Heart healthy at Tim Hortons? A few options.

Heart healthy at Tim Hortons? A few options.

Heart healthy at Tim Hortons? A few options.

Last week I wrote about Tim Hortons’ new Beyond Meat breakfast sandwiches and said we could do better, even at Tim’s. So this week, I scoured their menu and found several items I’d suggest over imitation sausages.

First, a reminder that I work primarily with people who’ve either had a heart attack or a similar problem or are particularly concerned about their risk for it. So my suggestions come through that lens.

I always start by scanning a menu for cardioprotective foods: Vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fish, dairy, and lean fresh (i.e. unprocessed) meat. Then I check to make sure sodium, saturated fat and sugar aren’t off the charts.

Whether or not you have a heart concern though, eating something that doesn’t meet these criteria is fine on occasion. Don’t feel bad if you’re craving something else and go for it. But if you eat out frequently or just prefer to optimize on the nutrition front, you have options, even at Canada’s favourite coffee and donut chain.

I’ll start by looking at ingredients they have in the store, as framed in the new Canada’s Food Guide. In my experience, the staff are flexible and will make your food to order, so mix and match how you like. (Skip to the bottom for the simple summary of suggestions.)

Half your meal veggies and fruit part 1: Where’s the fruit?

I did a little nutrition sleuthing to figure out where you’d get more actual whole fruit – a smoothie, yogurt parfait, oatmeal or muffins. What would you guess?

In a smoothie?

If you guessed the Strawberry Banana Fruit Smoothie, you’ll be disappointed like me. The medium (515mL or ~ 2 cups) has zero grams of fibre. ZERO! That’s odd because a half a banana would have about 1.5 grams of fibre. A half-cup serving of sliced strawberries should have about 1.6 grams. In 2 cups of that smoothie there isn’t even enough strawberry or banana to register any fibre? (Note: the numbers are rounded to the nearest whole number, so it’s likely not exactly zero, but lower than 0.5 grams anyhow.)

(If you order the large, 649mL or nearly 3 cup smoothie, it rounds up to 1 gram of fibre, along 52g of sugar, the equivalent of 13 teaspoons or about a quarter-cup of sugar. For reference, Heart and Stroke Guidelines suggest most adults have no more than about 25 to 50 grams a day of free sugar, and most of this will be free sugar.)

How about vitamin C? A half-cup of sliced strawberries has 81% of the Daily Value (DV) of vitamin C. Tim Hortons Strawberry Banana Fruit Smoothie? Zero. Also ZERO! I’m stunned. It’s like there are no strawberries in there.

The ingredient list confirms that the fruit part of this product is mostly nutrient-poor apple juice (remember, ingredients are listed in order by weight):

“Water, drinkable Greek yogurt (skim milk, sugar, cream, milk and whey proteins, active bacterial culture), fruit purees and juices [concentrated apple juice, concentrated lemon juice, strawberry puree, banana puree, concentrated purple carrot juice (for colour)], sugar, salt, potassium sorbate, citric acid, natural flavour.”

I’m beating a dead horse at this point, but Tim Hortons, what is the deal with using purple carrot juice to make it look as if there are more strawberries in this so-called strawberry smoothie? To compare, 2 cups of a Jugo Juice Berry Banana smoothie at least has 3 grams of fibre and 36% vitamin C.

Another comparison: Bring along a navel orange to go with your coffee and you’ll get 3 grams of fibre and 116% of your vitamin C. That’s why I say eat your fruit, don’t drink it.

How about muffins?

The Fruit Explosion Muffin has 6% DV vitamin C, which makes sense, since the fruits listed on the ingredient list are apples, cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, and their vitamin C ranges from from 4% to 26% per half-cup serving. So at least there’s a little fruit in there. Not much though, given that the muffin’s fibre content (2 grams) is no higher than a Frosted Cinnamon Roll or an Apple Fritter.

And don’t get me started about the sugar in the muffins. If you like muffins, try this whole grain banana chocolate chip muffin recipe instead. You can get it in the oven in less than 20 minutes and they’re moist and satisfying.

Oatmeal and yogurt parfaits ding ding ding winner!

The Oatmeal with Mixed Berries and Greek Yogurt Parfaits come out a little better, with 10% and 15% vitamin C respectively. And considering that they’ll give you 3g and 6g of fibre (some of which comes from whole grains), I’d say those are your best bets for fruit, if you didn’t pack any in the cooler. The oatmeal is lower in sugar, by the way, if that makes a difference to you.

Half your meal veggies and fruit part 2: Vegetables? Slim pickings.

Sorry, that’s Subway, not Tim Hortons

If you want vegetables on the road, maybe go to Subway. At Tim Horton’s you’re pretty much limited to lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and red onion in a sandwich or salad. I’m not counting the soups, because they’re quite high in sodium for their size. Maybe stop by a grocery store for some snap peas or carrots. But they can do a Garden Salad at least, although it wasn’t on the electronic menu in the store I visited. (The staff confirmed they can make them.)

Protein foods

There are more options here! Heart-healthier choices include peanut butter, chicken strips (not crispy), cheese, egg, and milk. You can also get beans and ground beef in the chili.

I’m leaving turkey off of the list because Tim Hortons’ is smoked, which adds nitrites, just like in their other processed meats – ham and bacon. Those are fine to have occasionally, but on principle I’m skipping them for this post.

Whole grains? Yes please.

Oats

The only grain product at Tim Horton’s that is 100% whole grain is the oatmeal, made from rolled oats (along with sugar, salt, and sunflower oil). The Oatmeal with Mixed Berries has more fibre and less sugar than the Maple, of course.

