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.