Brits are consuming far more calories than they realise each day, which could be contributing to the nationwide obesity epidemic, new statistics suggest. The data, from the Office for National Statistics, found we are eating and drinking around 50% more calories than we think - that works out at around 1,000 hidden calories for men each day and 800 for women.
According to Duane Mellor, a registered dietician and senior lecturer in human nutrition at Coventry University, food labels can sometimes be unclear, which leads to people underestimating their calorie consumption.
“Calories are labelled on many foods, it’s just that the labels are per 100g or serving sizes that do not represent the amounts actually consumed, e.g. 40g cereal portions,” he told HuffPost UK. He added that accurately estimating calorie consumption when eating out can also be a challenge, because although some restaurants provide nutritional information on their menus, this is not universal.
In light of the results, we asked experts about the food and drink most likely to have “hidden calories”, bumping up our daily intake in ways we may not realise.
Calories In Coffee
If you’re in the habit of grabbing a coffee from a high street vendor, Mellor said this is likely to push your daily calorie consumption up significantly, even though many of us forget to associate calories with liquids.
“A large takeaway latte with syrup is almost 250kcal or around 10% of a women’s recommended energy intake for a day. It is the large volume of milk and the sugar in the syrup that bump up the calories,” he explained.
Michelle McGuinnes, a registered dietitian and British Dietetic Association spokesperson, agreed flavoured coffees are among the worst offenders for hidden calories, but said you don’t have to cut them out of your diet completely.
“Shop bought coffees are typically made with whole milk. Opting for skimmed milk will reduce the calories in these options,” she told HuffPost UK. “Opt for the smallest servings size, where possible, take sugar free syrups and limit the number of times these items feature in your diet.”
Calories In Juices and Smoothies
Mellor said fruit juice is another drink that can add surprising calories, most notably from sugar, so should be consumed in moderation. “Although natural and 100% from the fruit, the sugar in fruit juice is now classified as ‘free sugar’, which we should aim to limit to 5% of energy and only have a max 150ml serving. Remember pint for pint orange juice has a similar energy content to beer,” he explained.
Similarly, McGuinnes said smoothies can have a high sugar and calorie content from fruit, but are sometimes even more unhealthy than juice due the addition of syrups or honey. “Aim to avoid taking too many of your calories from fluids,” she recommended. “Opt for water or a sugar free drink instead and where possible, try to make your smoothie at home, that way you are in control of its content.”
Calories In Snacks
Next month Public Health England are set to roll out new guidelines to help people keep track of calorie consumption. They will recommend adults follow the ’400-600-600′ rule: 400 calories for breakfast and 600 calories for both lunch and dinner. The remaining daily calorie recommendation (2,000 per day for women and 2,500 for men) can be made up of snacks.
To ensure snacks do not push you over the daily recommended calorie allowance, Mellor recommended avoiding flapjacks. “Although full of oats which are healthy, flapjacks are stuck together with butter or margarine and sugar, so are surprisingly calorie dense,” he said.
McGuinnes added savoury pastries can contain “high calories for a relevantly small amount of food”. “Some of these meat filled pastries can contain in excess of 500kcals with a lot of that coming from fat. And this isn’t a balanced meal,” she said.
Calories In Toppings And Dressings
McGuinnes said a creamy or sweet dressing can easily add calories to your meals without you realising, often adding fats and sugars to what may be a healthy option, such as salad. “Try using low calorie dressings, such as vinaigrettes, instead,” she said.
Similarly, McGuinnes recommended resisting the offer of extra cheese on your burger, pasta or sandwich when eating out. “Cheese is a good source of dairy and when taken in moderation is part of a balanced diet and is a healthy choice, but often cheese is served in excessive quantities as part of meals,” she said. “An easy way to reduce excessive calories is to control the amount you consume. Don’t opt to add cheese every time.”
Calories In Cooking Oil
If you’re looking at food labels to work out how many calories your consuming per day, forgetting to add in the effects of the cooking process could be throwing off your estimate.
While a stir fry is a great way to pack more vegetables into your diet, Mellor said the oil you use in the cooking process could add more calories to your meal than you realise, especially if you’re eating mushrooms. “Most vegetables when fried soak up a lot of fat, so while raw mushrooms come in at around 7kcal per 100g, this rockets up to a 110kcal per 100g when fried,” he explained. To reduce the amount of added calories you consume from cooking, do not use oil or butter excessively.