that may pop up and enjoy the flavours of the meal in front of you.
In light of Thrive week that just wrapped up earlier this month and upcoming final papers and exams, I thought I’d end the semester with a blog post about how to support our mental health with nutrition.
Very recent research has been finding that dietary patterns can play a role in our mental health. Studies have shown a relationship between ‘unhealthy’ dietary patterns and poorer mental health among youth. ‘Unhealthy’ being a diet that includes a high intake of saturated fat, sugar, refined and processed foods. I also want you to pay attention to the word ‘pattern’ here. Shift from focusing on single nutrients in the diet to instead looking at the quality of an overall dietary pattern. This means you should be aiming to eat balanced overall, instead of trying to focus on increasing/decreasing certain nutrients.
There are also psycho-social elements that can play a role in our mental well-being. Eating meals with family has many benefits that you may not have even thought about. Eating regular family meals is associated with better eating habits, improved academic performance, higher self-esteem, and even a lower risk of substance abuse. And that’s just to mention a few benefits! If your family didn’t sit down to a lot of family meals when you were younger, it doesn’t mean that you can’t start now.
The fact that research is being conducted in the area of nutrition and mental health is incredibly exciting news, but there is still much more research to be done and more relationships to explore!
What You Can Do:
Eat with a Friend:
- Plan to eat meals with some floormates or study buddies. This may be incredibly low on your priority list during exam season, but it’ll help your mind reset as you disconnect from the computer and your study notes. Legend has it that one year entire floors of Jean Royce hall would meet up to watch the ‘Young and the Restless’ together. It doesn’t have to be this ‘drama filled’, but taking 30 minutes to grab a meal and good conversation with some friends will bring you many benefits.
Unplug and Keep it Light
- Turn off your phone and keep conversation fun! Staying away from your phone and engaged with conversation will increase your shot at reaping these mental health benefits. Try to steer clear of conversations about work load and the stresses of school. Talk about topics that you find light and exciting. What happened in the latest episode of your favourite drama/comedy/reality show? Where is your favourite band touring next? Tell your favourite food pun! (What do you call a fake noodle? An impasta!)
Balance those Meals
- Make sure you’re balancing your meals. No matter what dietary lifestyle you choose to follow, make sure your plate has a protein, a starch, and is filled with veggies.
Get creative with balance. Let’s say you’d like to eat the pasta with arrabiata sauce at Leonard for dinner one day. Why not go grab some roasted vege from the grill and throw it in? For protein, mix-in some tofu or chickpeas from the salad bar. Both are great sources of protein and won’t distract from the flavour of the sauce. For those who are more daring, try adding plain tuna from the deli station. Starch, vegetables, protein. Voila! Balanced plate!
Fibre is our friend, but apparently many Canadians are giving fibre the cold shoulder. Some of us only consuming about half of our fibre needs day to day. But fibre does a lot of great things for our bodies so I’m here to give some credit to our pal fibre. It’s more than just our grandparents’ Metamucil and bran buds.
Fibre is a found in plant based foods and is a carbohydrate that is not digestible by our bodies. There are two different types of fibre – soluble and insoluble. They have different roles to play but both are important.
Insoluble fibre is a friend to your digestive tract. It’s ‘duty’ (pun intended) is to keep things moving along and help keep you regular. Soluble fibre helps to lower cholesterol and control your blood sugar levels. Fibre has also been known to lower your risk of diseases like colon cancer and cardiovascular disease!
So if you’re someone who’s been putting your relationship with fibre on ice, well then hopefully I’ve now inspired you to rekindle that connection. Here’s some tips to get you started:
- Load up on veggies and fruit and try to leave the skin on whenever possible. In the same vein, drinking fruits and vegetables means that you’re missing out on that good fibre, so eat your veggies instead of drinking them.
- Plant proteins like legumes, nuts, and seeds are excellent sources of fibre. Try adding them to your next salad.
- Reach for whole grains more often. Opt for whole wheat wraps, breads, and buns when making sandwiches and choose whole wheat pasta when it’s available to you.
- Practice safe fibre intake! It’s important to increase your fibre intake gradually and drink plenty of fluids to avoid those uncomfortable symptoms of gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
The gluten-free diet has become one of the trendiest diets of the time, even though only a small percentage of the Canadian population has Celiac disease – an autoimmune disease that causes serious damage to the individual’s intestinal system when gluten is ingested, making it very hard for their bodies to absorb nutrients from the food they eat. Individuals who have celiac disease need to adhere to a gluten free diet for life to avoid unwanted and uncomfortable digestive complications and long-term health consequences.
