/ Food & Drink

Do you want calories listed on menus?

Girl looking at menu

Calorie-counting menus could soon be coming to a restaurant near you. So will they change your mind about what to order or would you rather live in food-fuelled ignorance?

I’ve always favoured the ‘ignorance is bliss’ approach when dining – after all, it’s a treat to eat out. Then I read about the 1,600 calorie salad and realised that ignorance is actually rather fattening.

This week, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley announced that he wants to introduce a a voluntary scheme, urging restaurants to be more transparent about the calorie content of their food. The Food Standards Agency launched a pilot of the scheme last year, but although several restaurants signed up, it has yet to be rolled out in practice.

Over in the States, Obama has made it a legal requirement for restaurant chains with 20 or more outlets to list calorie content. While legislation might be a step too far in the UK at this stage, it’ll be interesting to see how the voluntary approach pans out. Hopefully this renewed push for companies to act will mean it is more widely embraced.

Let’s go global

Admittedly, adding this kind of information to menus is costly and time-consuming for businesses. Can my local Italian restaurant really keep up with calorie-counting on its daily specials, for example?

Of course not, so it makes sense that the chains lead the way. They’ve got the resources and they repeat the same menus throughout the country.

Come to think of it, some of the big chains may even have the same menus worldwide. How much difference can there be between a Big Mac or a Whopper in Los Angeles or London? So all the international chains that have to list calories in the US have no excuse not to do the same over here.

Make lunchtimes lighter

It’s also these kinds of ‘restaurants’ that some people tend to use on a regular basis, popping in for a lunchtime burger a few times a week. Being clear about just how fattening that is might just change a few minds.

Personally, I’d like to see more sandwich chains embrace this scheme. Some argue that the lack of nutritional information on their packaging isn’t a problem because it’s listed on the website. Unless you’ve got a smartphone, that’s not exactly helpful. Even then, who wants to spend a good part of their precious lunch hour looking up nutritional information in a sandwich shop?

Of course, this announcement has its fair share of opponents. Wimpy reckons that listing calories on its menus in 2008 had no effect on buying habits. Meanwhile, food charity Sustain thinks the scheme should go further and include information about fat, salt and sugar too.

Maybe, but for now let’s start simple. Hopefully it will encourage restaurants to sign-up – and get diners like me used to the idea that salads aren’t always healthy.

Do you want calories listed on restaurant menus?

No, we should use our common sense (56%, 87 Votes)

Yes, it would help people eat more healthily (44%, 69 Votes)

Total Voters: 156

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The fact is, this would be pretty easy for many chains to implement – for the simple fact that they already calculate the nutritional information for all their food. Go to the website of pretty much any chain with over about 5 outlets, and the chances are they’ll have nutritional info. For example, the two sandwich shops near our office (Eat and Pret a Manger) both have the information on their website.

The irony is that they do the hard work of working out this information (presumably for those really counting the calories can do their research online), but don’t necessarily display them in-store.

Emily says:
1 October 2010

Pret a Manger does display the calories in store (at least they do in the Great Portland Street store near the Which? office…)

pickle says:
1 October 2010

Oh gosh! Just another annoying nanny state proposal. There is plenty of nutritional advice around – can’t we be allowed to use our common sense?

Sophie Gilbert says:
1 October 2010

I wouldn’t look at this as being nannied, but as being informed. Then I can make my own decision whether to pig out or not.

I like to think of myself as slightly (definitely only slightly) aware of what’s in food – calories, saturated fat, sugar etc.

So I thought I was a fair judge of what to eat – like pickle says.

That was until I went into a famous hot dog joint on Coney Island. New York City has had calorie counts on restaurant menus for some time.

The figures were just astounding.

There were childrens’ menus (burger, fries, drink) there with more than the RDA of calories for a female adult. That’s more calories than a grown woman should have in a day. In one meal. For a child.

