TORONTO – Would seeing the number of calories on your plate scare you into making healthier choices while eating out? A new Canadian study suggests that nutritional information on menus would help consumers eat healthier in restaurants.
Seventy-five per cent of Canadians want to see calorie content and sodium levels on restaurant menus, according to new research out of the University of Toronto. In turn, they’d save 474 calories and a hefty 1,360 milligrams of sodium per meal.
“These findings show that Canadians want to see nutrition information on restaurant menus and that having this information will help them make healthier choices,” Mary Scourboutakos, lead author of the study, said.
“Legislation that only requires disclosure of calorie information may be a missed opportunity to address the high sodium levels in restaurant foods,” she said.
In some parts of the United States, it’s mandatory for restaurants and fast food chains to include calorie listings. That trend is slowly seeping into Canada.
While global health officials are encouraging a decrease in sodium intake, laws on naming sodium levels in restaurant meals haven’t gained any traction.
In Ontario, Toronto Public Health, the Ontario Medical Association and the Heart and Stroke Foundation have called for menus that include sodium.
Dr. Mary L’Abbé, senior author of the new research published Friday, found that between 17 and 30 per cent of people changed their order after looking over nutritional information.
In her survey, four restaurant scenarios were tested out: at a sub shop, hamburger restaurant, breakfast joint and a sit-down dinner restaurant.
When consumers made a change to their order, it was the “shock and disbelief” at the sodium levels in the dish that changed their minds.
In previous research out of U of T, the researchers found that Canadians “overwhelmingly” support a handful of salt reduction strategies.
They want the food industry to lower salt levels in products, they want warning labels on foods that exceed healthy salt intake and they want policies that ban too much salt in meals served in daycares, schools and nursing homes.
University of Toronto and University of Guelph researchers polled more than 2,600 Canadians across the country to get a pulse on where residents stand on salt reduction policies.
Turns out, more than 80 per cent are throwing their support behind government intervention to reduce salt intake. Sixty-seven per cent of Canadians also have salt on their radar — especially older people and those with high blood pressure.
Results from the survey showed that Canadians on “very high level” support a variety of interventions. They’re on board with:
— Forcing the food industry to lower the amount of sodium added to the products
— Creating maximum levels of salt allowed in packaged goods, restaurant fare and grocery store items
— Adding warning labels to foods that are high in sodium, such as processed meats or canned goods
— Developing maximum levels of salt in food served in daycares, schools, hospitals and nursing homes
Data suggests that Canadians are consuming too much of the unhealthy seasoning, reaching levels of up to 3,400 mg a day. That’s nearly double what daily intake of salt should be. This overdose increases risk of developing hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases.
Only 16 per cent of Canadians even knew what Health Canada’s recommended intake for sodium was — 1,500 mg per day to a maximum of 2,300 mg.