When the weather turns colder, many of us crave hot meals to warm our bodies and lift our spirits. Just the thought of a steaming plate of pasta, a saucy rice bowl or a spicy curry brings feelings of warmth and comfort during these chilly autumn days.
But we need to be aware that these mouthwatering comfort meals are often laden with calories and sodium, partly owing to their typically large portion sizes and the generous amount of sauce.
Looking at the nutritional information for one popular sit down restaurant chain, the average menu item in the “Pastas and Bowls” section contains around 1170 calories and 2325 mg of sodium. That’s more than half the calories many adults need in a whole day, and more sodium than anyone should eat in an entire day. And those numbers don’t include any appetizer, bread, beverage or dessert.
At this particular chain, the worst offender in this category is a chicken rigatoni dish which has almost 1400 calories and over 3200 mg of sodium.
The lowest calorie option is a Thai red curry dish that has just over 900 calories, but it still has nearly a day’s worth of sodium (almost 1400 mg).
By the way, these numbers are fairly typical. We’ve reported previously that this is what a Nutrition Facts table would look like for the average sit down restaurant meal in Canada, which includes an appetizer and a main:
So what’s a chilly Torontonian turned Savvy Diner to do? First of all, ask to see the nutritional information so that you can make an informed decision. Then, decide how much you want to eat, taking into consideration the rest of the meals and snacks you’ll have for the day and the amount of physical activity you’ve got planned.
If we had this information upfront, we’d try our hardest to eat only half and take half to go, for tomorrow’s lunch.
The Savvy Diner Team
On October 9th, Ontario Minister of Health Deb Matthews announced that the government will be introducing legislation this winter which will require large chain restaurants in the province to post calorie and other nutritional information on restaurant menus.
We know that Savvy Diners in Toronto are really interested in seeing nutritional information, especially calorie and sodium values, on restaurants menus.
And there are a lot of good reasons why including sodium in the menu labelling rules would make sense. But so far, the Ministry of Health has not committed to including sodium since the emphasis has been on preventing childhood obesity, and thus on calories.
Here is an infographic that Toronto Public Health submitted to the Health Minister (we also submitted our other recommendations for provincial menu labelling legislation).
There is only one day left for you to share YOUR opinions with the Health Minister. Take 10 minutes to complete the survey before the deadline of November 15th (Note: the first part of the survey asks about your views on reducing the marketing of foods and beverages aimed at children).
You may have heard the news that Hypertension Canada, a not-for-profit agency dedicated to the prevention and control of high blood pressure, is recommending that the daily sodium intake level be raised 2000 mg per day. Apparently, a task force of blood pressure experts reviewed the latest evidence and proposed the change after significant debate.
It is yet to be seen whether Hypertension Canada’s recommendation will become official federal government policy in Canada and the U.S. through a revision to the Institute of Medicine’s Dietary Reference Intakes which still tell healthy middle aged adults aged to aim for 1500 mg of sodium per day.
In case anyone is confusing this updated recommendation with a free pass to up their sodium intake… not so fast. The average Canadian already consumes 3400 mg per day, which is 1.5 times this new sodium target. That’s the amount of sodium in seven cheeseburgers!
The reality is that most Canadians are already overdoing it on salt, so reducing our intakes to 2000 mg per day would actually be a big improvement. Plus, Hypertension Canada’s recommendation for the daily sodium limit (2300 mg) didn’t change. Too much sodium will still increase your risk of developing high blood pressure, a precursor to a range of health conditions.
With the average sit-down restaurant meal in Canada having nearly 2300 mg of sodium in it, there’s no question that menu labelling could help us make better choices when dining out. We’ve heard that calories will soon be required on Ontario menus, but the province is completing consultations before deciding whether other nutrition numbers will be needed as well.
Savvy Diners can be assured that we are working hard to push for sodium to be included in the proposed legislation. And now… you can tell the Minister of Health (through an online public survey) how you feel about seeing calorie and sodium information on restaurant menus too. We hope you’ll take the time to share your thoughts on being a Savvy Diner!
It’s certainly encouraging to see the fast food industry recognize the demand for healthier options, but the claims made about these new fries are confusing.
Although advertised as having 30% fewer calories, in the fine print you’ll see this is the difference when these fries are compared to a competitor’s spuds. Swapping this option for the regular, in-house fries actually provides 20% fewer calories.
Only menu labelling would tell diners that substitution means a savings of 80 calories & 200 mg sodium for a medium order (or a savings of 70 calories and 180 mg sodium for a comparably sized small US order). Savvy Diners want greater transparency – time for this information to be on the menu!