Health: Junk-Food or smart-choice: How healthy is your diet?

By Sabine Ehgoetz

Sabine Ehgoetz currently lives in Toronto where she works as a freelance journalist, foreign correspondent and translator. In December 2005 she celebrated her first anniversary as a Canadian resident.

North American eating habits are somewhat famous for being unhealthy, fattening and without any sophistication. People who have experienced the huge cultural variety and, in most cases, excellent quality of the cuisine that is served in restaurants all across Toronto might disagree. Yet going out for an Indian, Italian or Ethiopian dinner isn't what most of us do on a daily basis.

But what do general eating habits look like on a normal work day in downtown Toronto? With the day starting early and with coffee shops located at almost every corner, there is no need to have breakfast at home. A sugar glazed doughnut (320 calories) and double-double (150 calories) at Tim Hortons sounds good.

As the weigh scale wasn't friendly this morning, I decided to be good instead and go for a grande soy-latte (180 cal) and a low-fat blueberry-muffin (320 calories) at Starbucks. The muffin probably had a lot of sugar but little fibre, so my tummy is growling again by mid-morning.

Luckily the convenience store in my office building sells a lot of snacks that will help me last until lunch break. Here I can choose between expensive almonds (which I have heard are good for my brain and waistline) or a much cheaper bag of chips. As these offer a lot more variety in flavour than the boring old nuts, I pick a small bag of fried potato goodies (270 calories). They can't be too bad for me either, because the big letters on the package claim that they are completely free of vicious trans-fats. I actually have no idea what that means, but it must be good for me somehow, as that is always mentioned in the TV commercials.

Of course the 11 o'clock meeting goes longer than scheduled and my calendar reminds me about a conference call at 2 pm, which doesn't leave me with a lot of time for lunch. This dilemma is solved easily. There is a food court close by and as my walk over there is considered exercise I won't feel too guilty about getting some fast food.

The large number of booths there guarantees that I won't get bored, even if this is the 10th day in a row that I come here for a quick meal. I had a burger from Harvey's yesterday, so why not buy a small pepperoni pizza (200 calories) or that delicious popcorn chicken (380 calories) from KFC today? Since I have learned that chicken in general has more nutritional value than pizza, I opt for that. Knowing that deep-fried isn't very healthy, I make up for it by picking a caesar salad (680 calories) as a side and a diet coke (0 calories) instead of a regular. I can always make up for the calories by cutting short on dinner.

By the time I get home, I'm starving again. I did not eat all afternoon and only had a can of root beer (100 calories) for refreshment and a green tea frappuccino (420 cal) which can hardly be considered food. Because my work day was long and exhausting, I need to relax now and really can't be bothered to cook. Conveniently, the freezer is full of meals that will be ready to eat after ten minutes in the microwave. Lasagne sounds good, especially because the one I picked has only 340 calories and less fat than a traditional one. The manufacturer even put a blue label on it, which tells me that this is a particular healthy choice. Unfortunately it's neither tasty nor filling, but that's okay. I have plans to watch a movie anyways and nothing goes better with that than a bag of popcorn with butter flavour. It even comes in a "light" version (360 calories) now to make sure I won't lose my body shape.

Next morning though I feel a little confused and let down when I return to the weigh scale. Why have I put on a few pounds again, considering that I forced myself to eat healthy and even did my workout? My metabolism must be really slow, or perhaps all the information on packages and menu boards wasn't correct. I probably should stop by the drugstore today and buy a package of those miraculous pills that supposedly flush your fat out and prevent any carbohydrates from getting digested.

At least that seems much easier and more hassle-free than figuring out that I had consumed roughly 3050 calories the day before, of which the majority came from saturated fats and refined carbohydrates. This is a proper amount for a grown-up gorilla, but way too much for any human unless they are running a marathon.

I dare to suggest though that this dietary scenario is too true for many business people in Toronto. In reality, I usually bring food from home when I go to work and spend my lunch hour at a yoga class instead of the food court.

Canada is filled with convenience foods. Just remember that the easiest choices are often not the healthiest ones. It's important be aware of the pitfalls of fast foods so that you make the best decisions for your needs and lifestyle.

CNM