We Canadians eat out frequently, and as much as we try to make healthy choices, it’s not always easy. According to a survey conducted for Restaurants Canada, which represents foodservice businesses, 92 percent of us feel it’s important to know what’s in menu items. Here’s what Canadians most want to know about, in this order: fat, sodium, trans fat, calories and sugar. Many chains put this information on their websites, but not on their menus. That may be about to change.
British Columbia’s Informed Dining program, now expanding across Canada, was developed by the province of B.C. in collaboration with industry and health groups, such as the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Participating restaurants must list’on menu inserts, brochures or posters ‘calories and core nutrients for all standard menu items. The program is voluntary, but at press time, 17 restaurant companies had committed to implementing it nationally by the end of the year. That will include more than 12,000 restaurants, including McDonalds, Milestones, Pizza Pizza, Swiss Chalet and Tim Hortons, to name just a few.
Separately, in Ontario in February, Health Minister Deb Matthews announced proposed legislation that would require chains with 20 or more locations (including restaurants, fast-food outlets, and supermarkets and convenience stores selling prepared foods) to post calorie counts on menus. James Rilett, Restaurants Canada’s vice-president for Ontario, believes that’s the wrong direction. ‘People we polled felt they would be missing information if only calorie counts were included,’ he says. According to Rilett, some provinces, including Manitoba, have talked about introducing Informed Dining as mandatory. Ontario is the only province pursuing a different standard. If its Making Healthier Choices Act is passed, it would mean that some restaurants in Ontario would be operating with two programs in effect. ‘People start to get confused,’ says Rilett. ‘And we think it sends an unfortunate message that calories are the only thing that matters.’
While it’s not yet clear how this will all shake out, at least it looks like change is coming.