Last month the long-awaited revision to Canada’s Food Guide arrived and surprised many with some major changes to its design and content. Personally, I am pleased with the changes which include a move toward plant-based proteins and I love the addition of guidelines around healthier eating habits like cooking meals at home, eating meals with others and more. Check out Canada’s Food Guide and let us know what you think of the changes.
Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)
Here is some rocket science: being obese is a well-known contributor to poor health. The secret to not being or becoming obese? If you are obese, it is “move more and eat less”. If you aren’t, it is “keep moving and eat well”. I was at the gym today and heard someone make a great comment “just show up and do something”. Is it that simple?
In the interest of public health, Ontario has a new law effective January 1, 2017: the Healthy Menu Choices Act. In this, all food-service chains with 20 or more locations in must now post calorie information on menus for the food and drink items they sell. Further, as of January 1, 2018, all menus must post the following statement:
Adults and youth (ages 13 and older) need an average of 2,000 calories a day, and children (ages 4 to 12) need an average of 1,500 calories a day. However, individual needs vary (1).
So, will this help continue to the better health of Ontarians? People are complicated and behaviors ingrained, so do we know if having more information about calories will contribute to different choices?
First, let’s define a calorie – it is actually “the energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water through 1 °C (now usually defined as 4.1868 joules).” Huh? So why does that matter? Because in nutrition calories refer to energy consumption through eating and drinking, and energy usage through physical activity. For example, an apple may have 80 calories, while a 1 mile walk might use up about 100 calories. Our body uses calories as our energy source to breath, digest, circulate our blood, etc. So, these are important and we get them from foods and beverages (2). But knowing how many calories one person needs to maintain their weight and be at optimal health will depend on several factors including metabolism, level of activity during the day, age, and even genetics. I need way less calories as a middle-aged active woman than the 12,000 calories per day consumed by Michael Phelps when he is training for the Olympics.
So, to the common consumer that knows little about nutrition, but is interested in trying to eat well, will the calorie information on menus help? Well, the math will be simple. If the sign says I need an average of 2000 calories per day, and my Big Mac, Biggie Coke and fries is 1200 calories, I will consciously know that I have 800 left (for weight maintenance). But when I go home, will I check labels, pull out a scale, and put together my remaining meals to not exceed 800? Probably not because the common consumer does not tend to behave that way because if they did, we would not have an obesity problem in the first place. However, for the educated consumer things might be different. Personally, having fitness, health and body composition goals, I have already changed my food choices at fast food places because the calories in what I really wanted was starring me in the face, making me feel guilty already. And I was still able to enjoy what I did order, recognizing that another element of health is “consistently making good choices” when most of the options out there (for convenience food anyway) are poor. So I felt good (emotionally) making a better choice. But when dealing with people and behavior, it is much more complicated than simple math.
It is also important to look at the stages of change when considering whether having transparent information about calories will actually lead to people making better decisions. There are five stages of change – precontemplation, contemplation, preparation for action, action and maintenance (3). Described briefly, in the first stage people don’t know they have a problem and the behaviors are risky and potentially life-threatening (like stress-eating, overeating and becoming obese). In the second stage the person identifies they have a problem, or there are signs of the problem worsening (the number on the scale, bloodwork results, Diabetes starting etc). In Preparation for Action, the person is ready to make a change and is seeking information and guidance. This is when someone might start to understand what a calorie is, and how that relates to them. In Action, the person starts actively changing. This is where I see the Healthy Menu Choices Act being helpful. It will provide people the information they need to make choices that are better than others, as part of their “action” towards improved health. The Healthy Menu Choices Act will also be helpful in the last stage of Maintenance as people can use the calorie information to make choices that align with their desire to maintain the gains they have made, or to be healthily mindful in selecting foods.
From a health perspective, I think that the more information people can have about the choices they are making, the better. Even if they don’t yet understand it, or choose not to use it, or it does not result in behavior change, it is there when they are ready for “Action”. From a business perspective, restaurants and establishments might want to review their menus and look at the balance between their healthy and not-healthy choices. Further, they will also want to look at how orders change with this new act. If people stop ordering the White Chocolate Crème Frappuccino (at 510 calories) and instead sales of Iced Skinny Flavored Lattes (at 80 calories) soar, your consumers are telling you something.
Honestly, I am all for a nice bucket of poutine once a year, but beyond that I will pick the healthy options on a menu, if these exist. If they don’t, I will go elsewhere. It is that simple. So I appreciate the added information the Healthy Menu Choices Act provides, and will use the calorie information in my meal decision making.
Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)
As a newer vegetarian, and someone who spends most days on the road, I am always looking for quick, but decent, lunch options. While in an ideal world I would prepare my lunches and snacks ahead of time (including hand sanitizer!), sometimes life takes over and I am rushing out the door unprepared. On some days that may result in me being undernourished and not eating again until dinner, on other days it does have me searching for healthy stuff en route. So here is my list of the healthiest but fast meal options that are under 300 calories but can be grabbed quickly, as listed by restaurant name:
Veggie Delight (whole wheat bread without cheese or mayonnaise) 230 Calories
Side Garden Salad (no dressing) 40 calories
Chipotle Chicken Snack Wrap® with Grilled Chicken 230 calories
Grilled Chicken Snack Wrap® 230 calories
Full Asian Cashew Chicken Salad (no dressing) 190 calories
Chicken Go Wrap Grilled 260 calories
Garden Pita (no cheese or condiments, whole wheat pita) 227 calories
Tuna Pita (no cheese or condiments, whole wheat pita) 285 calories
Turkey Breast (no cheese or condiments, whole wheat pita) 286 calories
Perfect Oatmeal (plain) 140 calories
Spinach, Roasted Tomato, Feta and Egg White Wrap 280 calories (my personal favorite with the nutrition value quickly wasted by my latte add-on).
Chicken Ranch or Salad Wrap Snacker 190 calories
Chipotle Chicken Wrap Snacker 200 calories
Chili 290 calories
Soups (no bun) 80 – 230 calories
Warm Grilled Chicken Salad (no dressing) 150 calories
Warm Grilled Chicken BLT Salad (no dressing) 210 calories
Grilled Chicken Sandwich (no cheese or condiments) 280 calories
Tendergrill Caesar Salad (no dressing) 250 calories
Hamburger (no cheese or condiments) 260 calories
Veggie Burger (no cheese or condiments) 270 calories
No under 300 calorie meals.
Of course, calories are not the only consideration when consuming a healthy lunch. However, this measure can provide an easy metric when looking for something fast while trying to avoid the unnecessary calories found in heavy carbs and bad-fat common to fast food meals. For drinks, stick to water as not only is this often free (tap water) with your meal, but it provides an opportunity to rehydrate which is also important.
I hope this list helps you to also pick healthier options when on the road.
Dining out is a wonderful treat! Who doesn’t enjoy a delicious meal without the labour intensive preparation or clean up? However, dining out can often lead to poor nutritional choices and over-eating. While it’s okay to indulge once and a while, we need to be aware of the health consequences. The following infographic from Sunnybrook Hospital provides you with tips for a healthier dining out experience. Bon appetite!
According to reports from University of Guelph the cost of food in Canada rose 4.1% in 2015 and is excepted to rise at least another 3 % in 2016. With trips to the local supermarket costing much more, how can you manage to still eat well without breaking the bank? The following from CTV News provides 5 great tips to maintain healthy eating during these tough financial times.
We all know that eating well translates into better health, however, sometimes our busy lives get in the way and make it difficult to plan, prepare and cook healthy meals 7 days a week. How can you achieve this despite your busy schedule? Proper planning! Knowing how to create the proper balance your body requires from your meals and planning ahead can help you to stay on track. The following from the Dietitians of Canada provides great information and tips on how to eat well and make 2016 your healthiest year yet!
This upcoming weekend we celebrate Thanksgiving in Canada. A time for delicious food, time with family and friends and feelings of gratitude. If you are hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year the following guide from Canadian Living magazine will provide you with fantastic recipes and entertaining ideas to help you have your best Thanksgiving ever!
Many believe that when choosing to eat out, a sit down restaurant may provide healthier choices than the local fast food joint, however, a new study out of the University of Illinois shows otherwise. Although restaurant meals may provide more nutrients than a typical fast food meal, research shows that high sodium levels and large portion sizes are putting diners’ health at risk. Check out more on the study and tips for how to have a healthier “dining out” experience in the following article from Global News.
There is much debate over whether to buy organic or non-organic fruits and vegetables. Eating only organic is definitely a more expensive option, however, many feel it is worth the cost. If you are looking to go organic, how do you know where to start? The following infographic from Juicing with G provides a deeper look into pesticides in food and explains the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen, said to be the foods with most and least pesticides respectively.
We want to hear from you. What are your thoughts on organic vs. non-organic?