There are also rolled oats in the granola in the Yogurt Parfaits, although they also have refined grain (rice flour and puffed rice) and sugar as well, but it’s mostly oats.

Bread products

Your next best bet is the Whole Wheat Sandwich Bun.  The first ingredient is actually whole-wheat flour! Imagine that. It’s followed, however, by enriched flour, so it’s probably about 60% whole wheat. Whole-wheat flour isn’t the same as whole-grain flour, by the way, which includes the goodness of wheat germ, but I’ll take it.

Your next best bet is the 12-Grain Bagel, which has a first ingredient of enriched wheat flour. That’s white flour, for those of you following along at home. But after that we get sunflower seeds, flaxseed meal, sesame seeds, cracked wheat, oat flakes, buckwheat flour, whole barley flour, rye flour, millet, and wheat bran, among other nutrient-dense ingredients. Too bad there’s 450mg of sodium and about 2 teaspoons of sugar in there too.

Also, both the Whole Wheat Bun and 12-Grain Bagel have as many calories and carbohydrates as about 3 slices of bread! (The bun is a little lower, the bagel a little higher.) Remember that thing about a quarter of your plate being whole grains? Both of those will bust through that recommendation. So if you’re not  that hungry, maybe have half, either by taking half home or going topless (bun-wise).

Muffins?

I found one more menu item with whole grain ingredients: the Whole Grain Pecan Banana Bread Muffin. Unfortunately, with 27g (about 7 teaspoons) of sugar, it’s tough to recommend this as anything other than a treat. Still, if you are in the mood for something sweet and a coffee, at least you get a bit of nutrition in the bargain with this, although I can’t really say it’s any better, nutrition-wise, than the Carrot Cake With Walnuts, Fruit Explosion, or Blueberry muffins. Any of the above are decent options, if you’re hankering for a muffin.

But maybe split one with a friend? Having a muffin is like having a slice of cake. Consider that all but one of the donuts have fewer calories and less sugar than all of the muffins. Can you believe that? So if it’s a sweet treat you want, just have what sounds good and get your fruit, whole grains, nuts, etc later in the day.

Menu Items: Putting it all together

Essentially your best bet at Tim Hortons is to mix and match the components I’ve mentioned above in whatever way suits you that day.

Just need a snack? Try…

  • The Vanilla or Strawberry Greek Yogurt Parfait
  • Half a 12-Grain Bagel with peanut butter (split it or take the other half for later)
  • A regular (not large) Harvest Vegetable Soup, which comes with half a sandwich bun (ask for the whole wheat)
  • Spinach & Egg White Omelette Bites which are new to Tim’s. Similar to the Starbucks‘ Egg Bites, if you want spinach and not bacon you have to order egg whites which is too bad, because dodging egg yolks isn’t necessary for most people. Unfortunately, they don’t yet have nutrition information for the Omelette Bites, but I think it’s safe to assume they’ll be high in sodium, like at Starbucks. Nonetheless, they’re an option if you want some extra protein.

Breakfast options include:

  • The Mixed Berry Oatmeal – consider adding 2 peanut butters and a plain Latte to get a jump on protein for the day (20g). Or have the oatmeal on it’s own for a snack.
  • The Bagel BELT (bacon, egg, lettuce, tomato) without the bacon. Add cheese if you like — ask for real cheddar instead of processed cheese.

For lunch and supper:

  • The small cup of Chili. It normally comes with a full sandwich bun, but with that the sodium gets pretty high. Maybe save half for later?
  • A BLT without the B! Haha. Yep, that’s a lettuce and tomato sandwich. Ask for cucumber and red onions too and cheddar (not processed) cheese for protein, on a Whole Wheat Bun or 12-grain Bagel.
  • A Chicken or Chicken Salad Sandwich on the Whole Wheat Bun. Load it up with whatever veggies you like or…
  • Have it with a Garden Salad. On it’s own that salad isn’t substantial enough, but good to supplement a sandwich or chili.
  • Or just combine two snack or breakfast items. Breakfast for supper… yes please!

To drink:

  • A plain Latte or Cappuccino – coffee plus a protein and calcium boost
  • Coffee or tea black  or even with 1-2 packets of sugar and/or cream
  • A carton of Milk (2%)
  • Ice coffee (cream or milk) or Iced Latte

Pop quiz: How much sugar is in a Double Double?

I’ll finish with a fun fact. This might sound like a trick question. What do you think? If you said two teaspoons, you’re being too logical! It’s two pumps, and they’re scaled up with the size of the drink. Add 2 shots to the smallest (10 oz) coffee, and you’ll get 14 grams or nearly 4 teaspoons worth of sugar. Go Double Double on an extra large, 678 mL (24 oz) coffee and it’ll be up to 30 grams or about 7 teaspoons of free sugar (remember we’re aiming for less than 25 to 50 grams a day).

You can see why I say above that a coffee or tea with a packet or two of sugar and/or cream is a better option. And they will give you sugar in packets, so you can control how much to add yourself. You just have to ask.

Because as it says on Tim’s nutrition guide, and this is real, although part of the Allergy section:

Hahahahaha I love that.

Heart healthy at Tim Hortons bottom line

Fast food is seldom going to support your health the way home-cooked food can, but sometimes life takes us to places like Tim Hortons. Nice to know there are at least a few heart-healthier options, most that I’d get behind before the Beyond Meat sandwiches, unless you need a vegan protein and you’re tired of peanut butter.

Did I miss anything? Jump onto the Facebook page and share your thoughts and questions.

Or do what we do when traveling and hunt for the nearest restaurant tagged “vegetarian-friendly” on the Trip Advisor app (see here how to do that). Whether or not you want a vegetarian meal, you’ll usually find the independent, local coffee shops that serve food that is closer to homemade.