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Will menu calorie counts really make you more healthy?

The question: What do you think of Ontario's proposal to list calories on chain restaurant menus?

The answer: Exercising discipline at a restaurant takes so much self-control. No one needs the frustration of picking the "healthy" option only to learn it had more calories than the burger and fries.

Yes, many people will still make unhealthy choices even when armed with more nutritional information. Yes, very possibly, most of the people who will care about the calorie count would have picked the healthier option anyway. Even so, if the added information even slightly increases everyone's nutritional mindfulness, or it helps just one person catch the hidden traps on the menu, it is worth the effort needed to make the information available.

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If nutritional information is made available, those interested (like me) could read it, and everyone else can ignore it.

That said, I am only in favour of adding caloric information to menus if the information is understood as just one piece of the health puzzle. Don't just make nutritional choices based on calories. The nutritional value of food (not just how many calories it contains) is just as important, if not more important, then total calories.

Plus, it is important to always remember that the reasons why an individual does, or doesn't, adopt a healthy lifestyle are multifaceted. Lifestyle choices are circumscribed by social, political and economic structures and are connected to our emotional relationship to both food and our bodies.

One final cautionary note: The control and discipline needed to care about details such as calories are part of adopting a healthier lifestyle only when we remember that these qualities exist on a continuum. Too much control over diet, exercise and one's body is just as unhealthy as too little. Everything, including control and discipline, is needed in moderation.

Trainer's tip: Restaurants may not have nutritional information on their menus, but you can still be mindful. Eating out doesn't have to be your nutritional downfall! I try to look at the menu online before I go. Picking my meal when I am not hungry allows me to make healthier choices. Often I have two appetizers instead of an appetizer and a main. That allows me to easily control my portions.

Kathleen Trotter has been a personal trainer and Pilates equipment specialist for 10 years. Her website is www.kathleentrotter.com.

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