Journalists are used to doing strange things for the job. But when I started in this profession I never expected that I’d one day regularly transfer recently purchased restaurant meals — whether burgers or sushi, milkshakes or bubble tea — into Ziploc bags to send to the laboratory for analysis. Most times, I did this awkward move in the privacy of my car or in the Star’s test kitchen. Sometimes, I had to bag food on location. But no one ever questioned me. Not even the time I bought a strawberry and ice cream-topped funnel cake at Canada’s Wonderland, looked at it longingly, shimmied the whole thing into a Ziploc bag and carried it out of the park. This summertime treat (tested in July 2014) had 1,600 calories — the equivalent to 5-1/2 strawberry sundaes from McDonalds.
McDonalds Part II
When I started The Dish, a McDonalds Big Mac contained 540 calories. Now, it has 520. A quick count shows that I’ve referenced this iconic burger at least 10 times in The Dish. I’ve never had a Big Mac; it doesn’t appeal. But I adore the Egg McMuffin. It’s my go-to drive-thru meal (at 290 calories and 16 grams of protein) and I cheered when it became an all-day menu item.
Since 2010, I have analyzed a meal from Fresh three different times. In January, 2011, we investigated the green goddess bowl green goddess bowl (687 calories). In November, 2011, theBuddha bowlwent to the lab for analysis (1,169 calories). And in May, 2017, we revealed the black bean burrito (one of my personal favourites) had 643 calories. And still Star readers want to know more about this Toronto mini-chain known for its vegan and vegetarian fare. I think the demand — more than a dozen Star readers have pleaded for additional Fresh calorie counts — shows that health-conscious diners want health-conscious restaurants to prove their healthfulness. Or, at least, provide nutrition numbers so they can figure out whether to reasonably eat a green goddess bowl and a piece of decadent chocolate fudge cake.
The great pad Thai search
Star readers live in eternal hope that one day a Toronto restaurant will create a calorie-light pad Thai. Based on how many readers asked for a nutritional analysis of their favourite restaurants version, I could have given this beloved noodle dish its own six-month column run. Over the years, The Dish featured pad Thai six times. Only once did our nutrition expert deem it healthy enough for a regular meal. But that was for a salad-like version featuring raw zucchini spirals instead of rice noodles. So maybe that doesn’t really count.
Short answers to popular questions about writing The Dish
What food have you never eaten again? The buttered version of movie theatre popcorn — in any size.
Do you try the foods before sending to the lab? Absolutely! And sometimes — despite obviously knowing better — the entire thing.
What is the most surprising nutrition result? There have been so many. But I loved that a generous slice of Uncle Tetsu Japanese Cheesecake has just 217 calories. There weren’t many times I could deliver good news to readers.
Simplest dining-out nutrition tip? Order any sauce or dressing on the side. Once I learned that Pizza Pizza’s creamy garlic dipping sauce had 350 calories and 38 grams of fat — about the same as a medium order of McDonalds’ fries — I’ve never again looked at sauces the same way.
Do readers change their dining habits after hearing the calorie count? Depends what you mean. Rarely do they say that they will never eat that particular food again. Usually they figure out how to fit their favourite burger or bakery treat into their weekly diet by cutting back calories in other places.
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