January… a time to clear the excesses of Christmas and eat more healthily. But do we know how to adopt a lower-fat diet? Not according to recent research which suggests we’re confused about calories.
If you’re an avid label-reader you probably know a fair bit about what’s in your food. However, recent research by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) has revealed that millions of us are unaware of the actual calorie count of everyday foods.
This means we might be happily eating too much of what we shouldn’t: and perhaps not eating as much as of what we should.
Do calories really matter?
A calorie is a unit of energy, which our bodies need to live. Every food has an energy density measure, but high energy-dense – or high calorie-dense – foods give us more energy. And if we eat more energy than we use up, we put on weight.
I’ve clearly eaten more than I’ve used over Christmas. After the roast turkey dinner blow-out I’m trying to get more fruit and veg back into my diet. But I’m also lazy and don’t like to read every square millimetre of packaging before buying, as it just prolongs torturous supermarket trips.
One thing I learnt from the WCRF research was that hummus isn’t as healthy as I thought it was (and 78% of people thought the same as me). Regular hummus is high in fat – and one gram of fat provides seven calories – so consequently hummus will be high in calories.
‘Low fat’ versus ‘light’
Only 29% of people surveyed knew ‘light’ mayonnaise contained lots of calories (more ammunition for Patrick’s anti-mayo campaign perhaps?). Which? campaigned to ensure clear criteria for these claims and has had a lot of success.
While the words ‘low fat’ can only be put on foods with 3% fat or less, ‘light’ products only need to be 30% lower in fat than the regular product. So if the original is very high in fat, the lighter version is likely to still be quite high. But using words such a ‘light’ can be confusing, implying they might be healthy.
Clearly, there’s a difference between eating too much hummus and too much mayo. As WCRF points out: ‘Some foods that are high in calories, like nuts and seeds, contain good fats and beneficial nutrients and, in small amounts, are an important part of a healthy diet’. So what can be done to help people understand what’s in the food they’re eating?
We’ve been asking for front-of-pack traffic light labelling for many years, and WCRF’s research yet again highlights the need for this. Having traffic light labels on the front of all products could help us all make better decisions about the foods we eat.
So what are your New Year food resolutions? Do you automatically reach for the ‘light’ option in the belief that it’s low in fat, or do you scrutinise the small print before you buy?