The folks at Freshii have a good point.
This last January The Ontario Healthy Menu Choices Act took effect, requiring all restaurant chains with 20+ locations operating in Ontario to display the caloric information for all food and drink items on their menus.
Given that 40+ per cent of Canadians today classify themselves as overweight or obese, the tracking and display of caloric information is a positive step in the right direction. The health care risks for these individuals are greater and the cost on the system is estimated to be between $4 billion and $7 billion. But the recent debate over Freshii’s compliance with the legislation brings up a very important consideration. According to the Ontario legislation, all calories are equal in the eyes of the law. But are they really?
Calories are a breakdown of nutrition such as fats, proteins, carbohydrates or sugars, which people need to live and function. Are calories bad? No, not necessarily. It mostly depends on the ingredients within. To Freshii’s point, a dish can have a higher caloric content but at the same time, be highly nutritious.
Chefs do not set out to plan menus to sabotage their clients. Rather, they plan them to be delicious. Also, they most often plan them without detailed knowledge about the nutritional or caloric values of each dish ingredient. When putting a recipe together, every ingredient used, as well as the cooking method will affect the final nutritional information of that dish.
Displaying calories of each item is a good step forward. But as we now understand, it is not an accurate presentation of the nutrition associated with that dish. This is why restaurants such as Freshii, who put the primary emphasis on nutrition, and who are committed to serving healthy dishes, are struggling with the new Ontario Healthy Menu Choices Act. At face value, the total calories of their dishes do not equate to unhealthy eating.
So, to truly be a healthy eater, you need to look beyond calories to spot the unhealthy items that may lurk within recipes and meals, such as fat content, and even then there are subtleties.
If most of the fat content comes from healthy unsaturated fat (like an avocado), you’re okay. If the fat found in the food item is mainly saturated or the product has any trans fat, then it is a menu item to avoid. Trans fat has been shown to increase levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol while decreasing levels of "good" HDL cholesterol.
Sodium is yet another ingredient we are wise to avoid. It can raise blood pressure, which can lead to a risk of heart disease.
The folks at Freshii are right. Calories are not our enemy, and we are oversimplifying what is a complex thing to understand. Simply because it is a higher calorie food item, it might very well be worth eating, especially if it is packed with lots of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.