A survey undertaken by YouGov on behalf of the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), found there was a “troubling” lack of understanding about the calories contained in everyday food.
The online survey of 2,128 adults were shown a list of different foods and asked to select those which they considered to be high calorie.
Foods which are high in calories (energy dense) are defined as having 225 calories or more per 100g. The list of items included houmous, bananas, flapjacks, cornflakes, grapes, plain bagels, light mayonnaise and parsnips.
Those which caused the most confusion were the houmous and the ‘light’ mayonnaise. Only 32 percent knew that houmous was high in calories and 29 percent selected the ‘light’ mayonnaise. These results imply that around two thirds of UK adults are underestimating the level of calories in foods.
The confusion seems to be centred around labelling terms such as ‘light’ or ‘reduced fat’. However, these labels do not automatically mean food becomes low calorie, particularly if the original version is a high calorie one. Another area of confusion is believing that foods seen as healthy, such as houmous, are also low calorie.
Maya Monteiro, Senior Education Manager at 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.
“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.”
Other findings from the survey showed that most people are aware of the high calorie content of cake type products, with 75 percent recognising that flapjacks were a high calorie food with an average of 439 calories per 100g.
They also did well on the fruit test, though 20 percent thought that bananas were high in calories – they have only 95 calories per 100g.
For a food to be considered a high calorie one, it must contain more than 225 calories per 100g as defined by the WCRF.
The WCRF is concerned that a lack of calorie awareness can lead to weight gain, particularly because there is strong evidence that being overweight or obese increases the risk of developing diseases such as cancer.
When buying food, even those which you believe are healthy, or have labels such as ‘light’ and ‘reduced fat’, check the nutrition label to see whether it has more than 225 calories per 100g.
Although the ‘light’ mayonnaise mentioned in the survey was an energy dense food, not all of them are. For example, Hellmans Mayonnaise contains 722 calories per 100g and Hellmans Light Mayonnaise contains 297 calories per 100g.
However, if you opt for the Hellmans Extra Light Mayonnaise, it can be classed as a low energy dense food because it has only 73 calories per 100g. For a food to be classed as low calorie, it should have 40 calories or less per 100g.
This post compares the calorie content between different brands of reduced fat houmous pots.
© Diets and Calories 2012