There’s More to Food Than Calories

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“I have a dream that one day food would not be judged by the content of its calories but by the content of its character!” (Abbey Sharp). If you have walked into a retail food chain recently, you may have noticed that beside each of the food and drink items on the menu is their caloric content.

In alignment with Ontario’s Healthy Menu Choices Act, food chains with over 20 locations must now post the caloric content on food and drink menus in the same font and size as the name and price of the item. From coffee shops to grocery stores, the new act has made it simple to count your calories throughout the day.

In addition to providing caloric information, business menus must state:

  • 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.
  • The average adult requires approximately 2,000 to 2,400 calories per day. However, individual calorie needs may vary.

While urging Canadians to be aware of their caloric intake may be a step in the right direction towards a healthier population, it is essential to note that not all calories are the same, and they should not be treated as such.

Quoting cookbook author Amelia Freer, “good nutrition isn’t about low fat or fewer calories. It’s about nourishing your body with real, whole foods, some good fat and natural flavour so you’re constantly satisfied, full and energised.” In this sense, one calorie is not equal to another. Consuming calories from different foods can have fundamentally different effects depending on how our bodies metabolize these specific calories. To exemplify this, Freer notes how an avocado contains more calories than a bag of candy, yet with healthy fatty acids, fiber, potassium, and more nutrients, the avocado is undeniably the healthier choice.

When we only see caloric content, we are missing out on a large portion of our food’s nutritional information. Freer notes how the amount of sugar is an important factor to analyze as it can cause significant emotional highs and lows as well as cravings. Despite sugar’s dangers, Ontario’s Healthy Menu Choices Act does not require this information to be disclosed, therefore leaving consumers with an incomplete picture of their consumption.

So, why disclose calories if there is so much more to our food items? The act claims that doing so helps customers make more informed decisions about what they choose to consume. While this may be true, and it is definitely a step in the right direction, I urge you to remember that calories are not the ultimate indicator of a food’s nutrition. We need to look at the whole picture and take our own individual health needs into account in order to make conscious and healthy decisions about what we eat.

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