Friday, March 4, 2016

New Restaurant Guidelines and What does it Mean for You?

New Restaurant Guidelines and What does it Mean for You?
The 2014 OECD
(Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) report listed Canada as the sixth most obese country in the world.1 Although we didn’t make first place, it’s still a major concern as the
obesity rates in Canada are slowly climbing. In fact, one in four Canadian adults are clinically obese and our dependence on restaurants may be one of the reasons why.2 According to Statistics Canada, the average Canadian household purchases a meal or snack at a restaurant 520 times per year.3 That’s, on average, more than once per day per household.

Photo of a chef holding a plate with food With so many Canadians eating out on a regular basis, the provincial government is forcing restaurants, convenience stores, and grocery stores that sell prepared food at 20 or more locations to post the number of calories on their menus by January 2017. Making consumers more aware of the number of calories is just one step in helping consumers make more informed decisions. Not only will listing the number of calories empower the consumer to make healthier decisions, but it may also impact restaurants as well. Currently, many seemingly healthy dishes found at restaurants actually contain more calories and fat than a dish that is traditionally less healthy. Like did you know that a Tim Hortons bran muffin has more calories than a McDonald’s cheeseburger?4,5 With the new legislation being put in place, these tricks will be more transparent to the public. This legislation will also give restaurants the opportunity to make their menu options lower in calories to make their calorie count numbers a little friendlier to the public eye.

But there is definitely more to food than just the number of calories. By only listing the calories on the menu, the consumer cannot look at other important aspects, such as sodium and fat, when making a decision. Where these calories come from can help consumers make a more informed decision and look at other nutrients that could impact their health. Sodium levels are a big concern, especially for many Canadians with heart conditions or high blood pressure, and it doesn’t help that many restaurants and fast food chains overdo it with the sodium levels. Many Ontarians are urging sodium levels to be posted with the calorie information as well.

But will this make a difference in what people purchase? Posting calorie counts on menus has been implemented in New York since 2006, but when looking at a low-income neighborhood, one study found that there was no significant change in calories bought per customer6 .Typically when people eat out, they expect there to be more calories in the food they are eating. Most people are also unaware of how many calories they should be eating in a day.7 Maybe Ontarians will respond differently to the new rules as many have strongly urged restaurants to be more transparent about their nutrition information. While just listing the caloric information isn’t perfect, for those that are concerned, it is one step further in informing the consumer about the choices they are making when they are eating out. Be on the lookout for calorie postings at your favorite chain restaurants soon!

Jane Skapinker

Registered Dietitian

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References

  1. Obesity Update. (2014, June 1). Retrieved July 27, 2015, from http://www.oecd.org/health/Obesity-Update-2014.pdf
  2. Obesity in Canada. (n.d.). Retrieved July 27, 2015, from http://www.obesitynetwork.ca/obesity-in-canada
  3. Canadians spending more on eating out. (2006, June 28). Retrieved July 27, 2015, from http://www41.statcan.gc.ca/2006/0163/ceb0163_002-eng.htm
  4. Nutrition Information – Find Products | Tim Hortons. (n.d.). Retrieved July 27, 2015, from http://www.timhortons.com/ca/en/menu/nutrition-and-wellness-search.php
  5. Cheeseburger – McDonald’s. (n.d.). Retrieved July 27, 2015, from http://www.mcdonalds.ca/ca/en/menu/full_menu/sandwiches/cheeseburger.html#/
  6. Dumanovsky, T., Huang, C. Y., Nonas, C. A., Matte, T. D., Bassett, M. T., & Silver, L. D. (2011). Changes in energy content of lunchtime purchases from fast food restaurants after introduction of calorie labelling: Cross sectional customer surveys. BMJ: British Medical Journal, 343(7818), 299-299. doi:10.1136/bmj.d4464
  7. Taksler, G. B., & Elbel, B. (2014). Calorie labeling and consumer estimation of calories purchased. The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 11(1), 91-91. doi:10.1186/s12966-014-0091-2

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