Going up to the policeman’s end of the menu (there was a gigantic cop ordering a line of hot dogs – I did hope they weren’t all for him, but his size said otherwise) there were meals with over 4,000 calories. That’s around 1,500 calories more than an adult male is supposed to have in an entire day – never mind the saturated fat, sugar etc. limits.

Back in the city, I noticed with interest that one slice of lemon cake in a Starbucks had around 500 calories.

Wowzers, I thought, realising I perhaps wasn’t such a good judge of these things as I’d imagined.

Fat Sam, Gloucester says:
1 October 2010


This is my first comment on Which Conversation. I think it is long it tastes nice, it does not matter how many calories the food has got. If restaurants stop serving nice meals because government wants to cut down on calories they may be a backlash as well as consequences like some people could starve themselves as well the restaurants in the long term could go out of business as no one wants spend a lot of money for food they do not want. I recommend a trial first to see if people like it or not and if successful introduce it. If menus are going to show how much calories each food has, it will not make a difference as people will still buy food that they like.

Use kilojoules says:
4 October 2010

‘Shed Calories’! The Calorie (also known as the calorie and the kilocalorie), is an obsolete and unnecessary unit.
Almost four decades ago an important report on nutrition produced by The Royal Society recommended that terms like ‘calorie content’ should be replaced by ‘energy content’.

The report also recommended that food energy values should be expressed in SI (metric) units.
For more information about puting joules on menus please see:-

It is extremely disappointing that Which? appears to be promoting an obsolete unit for nutrition.
In Australia, nutrition information on food labels is shown in metric units.
The Dept of Health has just taken over the responsibility for nutrition labelling from the Food Standards Agency. The NHS is supposed to be fully metric so I hope the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley quickly learns to refer to ‘energy content’ not ‘calorie content’.

Good God! NO.

I’m all for using common sense – that is easy if you have all the facts! However, in resturarants you are not aware of the hidden calories.

The calories themselves don’t overly concern me – my focus has long been on other issues such as Fats, Sugars, Salt & preservatives etc.

If chain restaurants started to publish that information I would happily take note and be grateful for the information.

I agree it would be very useful to enable people to make an informed choice.

Not re the ‘nanny state’ stuff, more that transfats etc have been added to our food for years, along with many other e numbers without us knowing about it or the effects.

We need more transparency especially for pre-packed foods. Some thinking that they are opting for healthier choices end up pretty shocked when they read labels!

How many TV progs have been shown where people are asked to pick out which plate has the least amount of calories? How often do they get it right? Not very often!

Guidance on calories etc would be useful for Takeaway food – but shouldnt be compulsory.
It would be almost impossible for the smaller outlets especially for those who make up the sandwiches etc to your requirements.

However many bakery items and drinks sold in shops arent required to show calories etc and I would find this very useful.

Mike says:
18 August 2011

rarrar, the legisalation in the US only applies to food companies that have greater than 20 outlets. Therefore, smaller outlets would be unaffected by this change were we to follow the same model

olnik says:
21 May 2011

I was recently in a Harvester and the calorie information influenced what I had to eat. I am doubtful if it would influence most young people straight away but if it there then the media and schools could focus on it and eventually the information might seep into their subconcious. We are far too soft on the food industry which seems most reticent about giving us standard information. Until we all know what is in our food and can make informed decisions the unhealthy eating eperdemic will continue.

Mike says:
18 August 2011

I went for lunch at Wagamamas and couldn’t see the calories for their food listed anywhere in store or on their website. So, I emailed them to ask about their food’s calorie contents and received this reply
“thank you for taking the time to contact us regarding nutritional information at wagamama
whilst we would like to be able to provide this information to all of our guests we unfortunately do not have this available to us at this point in time
however we understand how important this is to some of our customers and therefore remain committed to providing fresh food of the highest standard at all times
if in the future we are to analyse our menu in this regard, it will be announced on the website first”

So, I posted this on a food forum and someone had the wagamama cookbook and were able to work out that my luchtime meal was around 1,000 calories!

To be honest, I don’t mind if restaurants serve food like this, but I wish they would be more open and up-front about calorific information so we can all make informed choices