Healthy living

Britons lack awareness of high calorie foods

Brits lack awareness of high calorie foods Reduced fat and light labels cause confusion

Most Brits have a "troubling" lack of awareness of the calorie content of everyday foods, a survey has revealed.

A YouGov poll for the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) found that around two-thirds of adults in the UK underestimated the level of calories in foods such as hummus and mayonnaise.

Some 2128 adults were asked to identify high calorie foods from a list which included hummus, bananas, flapjacks, cornflakes, grapes, plain bagels, light mayonnaise and parsnips.

Just 32 per cent of those surveyed thought hummus was high in calories, while only 29 per cent picked out 'light' mayonnaise.

Hummus contains an average 332 calories per 100g and 'light' or 'reduced fat' mayonnaise contains an average of 259 calories.

Both exceed the WCRF’s definition of foods high in energy density, as they contain more than around 225 calories per 100g.

The use of terms such as 'light' or 'reduced fat' in high calorie foods can lead to confusion, the health charity said.

It said this was a concern because being overweight is a risk factor in a number of diseases, including cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

One fifth of those surveyed thought that bananas were high in calories, although the fruit contains just 95 calories per 100g on average, making it a low energy-dense food.

Maya Monteiro, senior education manager at the WCRF, said: "Despite decades of increasing awareness about calories and healthy eating, it seems a lot of people are still confused about the calorie content of everyday foods.

"This troubling lack of understanding is perhaps not helped by labels such as 'light' and 'reduced fat' when these are applied to foods which still have a high calorie content.

"Reduced fat doesn't necessarily mean low fat. It is important for people to be able to make informed choices about the food they eat.

"At this time of year many people make New Year’s resolutions to lose weight but to do this it is important that they understand how to determine whether a food is high in calories.

"If people are unaware which foods contain lots of calories then it makes it even more difficult to adopt a diet that can help maintain a healthy weight.

“We hope the findings of this survey help to raise awareness of the importance of checking food labels because it is clear that it is not always obvious which foods are high in calories.

"The study also highlights the importance of having a system of food labelling that is both easy to understand and widely used."

The WCRF has launched an online calculator to help inform people about the energy density of different foods.

This article was published on Tue 3 January 2012

Image © Brad Pict -

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