PHOTO: Collins Canada
Laura Brehaut/Postmedia News
Originally published on September 21, 2012;
The Vancouver Sun: August 20, 2013; page D4
Just how much fat is in a platter of nachos? You may have to prepare yourself for the answer. As health reporter Megan Ogilvie shares in her first book, Menu Confidential (Collins, 2012), “a platter of nachos has as much fat as 40 strips of bacon.” Are you ready for another shocker? An order of Pad Thai from a food court mainstay is the caloric equivalent of four microwave dinners. And lest we forget movie popcorn, with its equivalent fat content of 10 McDonald’s hamburgers.
Ogilvie attempts to change the way Canadians look at menu boards by offering tips and strategies to help readers make healthier choices while eating out. The idea behind the book is not to make you feel guilty for buying a muffin with your morning coffee, or ordering fries rather than salad with your Quarter Chicken Dinner. Rather Ogilvie aims to arm readers with information that can be applied on a daily basis, whether at the drive-thru, food court or sit-down chain restaurant.
Ogilvie has considerable experience delving into the nutrition of popular Canadian foods and diets. In writing her first column for the Toronto Star, Diet Decoder, she test-drove approximately 80 diet books over the course of three years, and shared the results with readers. Writing the column gave her insight into how lifestyle impacts healthy eating. “A lot of the tips and suggestions [in the diet books] were so unrealistic. I would try the diet for a day and I’d say one per cent were easy to fit into your life and for the rest you’d have to buy special foods or make special trips for meals,” Ogilvie says. “And we’re busy. So you can pack lunch on Monday but by Friday it gets a lot harder.”
In her current Toronto Star column, The Dish, Ogilvie takes nutritional requests from readers for foods such as Ho Su Bistro’s bibim bop, Terroni’s pizza and a foot-long hot dog at a Blue Jays game. She hunts down the dish or food in question, has it analyzed at an accredited laboratory and breaks it down nutritionally for readers, with the help of an advisory panel of registered dietitians. “The Dish readers were the people I had in mind when writing this book,” Ogilvie says. “I found that people never wanted to be told ‘Never eat this food’ but they wanted to know so they could make smart choices, whether at that meal or in others throughout the week. So that’s the same thing I wanted to do with the book.”
Ogilvie examines more than 100 foods in Menu Confidential and of these, she sent approximately 20-25 to be analyzed at a laboratory because either the information wasn’t provided or it wasn’t accessible. Even with her experience in finding hidden calories, sodium and fat, she was surprised by some of the results. “We’ve been hearing it everywhere that there’s so much sodium in prepared foods but actually looking at every item for every restaurant and seeing that it’s almost impossible to make a good choice based on sodium content. That was really obvious after looking at the numbers,” she says.
Another unexpected finding is contrary to what many of us believe – that fast food restaurants are where the poorest nutritional choices lurk. “It’s easier to make good choices, I find, at drive-thrus and fast food places than at the sit-down chain restaurants where almost everything is too big, has many calories and lots of fat and sodium.” Ogilvie also points out that there a lot of menu options that may appear to be healthy choices but aren’t necessarily as healthy as they seem. “I think consumers have to outsmart the restaurants and that’s probably true for every consumer good,” she says. “But the way I look at it, there’s always going to be a range of choices so compared to a milkshake, the smoothie is a better choice but is there a better choice than the smoothie? And that could be their yogurt parfait, which is a great snack on the go.”
Nutritional knowledge hasn’t ruined Ogilvie’s relationship with food. She loves to eat and cook, and turns to sources such as Eating Well and The Moosewood Collective for healthy recipes. She includes some of her favourite recipes in “Menu Confidential”: Apple Banana Berry Muffins, Strawberry Banana Smoothies, Homemade Nachos and The Official Nanaimo Bar. As for her readers, “I hope that I haven’t spoiled eating,” Ogilvie laughs. “Whether it’s at McDonald’s or your favourite restaurant, you should have fun when you’re out. But I hope that [readers] can realize that they’re in control of their meals and that’s something I learned researching and writing the book. That once you know the information then you can make choices to make it better if you want. Maybe it’s your birthday and you want to just eat anything you want and not worry about it but once you have the information you can make better choices.”
Back to Top