Calorie counts in chain restaurant menus criticized

Calorie counts are coming to Toronto chain restaurants on Sunday, but one business owner is concerned about the cost of the change, and others question the accuracy of the new program.

Sunday's change raises concerns about cost, accuracy and possible unhealthy obsession

As of Sunday, you'll be able to see how many calories are in the meals you order from chain restaurants across Ontario. (Mario Tama/Getty)

Calorie counts are coming to Toronto chain restaurants on Sunday, but one business owner is concerned about the cost of the change, and others question the accuracy of the program.

New Ontario regulations require any restaurant with more than 20 locations to include calorie counts for all food and drinks. Some chains have already started listing the information.

Mohamad Fakih, the CEO of Paramount Fine Foods, a Middle Eastern food chain that's rapidly expanding across the GTA, said changing menus has cost more than $45,000.

Fakih said that's a lot of money when it's unclear how the changes will affect his bottom line.

"The unknown for any restaurateur is how the public is going to react," he told CBC Toronto.

The change could be a boon for the company, which offers a number of lower-calorie Lebanese dishes. But for that Fakih would need all restaurants — not just larger chains — to publish calorie counts.

 'Proven by the number'

"We are happy to offer healthy food and it's actually proven by the number beside it," Fakih said.

Shania Belton, who used to manage a burrito shop, said she isn't so sure customers should rely solely on calorie counts.

"Some restaurants are stingier than others … I doubt the calorie count is even going to be accurate," she said.

There's also the problem of customers adding items to their food and drink — think condiments or sugar — which changes the calorie figure.

What will customers do?

Customers and experts also have mixed opinions about how the program will work. At a local restaurant, Warren Browne said calorie counts could help with weight loss.

Maybe today I want to eat onion ring poutine, tomorrow I'll have a salad.— Patricia Browne

"I found the best way to do that was not only to do the exercise, but to track how much you're taking in," he said.

But Patricia Browne said it's still all about moderation.

"I don't care about the number," she said.

"Maybe today I want to eat onion ring poutine, tomorrow I'll have a salad."

Andrea LaMarre, a PhD candidate at the University of Guelph, petitioned the government to repeal the legislation, citing concerns about the effect it will have on people with eating disorders.

Publicizing calorie counts can create an unhealthy obsession, LaMarre warned.

Calories aren't the whole story

She said some foods such as nuts may have a lot of calories, but they also have essential fatty acids that are great for overall health.

In October, the federal government announced plans to overhaul food labelling and marketing regulations to better protect customers.

The government also plans to change Canada's Food Guide, which the health minister admitted hasn't kept up with the country's changing demographics and lifestyles.

The changes are aimed at cutting down on foods that are high in sodium, sugar and bad fats.

With files from Chris Glover and Sophia Harris

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