This is a key notion behind Dr Giles Yeo’s book Why Calories Don’t Count, which stresses how we should consider the types and quality of the foods we’re eating, as opposed to just fixating on its energy content.
Focusing on calories bypasses conversation on the macronutrients, vitamins and minerals essential for our body’s health. For instance, a banana and a packet of Wotsits have the same calorie ranking. One of these contributes to your five a day, provides fibre and essential vitamins and minerals; the other contributes very little besides a sprinkle of flavour enhancers and salt.
Subscribe to The Big Issue
From just £3 per week
Take a print or digital subscription to The Big Issue and provide a critical lifeline to our work.
There is a concern that calorie signposts will overshadow messaging around health and the nutritional quality of the foods we’re choosing to eat. Granting a ‘halo effect’ to lower-calorie dishes may also produce inconsistent messaging to individuals suffering from certain medical conditions.
Calorie consumption is not indicative of our overall health. Counting calories also won’t necessarily make you healthier. Yes, a Wagamama’s Chilli Chicken Ramen might be 392kcal shy of a Chicken Katsu Curry, but it still contains 105 per cent of your daily recommended salt intake.
With children and teenagers set to grow up eating in restaurants using calorie counts, the incoming legislation should be supplemented by the introduction of updated and strengthened food and nutrition education within schools.
Growing up acknowledging and utilising calorie information may be extremely effective for the health of future generations. However, we are currently passing down a broken food system, where unhealthy foods are cheaper per calorie than healthy foods, and dining out is to be framed around calorie counting and constructs of weight management, which is disconcerting. Further education for the wider population will help individuals navigate and tailor calorie information to their own health goals to drive clear, constructive changes in food behaviour.
Support The Big Issue
Give your local vendor a hand up and buy the magazine
Each of our vendors buy their copies of the mag for £1.50 each, selling them for £3 and keeping the difference. Visit our interactive map to find your nearest vendor.
Displaying calories on menus is also set to have a destructive impact on those living with eating disorders. It’s estimated that around 1.25 million people in the UK are currently living with an eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder. Simply stopping for a morning coffee will now subject those suffering or recovering from an eating disorder to a distressing and detrimental environment.
The regulation is set to be disruptive, whether it produces a beneficial impact or not. As a public health initiative, providing individuals with point-of-purchase nutrition information is promising in shifting food behaviours and allowing more informed decisions when eating out. But it will undoubtedly have various negative effects on millions of individuals with eating disorders.
The promotion of overall health (both physical and mental) and the quality of our diets is arguably of greater importance than the number of calories we consume. As Dr Yeo said: “If you focus on health, your weight will take care of itself.”
Sofia Antona is a nutritionist and food blogger, follow on Instagram
This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.