The next time you dine out at a restaurant you may notice a change – calories listed on menus.

 

63% of adults in England are overweight or obese. The cost to our already struggling NHS is an estimated £6.1 billion a year, according to Public Health England. There is no denying that we need to support people in leading healthier lifestyles and achieving good metabolic health.

 

The government’s response so far has been largely calorie focused. It is a basic, somewhat outdated, approach to weight loss. But it’s a start. Most recently, restaurants, cafes and takeaways that employ more than 250 people are now required to display calorie counts on their menus.

 

CALORIES IN RESTAURANT MEALS

 

The food we eat outside of home makes up between a fifth to a quarter of an average person’s total calorie intake. Typically the portions of food or drink that we eat out (or eat as takeaways) contain twice as many calories as their equivalent made at home.

 

Just last weekend I met a friend at Joe & The Juice. I considered ordering a healthy-sounding smoothie. However, the calorie count (over 500) made me think twice. I had already eaten my breakfast. I wasn’t hungry. Did I really fancy the smoothie? Not particularly. I’d have been just as happy with a green tea. I ordered the tea. Seeing the calorie count made me think twice and make a more conscious choice in that moment.

 

CALORIES AND WEIGHT LOSS

 

Calories are far from the be all and end all of weight management. Where those calories come from is a more important consideration. But what calorie labelling does do is raise conscious awareness. Someone going into a bakery chain every day without a second thought as to the amount of calories they’re consuming for lunch, may well start to think twice once faced with their meal’s total.

 

IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS

 

In focusing on supporting people in losing weight, it is important we do not forget those struggling with eating disorders.

Eating disorder charity Beat’s Chief Executive Andrew Radford said: “Requiring calorie counts on menus risks causing great distress for people suffering from or vulnerable to eating disorders, since evidence shows that calorie labelling exacerbates eating disorders of all kinds.”  What I would like to see is the option for people to request menus without calorie counts. In the same way separate menus are available detailing all of the allergens in a dish at most restaurant chains. Then, if you prefer to ignore the calorie count, the option is available to you.

 

Let us not forget that this applies to chains with more than 250 employees. If you want to avoid calorie menus altogether, you can choose to support smaller businesses.

 

If you’d like some tips for healthier restaurant dining that don’t involve choosing the lowest calorie option on the menu, here’s an article I wrote on that very subject: 8 Tips For Healthier Restaurant Dining

 

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