Calorie information is now required for menus in chain restaurants as of Jan. 1 in Ontario including many campus eateries. As focusing on nutrition and calories in food becomes more common, students’ eating habits and approach to food could be changing.
“Obesity is still a big concern in society,” says Danielle Battram, associate professor of food and nutritional science at Brescia.
Battram sees the growing availability of calorie information as a positive step for people’s health.
“Anything we can do to try to curb obesity is something that’s important,” she says.
She argues that if calorie information can raise people’s awareness of what they’re really eating, it can help them make better, more informed choices. This awareness of food content is definitely more available now that calorie information is listed at campus eateries like Starbucks and Subway.
First-year engineering student, Joseph Giammarco, thinks this does in fact make a difference in how students eat. He says that if there are different options available with side-by-side nutrition info, you’re likely to choose the one with the least calories.
Carole Palattao, a first-year music student, agrees. She says “When I go to Starbucks I think, ‘Maybe I should get the biggest one,’ and then I see how many calories are in it and go ‘Oh, no, I’m gonna go with the smaller one.’”
Palattao doesn’t use calorie charts to decide what to eat, however. She points out that they don’t give a full picture.
“Calories doesn’t take in everything,” she says, citing the difference between “a hundred calories of potato chips or a hundred calories of broccoli.”
Battram expands on what this means in nutritional terms. She stresses that while “a calorie is a calorie,” there are nutritional factors beyond calorie content to take into account when choosing what to eat.
“Clearly we would want you to try and get calories from things that also have a lot of nutrients,” Battram says. “When you think of things like french fries, they have little to offer you except calories.”
Ahleigha Colwell, a first-year music student, thinks that nutrition and calorie information won’t always change eating people’s habits. “I’d still eat it anyway and just feel bad about it!” she laughs.
But you don’t need to feel bad if you take a break from counting calories every once in awhile, says Battram. Going somewhere unhealthy as an occasional treat doesn’t have to be a big deal.
“For someone who doesn’t go to a McDonald's very often, when you do go you want to get a Big Mac, you want to get a milkshake,” she explains.
“As educators and professionals, we want to make people aware but we don’t want people to go to the extreme and feel negative about eating,” Battram adds. “We don't want to make it so you feel you can't enjoy some of the things that you enjoy.”
Despite this possibility of contributing to people feeling ‘negative about eating,’ Battram sees the growing availability of calorie information as a good step overall, as it can educate people and make them think more about the content of what they’re about to order.
Calories may not be the be-all and end-all of health, but ultimately calorie menus can help students make good choices and stay aware of what they consume, which creates the potential for positive change.