Story by Samantha Goodman

Photo by Angela Tilley

It is a new year and that means that everyone around you is repeating the notorious saying of “new year, new me.” That means something different for everyone, but judging by the packed gyms and increase in salad purchases, many people strive to “get fit” in 2017, as they do every new year.

While most people realize that the gym buzz will wear off by February, what makes 2017 different for those with weight-loss resolutions is the Ontario government’s Healthy Menu Choices Act, which requires all food-service chains with 20 or more locations in the province to post the number of calories in the food and drink items that they sell. This includes all food-service chains and cafeterias open to the public.

This act will also advise Ontarians how many calories the average adult and youth should be consuming. For example, those 13 years-old or older will need an average of 2,000 calories a day, while 4-12 year-olds should be consuming an average of 1,500 calories a day. Be warned though, this varies based on the individual and one’s exercise regime.

But there are problems with this newfound tactic, as not all calories are created equal. The Canadian government is doing this to battle the rising obesity rates in Canada, calling it the “battle of the bulge” and hoping to teach individuals and families about eating healthy portions. The long-term goal is to reduce obesity rates and strive for a healthier Canada.

However, as Rachel Berman, the director of nutrition at points out in a Huffington Post article, something with less calories is not necessarily more healthy.  Berman uses the example of McDonalds, explaining that in comparing a Quarter Pounder to a grilled chicken wrap, it is the amount of fibre and sodium making the meal more or less healthy, regardless of the calorie count.

It is important to factor in things like the amount of fibre to know how full one will be after they finish their meal, or the amount of sodium and saturated fats. These all contribute to the healthiness aspect of the meal. It is not just about the number of calories.

So what does this mean? Berman says that Canadians should be looking at heart-healthy fats or whether a food has a lot of saturated fats. According to the American Heart Association, one should only be eating 13 grams of saturated fats per day. This helps to lower blood cholesterol, which is important when it comes to the heart.

Individuals often have a habit of automatically thinking of salad when trying to eat healthy. But this might not always be the healthiest option. Like all meals, it is important to look at the components of the salad and determine if it is right for you. For example, lettuce has a high concentration of water, so just eating that will not help people stay full throughout the day. Adding a lean protein like chicken to a salad ensures you are full until dinnertime.

The Healthy Menu Choices Act is a great step in the right direction for a healthy new year, but it is up to Ontarians to use it to their benefit and look at the whole picture—not just the calories.