Nutrition Labels

By Hina Jasim

Joanna Mandap, a Nursing student at Ryerson University credits her healthy diet to the new nutrition labels in menus.

“I always notice the nutrition label in menus, that’s the first thing I look for,” Mandap said.

Restaurants in Toronto now have an addition to their menus: a nutrition label. The label is provided in restaurant chains and used for items that are consistent and on the menu regularly. The label showcases nutritional information such as the amount of calories, fat and cholesterol levels for an item on the menu. The labels are being brought on by customers who need nutritional dishes for their diet.

Ron Reaman, the vice-president of health and nutrition at the Canadian Restaurant and Food Services Association (CRFA) has been the lead advocate for having the labels in the menu and has the experience to speak about them. After spending five years at the CRFA in Federal Government Affairs, he’s worked in food safety, health and nutrition.

“I’ve worked with the CRFA for a long time now and pretty much manage all their services. The nutrition labels in menus have been in discussion for months now, the discussion went as far as Parliament,” Reaman said.

Reaman went on to say that there’s no formal legislation on the labels as of yet.

“There’s no law in place to make restaurants have the label, they’re pretty much doing it voluntarily,” Reaman added.

There are numerous ways for people to check out a restaurant’s menu online, but sometimes it’s good to be able see it inside a menu.

“It’s a case by case basis for wanting to provide customers with nutrition information,” Reaman explained.

Restaurants like Kelsey’s, Pickel Barrel and Boston Pizza are just a few of the examples of restaurants that have started with having the nutrition labels. The label’s placed inside the menu, above items that are always available; for example the salads, wraps and some of the side orders.

“Menus in restaurants are very standardized and they reflect on how the food’s made and prepared, restaurants have decided on their own to serve the nutrition information through the labels,” Reaman said.

Rachel Rudkin, the manager of Boston Pizza located at 25 Cinemart Dr. was very pleased when her restaurant went for the nutrition labels. After going to Centennial College for Hospitality and Tourism Rudkin started at the restaurant as a server then moved up to manager.

“We get the menus from head office and every season we have different features that we add,” Rudkin said.

After travelling throughout Canada last summer, she went to all the locations to see the different menu trends.

“I think the nutrition labels in the menus are a great idea. Like I said, I’ve been here for nearly six years and I know all the ins and outs of the restaurant. Having the healthy alternative is fantastic,” Rudkin said happily.

According to the CRFA, 33 restaurants in Toronto have the nutrition labels in their menus which include calories, fat and protein. A survey done in 2011 showed the top 10 new menu trends and number three was health and nutrition. According to Stats Canada, over one-quarter of Canadians aged 31 to 50 get more than 35 per cent of their total calories from fat. Almost 25 per cent of Canadian households spend their money in restaurants, 30 per cent of kids in North America visit a fast food restaurant.

Joanna Mandap is an example of someone who relies on the nutrition labels in her everyday diet. At age 16, Mandap decided to start eating healthy and nutritious.

“The starting point for me was in high school when I realized I needed to get fit. I was always active, being on sports teams but I was missing the nutrition from my diet. My body was slowing down and I had no energy left,” Mandap said.

Mandap, who is now 20 years old and leads a very hectic life, has been on a healthy diet for nearly four years now.

“I need to have knowledge of my food before I even order it, which is why the labels are helpful,” Mandap said excitedly.

According to several studies and surveys done in the States, the nutrition labels have mixed responses with the customers. An article posted in my Healthy News, showed that restaurants in New York City have made it mandatory to have the nutrition labels in their menu, another article in Live Science showed that customers were choosing the healthy option when eating out, after reading the nutrition label in the menu.

“The smallest scale restaurant will change their menu to just to serve customers many times,” Reaman said. “Keep in mind, the restaurant industry is a consumer demand business; it’s the restaurant’s responsibility to serve their customers. If you’re a restaurateur, you’re responsible for your customers’ needs and demands, your menus needs to reflect that.”

Boston Pizza is a restaurant which is now changing their marketing strategy to now targetting customers who want nutrition in their meals, using the labels.

“It has been very popular and we are getting those customers who come in and want the healthy alternative, which is why we have such a huge menu with a huge selection,” Rudkin said.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation is a very strong and leading advocate in health and nutrition, especially with the nutrition labels now in place. They have many different tips and points in being safe and healthy when eating out at a restaurant. For example, having baked not fried items and always making sure to have fruits and vegetables in your meal.

“Usually when I eat out for lunch or dinner, it consists of a salad with some form of meat. Sometimes it’s chicken, beef or tuna. I try having dressing on the side,” Mandap explained.

“That’s why we have the nutrition information, if somebody is on a strict diet and they come in, they want to know the choices they have to eat,” Rudkin said.

Heart and Stroke now has criteria that they’re handing out to chefs in the restaurants that need to be completed to be considered “healthy”. The criteria include how much fat is being used in certain items, the amount of sodium and having some form of fruit and vegetable.

“Menus are now offering customers more choices, more informed choices,” Reaman added. “People who eat at restaurants have a lot more increasing awareness of what they’re eating.”

There’s always a negative factor to a new and innovative trend in the restaurant industry but what is it for the nutrition labels?

“Sometimes there’s a negative factor with the labels, if somebody asks for one of our salads and they see its equivalent to a cheeseburger. Sometimes it will hurt us but as long as you’re honest with your customer, telling them we have other options,” Rudkin sighed.

“There shouldn’t be any negative impact with the nutrition labels but there usually always is. There will be a range of negative comments, but you’re promoting healthy food in your restaurant,” Mandap said.

Despite there being numerous discussions and conversations over the nutrition labels, most restaurants in Toronto have made the decision to place them in their menus. Having and using the labels in menus is a great way for restaurants to increase their profit, with customers coming in who are putting their health over taste.

“I’d say out of 10, so probably five will use the nutrition label to make a healthy choice,” Rudkin said.

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