The government has announced that from April 2022, large businesses will be required to display calorie information on their menus. They say that the rules will ‘help the public to make healthier choices when eating out’.
They say that Covid-19 has highlighted the impact that obesity can have on people’s health and health outcomes. This is certainly true, but it’s not just down to eating habits. Could the fact that gyms and leisure facilities were closed, and people were only allowed out of the house for an hour a day also have had a severe impact on people’s health and fitness? Definitely!
The government website states that almost 63% of adults in England are overweight or living with obesity, and that 1 in 3 children leave primary school overweight. These figures are shocking so why are we not learning more about our food and what is in it? We all eat, we all need to fuel our bodies so why are we not teaching this from a young age so that children can grow up educated about food and nutrition? After all, this is about staying healthy, preventing diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, and staying alive!
Is displaying calories on menus the best way to go about reducing our obesity problem? We don’t think so and here’s why:
- Negative impact on people with eating disorders.
This could negatively impact people with disordered eating or eating disorders. Seeing calories written down can be a trigger for many people, leading them to concentrate on the number of calories rather than the nutritional value and they might stop eating out altogether. It promotes the idea that there are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods. Choosing the meal with the lowest calories doesn’t mean that it is the most healthy and nutritious on the menu. In fact, often the foods that are more nutritionally dense can have more calories in them.
This could also cause an increase in disordered eating. I know myself now looking at the calories on the menu, I have to really remind myself of the nutrition that’s in the food too (or, if it’s something not so nutritionally dense – that’s it’s also okay to eat something that’s good for the soul!) I know so many people that will now solely look at the calorie content and choose based on the lowest one which honestly makes my heart sink, but that’s the reality.
Pro Tip: Restaurants have menus without the calories shown on them, so if this is something you struggle with, make sure to ask them for one.
- Knowing what’s in those calories.
Just showing the calories really doesn’t mean much – it’s simply the energy value of that meal. That is only one part of what makes up a food. You could eat a margherita pizza and a sticky toffee pudding and consume around 1500 calories but knowing what those calories are made up of is so much more important. For a start, you would be consuming a high amount of saturated fat! Also looking at satiety, how long will you feel satisfied for? I’m guessing, not long! You’ll soon start to feel hungry and crave other foods. (If you fancy the pizza and the sticky toffee pudding though – you go for it!) However, showing the full nutrition would be a much better way to help people make healthier decisions about what they are eating. Knowing the fat, fiber, protein and carbohydrate values of a meal is what will help you to make healthier choices. I’m sure any nutritionist worth their salt would agree with us.
Even Hannah and I almost chose different meals because of the number of calories. Hannah really fancied salmon, crushed new potatoes and vegetables but almost chose a pizza because the pizza was 200 calories less, and I almost chose a burger and chips instead of a rainbow salad with chicken as the burger also had less calories. We didn’t – we chose the more nutritious option, and the one we actually fancied! So, will displaying calories on menus just make people choose less healthy meals?
Why do we need to know the full nutrition instead of just the calories?
We need to lose the fixation that we have with calories and concentrate more on nutrition and calorie density which is simply the number of calories per a fixed amount of food. For example, fresh tomatoes have 90 calories per pound compared to a bagel which has 1,200 calories per pound. You can eat a lot more tomatoes than you can bagels for the same calories 😊 This way of eating has many health benefits such as managing weight, lowering blood pressure, lowering cholesterol levels and controlling blood sugar levels. Remember, restrictive diet or fad diets don’t work in the long term.
Choose low-calorie/high nutrient dense foods (which are naturally healthier than high calorie/low nutrient dense foods) and you will find that you can eat more food for less calories. This is great for overall health and weight loss. There is no calorie counting, measuring or weighing food. You will find that these foods are more filling meaning that they will keep you fuller for longer.
How can just the calories help people to make healthier choices when eating out, when you have no idea of the fat or protein content. This is why we need all the nutrition values, not just the calories on menus. If we want to reverse obesity, lose weight, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, control blood sugar levels and generally help people to live a healthier lifestyle, then we need to know exactly what is in our food!
This is why we don’t agree with showing just the calories on restaurant menus. We need the whole picture showing the nutrition of each meal. If only the government realised this too!
Caroline & Hannah xx