By Carol Crenna
Eating in a restaurant is healthy and unhealthy. It entirely depends on what you order. Restaurant meals have been scrutinized in the media lately; particularly those waist-widening salads, fajitas, rice bowls and vegetarian curries that we considered healthier options.
The Vancouver Sun’s expose on restaurant food reported that an order of barbecue ribs contains 1,975 calories – almost equivalent to four Big Macs and a day’s worth of calories – and a chicken fillet with gravy contains 6,691 milligrams of sodium (salt), three times the maximum daily recommended amount.
Considering that the RDA is 2,000 calories per day (for those not trying to lose weight), 2,400 milligrams of sodium, and 65 grams of fat, it was disheartening to learn that a hot chicken Caesar salad at the Earls chain has 76.8 grams of fat, which is the same amount of fat as 40 Panago chicken wings or 15 Subway six-inch chicken teriyaki subs. A Greek calamari (deep-fried) appetizer at a Joey’s chain is 1,880 calories with 74 grams of fat and 1,880 milligrams of sodium, which means that you won’t go over your limits if you eat nothing else that day.
If you thought thin-crust pizza was healthier, individual pesto chicken pizza at Macaroni Grill is 1,550 calories with 72 grams of fat and 3,710 milligrams of sodium. That’s more than a day’s worth of fat, 80 percent of daily calories, and a day and a half’s worth of salt.
In Canada, restaurants are not required to provide nutritional information. Those that do provide it usually refer customers to websites and don’t display it. According to another article in The Vancouver Sun, former Liberal MP Tom Wappel tried to get national legislation to force restaurants to provide nutritional information but was defeated by powerful industry lobby, the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association (CRFA).
Wappel said the reason for opposition is due to fears that consumers may eat out less often. New York City approved a law in 2008 requiring chains to display calories. The labelling changed consumer habits. Surveys of 12,000 customers showed they bought food with significantly fewer calories (at spots including McDonald’s, KFC and Starbucks). (Reuters, December 2009)
A restaurateur in Detroit transformed his barbecue joint Ridley’s Home Cookin’ in 2005, which served fried chicken, ribs and meatloaf, into a health-food haven after his food almost killed him. Diabetes and high blood pressure led to kidney failure for owner William Parker. After it donned on him that food might be the culprit, he said, “I couldn’t in good conscience serve something to people that is no good for them.”
He revamped his menu to feature lean bison, veggie burgers, steamed vegetables and whole wheat pasta. He knew many original customers wouldn’t line up for the new fare, but he persisted, and now the bustling spot is called Ridley’s Real Food.
Hopefully, other restaurateurs won’t need a personal health crisis to consider that there may be a vast untapped market of diners who don’t want to be paying for their meal long after they’ve left.
Eating healthy at a restaurant doesn’t have to mean throwing your good eating habits out the window. Simply choose consciously and be a little high maintenance with your waiter. More on this next blog…