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Canadian restaurants rolling out Informed Dining program


January 24, 2014
By By Lois Abraham The Canadian Press

restaurantJan. 24, 2014 — Canadians in several provinces may soon be able to get information on how much fat, sodium or sugar is in the food they order at various major restaurants.

The Informed Dining program lists the calorie count and up to 13 core nutrients.

So
far, 17 restaurant companies — including The Keg, A&W, Dairy Queen,
Tim Hortons, Harvey's, McDonald's, Milestones, Montana's, Pizza Pizza,
Boston Pizza, Quiznos, Subway and Swiss Chalet — are voluntarily
implementing the program in outlets across the country by year's end,
with most starting by the end of March.

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"The goal is to roll this
program across the country and to limit the confusion so you would have
the same program across the country in all the large restaurants and so
the customer can go in no matter where they go and actually start
researching it and understand where it is," Garth Whyte, president of
the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association, said from his
Toronto office.

"This program is evolving and the whole purpose
is to just try and give people what they want. They want to know what's
in their food."

A yellow icon with a pink "I" in its centre will
tell people that the establishment is part of the Informed Dining
program. Restaurants can put the nutritional information on the menu, a
website or in a brochure. It must be in a standard format established by
the B.C. government, which developed the program in collaboration with
the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, the BC Restaurant and
Foodservices Association and the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices
Association (CRFA).

Research done by Environics Research Group
for the CRFA in December showed that of the 1,020 Canadians 18 or older
polled online, 92 per cent said it's important to know the nutrition
breakdown of the foods they eat. Nine in 10 felt they might be missing
pertinent information if restaurants only listed the calories in menu
items.

Respondents said they wanted to be informed about total fat, sodium, trans fat, calories and sugars.

Toronto-based registered dietitian Carol Harrison said it's important to have the information at point of purchase.

"Even
dietitians would have a hard time guessing the calorie and sodium
content of lots of restaurant meals and so consumers are the same," she
said Thursday. "It can be really hard to gauge that by looking at
something."

The number of Canadians who are overweight or obese
has increased dramatically over the past 25 years, Health Canada says on
its website, and this can contribute to such conditions as high blood
pressure, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and some cancers, while
reducing sodium consumption can reduce the risk of high blood pressure,
stroke and heart and kidney disease.

"If we're looking at what's
causing a lot of health problems in Canada it's pretty clear that with
nine out of 10 Canadians getting too much sodium that's got to come
down."

Harrison suggested it would be beneficial if restaurants reduce portion sizes, which automatically cuts sodium and calories.

"The
restaurant industry wants its customers to be happy. Ask for what you
want. Ask for more vegetables. Ask for half an order of french fries.
Ask for smaller portions. As they come to better understand and hear
what people want over and over again, they're going to deliver it," said
Harrison.

"The other thing is we've got to put our money where
our mouth is and start ordering these things as well. It's a lot of work
for the restaurant industry to change menus and ingredients and source
recipes and so it's important to then make those choices if we're going
to ask for them."

The Informed Dining program has been going for
almost two years in B.C., where it's mandatory for the institutional
sector — health care and schools — and voluntary for restaurants.
Currently it's targeted to larger national chains and in a second phase
it will be targeted to regional chains and smaller operators.

In
Manitoba, the government has agreed to monitor the program. Other
provinces, including New Brunswick, are interested in a similar
arrangement.

Ontario supports a different system — although the
17 chains committed to the Informed Dining program are expected to
voluntarily provide the information anyway.

"Ontario decided to
do its own thing. They do support the Informed Dining program, but their
approach is on calories and we don't think that's enough," Whyte said,
adding that the CRFA had hopes for a unified approach across the
country.

Whyte acknowledges the restaurant industry can't control
how much people consume or how much they exercise. "But we want to be
part of the solution."