The sudden interest in a gluten free lifestyle could be due to the perceived health benefits of the diet, such as weight loss and improved digestive health, among many others. Not to mention the added promotional boost from some of our favourite celebs. This increased attention has made a vast improvement to our awareness of other grain choices and the variety of gluten free options for those who need to follow a gluten free diet. However, for the general population, following a gluten free diet doesn’t necessarily hold the answers to your health concerns.
There is little to no evidence out there to support weight loss from following a gluten free diet among the general population. There could be a couple of factors at play for those who have claimed to have lost weight after switching to a gluten free lifestyle. These individuals have likely started being more thoughtful about what they’re putting on their plates. Choosing refined carbohydrates and heavily processed items less often, and including whole foods such as, fruits, vegetables, and legumes more frequently. Opting for these choices more often could lead to weight loss over time. Another important point is that gluten free products are not always the ‘better’ option. It’s always important to read nutrition labels, including labels on gluten free items because they could be higher in sugar, sodium, or fat.
Rolled oats (oat flakes) in a wooden spoon on a rolled oats background. Close-up.
If you’ve been considering going gluten free for the perceived health benefits, why not try being more mindful of your grain choices instead. Giving more consideration to your grain choices throughout the day will help you reap some great health benefits and keep your diet balanced and full of variety! Try to incorporate some of these tips on campus or in your kitchens:
- Reach for whole grains. They’re full of fibre, which is not only great for your digestive system, but also has heart benefits and may help you manage your weight.
- Aim for variety with your grain choices. Have pasta or noodles at one meal, and then try an ancient grain like quinoa or barley for another.
- Add healthy fats to your diet from foods likes nuts, seeds, oils, and avocados to help you manage the size of your grain portions throughout the day.
- Make sure half your plate is filled with veggies to also help you regulate your grain portions and keep you well on track of your nutrition and wellness goals.
Queen’s Hospitality Services is dedicated to providing healthy and nutritious food for all campus community members. Along with menu items and services for alternative diets and allergies, our team is happy to meet with you to discuss your specific needs.
MPH, RD, Dietitian and Wellness Manager
Liana is a registered dietitian with a passion for building healthy communities and helping others lead happy healthy lives through food and nutrition. She loves the ability of dietetics to bring together the arts, such as the socio-cultural aspects of food, with the hard sciences of health and nutrition.
Liana believes that everyone can enjoy a very wide variety of delicious foods, while still supporting their health and well-being, but she understands that this isn’t always easy in a new food environment – that’s why she’s here to lend a hand!
Liana began her academic journey at the University of Guelph, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences. She then continued on to Western where she earned her B.Sc. in Nutrition and Dietetics. Recently, she graduated with a Masters of Public Health from the University of Toronto, where she gained experience working with food in many different ways — from nutrition education to improving a community’s access to healthy food.
In her spare time, you can find Liana working on her moves in a climbing gym, or relaxing in an art gallery.
Contact Liana to set up a one on one appointment to discuss your nutrition and health concerns. She will help you decipher current nutrition research, bust nutrition myths, and guide you in healthy decision making.
Campus Executive Chef, Allergy and Alternative Diets contact
Colin has been with Queen’s since 1993, and is the Allergy and Alternative Diets contact for students and parents. A Red Seal certified chef, Colin worked in several restaurant kitchens before joining the university as a Sous Chef. He has held a number of positions within Hospitality Services, and has been the Campus Executive Chef since 2006.
Along with training from George Brown and the Culinary Institute of America in New York, Colin was named Sodexo Chef of the Year in 2004 and 2010, and was the team leader on the Silver Medal and People’s Choice winner team for the 2008 Canadian College and University Food Services Association’s Chef Competition. He was also a member of the Silver Medal team on the 2002 North America Culinary Competition, and the Executive Sous Chef at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Colin is passionate about local food, and also loves catching the latest Alton Brown episode on the Food Network. His favourite food is braised lamb shanks – and if you ask him, he’d be glad to give you the perfect recipe.
Contact Colin to set up a one on one appointment to discuss allergies and alternative diets.
For nutritional information from some of our major retail brands, visit our Nutrition Information page.