Menu labelling has arrived in Ontario!

Now that the new legislation is here restaurant goers will begin to notice calorie counts posted in restaurants and other food service venues like grocery stores and movie theatres.

What does this mean?
labelled menu board Jan_17It means that each regular menu item should have a calorie count beside it in the same prominence on the menu as the name of the item or its price. It may be a single number or it may be a range, depending on the items and how it can be ordered.

For instance, an item (like a burger) which can be ordered with different toppings and side dishes will show a range of caloric values. It is up to the customer to decipher the information as it pertains to how they are ordering the menu item.

The contextual statement
In addition, each menu or menu board will also display a contextual statement which provides diners within information on how many calories the average person needs in one day.  It states “The average adult requires approximately 2,000 to 2,400 calories per day; however, needs may vary.” This is just a guideline as people’s caloric needs vary greatly depending on factors like age, sex and activity levels.

Will this change your decision when dining out?
Toronto Public Health believes that menu labelling is one tool to help consumers make an informed decision about what they are eating when dining out. We hope you will find the new menu information helpful and would love to hear how (or if) our readers use it when making your decisions.  Please leave a comment below or send an email to savvydiner@toronto.ca.

Healthy eating during the holidays

holidayThe holiday season is here which means many of us are dining out more often due to busy schedules and festive parties!   Health Canada provides some great tips so you can still enjoy your favourite holiday foods and keep your commitment to eating well.

You may have noticed by now that some Ontario restaurants have begun posting calories on their menus and menu boards.  Larger chain restaurants in Ontario, with 20 locations or more, have until January 1st to comply with the new menu labelling requirements legislated under the Bill 45 Making Healthier Choices Act. Menu labelling will help people make informed choices about the food they eat when dining out and we are very excited to begin 2017 on a healthier note.

Sneaky Sodium

Can you steer clear of sodium offenders by simply avoiding a certain type of menu item?

Researchers examined over four thousand meal items sold at 65 fast-food and 20 sit-down restaurants. It looks like there were some clear winners (well, sodium losers) to consider shunning, unless you’re looking to max-out your sodium intake for the day.

Check out the table below for the salty lineup. Keep in mind that Health Canada recommends adults eat up to 1,500 mg of sodium a day. This is the amount expected to meet or exceed the needs of most individuals, known as the Adequate Intake (AI). The Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) is 2300 mg of sodium, or about a teaspoon. Eating more sodium than this presents a health risk.

 

Source: CBC

But if you think passing on a stir fry in favour of another menu item is always a safe bet – think again. There was a large range of sodium in every food category, so while this chart might point you in the right direction, what really matters is that we are getting way too much sodium from restaurant foods.

If 57% of sandwiches provide at least a day’s worth of sodium, don’t you have a right to know which ones?

 

Healthy Chinese Take-Out in Philly: A Success Story

As we shared before, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is clearly a city after our own heart. Already recognized as a serious leader in menu labelling, now there’s even more inspiring news coming from the city of brotherly love that has caught our attention.

We want to send a big high five to Philly for recognizing high sodium content in restaurant dishes as a risk factor for high blood pressure and for taking action to address this public health concern. Over 200 Chinese restaurants have joined with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, the Asian Community Health Coalition, the Centre for Asian Health of Temple University, and the Philadelphia Chinese Restaurant Association to reduce the amount of sodium in restaurant dishes by 10%-15%.

Known as the Healthy Chinese Take-Out Initiative, this project involves an outstanding partnership and it doesn’t point the finger at restaurants; rather, it brings together a group of restaurants that have volunteered to be a part of the solution, along with multiple other agencies that can provide support.

The participating restaurants attended free trainings to look at ways to flavour food with less salt. So far, the results show a 20% reduction in sodium, which surpasses the original target. Restaurants are making this happen with small changes that lower sodium without compromising taste, like using chili, garlic, and less sauce, and serving soy sauce only on demand.

What could this mean for Toronto? Although we are just in the early stages of menu labelling – waiting to see how the Board of Health votes on the proposed regulations for large chains and seeing what is possible to do in our pilot project with independent restaurants – we find Philadelphia’s success when it comes to healthy restaurant initiatives and menu labelling encouraging. Let’s hope we can see the same kind of progress here, Savvy Diners!

Our Dietitian Sleuths Bring You Savvy Veggie Options

This week our dieticians were on the hunt for options to make vegetarian Savvy Diners proud. The assignment should be easy: find meals loaded with extra veggies and sans the meat, right? But as our savvy readers know, even meatless meals can be surprisingly sodium-loaded and high in calories.

Keep in mind: we were looking for vegetarian meals where nutrition information would be posted when the legislation comes into effect (i.e. chain restaurants with >10 locations). But The Star has run the numbers on some local spots already. They found some dishes that were really as good as they sounded, like this salad or rice bowl. They also found some less innocent veggie options out there, including this vegan muffin and veggie thali.

But alas, let’s begin our own adventure in veggie-land. Our dietitian sleuths searched high and low to round up these options from chains and fast food restaurants:

We start with a classic Veggie Burger. The best version we could find had 600 calories and 930 mg sodium. The sodium is high, but still lower than similar veggie burgers we could find. Most were in the 1200-1600 mg range. Bottom line: choose wisely or you could be eating more than your daily recommended sodium intake in just a few bites!

Next up: pasta. This tends to be a popular veggie option, but it’s often piled high with cheese and/or rich sauces. The best we could find was a Butternut Squash Ravioli from a popular Italian restaurant with 590 calories and 910 mg sodium. Side note: the same restaurant’s minestrone soup had only 80 (!) calories and would be a great accompaniment, except we busted it for being a salty sidekick with 900 mg sodium. Too bad.

 

Moving on to tofu. Of course we were pretty excited to find a chain restaurant with several options, but would have been over the moon if they weren’t all so loaded in salt. We can’t even recommend something here since the best we could find was a Sweet & Spicy Tofu Pad Thai with 1010 calories and a whopping 2580 mg sodium… yikes! If you simply couldn’t pass, we’d suggest taking half of this dish home with you, pairing it with a green house salad, and reining in your salt for the rest of the day.

Speaking of salads, they are usually a safe bet for vegetarians and can be pretty satisfying when fruits and nuts are tossed in. This California Spring Salad with pecans, strawberries, goat cheese and dressing is a little rich with 930 calories and 680 mg sodium. But if you ask for half the dressing (you won’t even notice, we promise!) it lowers to a more reasonable 775 calories and 580 mg sodium.

Let’s wrap things up with a wrap. We found a Vegetable & Goat Cheese Wrap with 712 calories and 729 mg sodium. Not bad, but again, watch out for those salty sidekicks or ask for a little less cheese.

Veggie and Goat Cheese Wrap

It’s great that chains are expanding their vegetarian-friendly menu to provide choices for veggie diners. But wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier to find healthy options (veggie or not) with menu labelling?