Calories On Menus: What We Think

Over the past few months we’ve seen the introduction of calories on menus in food outlets containing more than 250 employees. This change has caused huge conflict across the media and social media. We’ve also had a number of questions from our customers on this and so we’re sharing below the pros and the cons of the new legislation. Please remember this is an opinion piece.


The Benefits
Let’s start with the positives, firstly, we think it’s a brilliant step that the government are encouraging people to become more aware of their dietary choices. Ultimately the food we eat on a regular basis can either help or hinder our overall wellbeing in the long term. As many of us are eating out of the home more and more, it’s not seen so much as a special treat which means if we’re constantly eating high energy, high fat, high sugar meals we can’t expect for these not to have an impact on us.

If you’ve been reading our content for a while you’ll know that we often share the importance of nutrition beyond calories and in this situation the calories have been highlighted as a measure of ‘healthiness’ of the dishes on menus. Now, we still believe that calories are not the be all and end all and high calorie foods can be very nutritious. However, to date calories remain as the most consumer friendly measure of ‘healthiness’ that we currently have. Nutrition is complex and there’s plenty of research to suggest that the nutrition labels on commercial foods can be confusing for the consumer. As a result, if we’re looking to encourage people to make healthier dietary choices at the most basic level, calories do have a role and can in some cases encourage healthier eating.


The Cons
Much like everything where there’s a plus side there’s also a less positive side. As we’ve just highlighted that calories can be a useful tool, we also know that for those who do have an understanding into nutrition and food labels, a lower calorie option is not always the most nutritious. For example a rice cake contains fewer calories than an oat cake but an oatcake is higher in fibre, protein and B-Vitamins. The fibre and protein would contribute to satiety which can suggest that the oatcake would keep one fuller for longer and therefore you’d end up eating less. This is of course at a basic level but it’s important to look beyond calories if you have the knowledge to do so.
Additionally, another issue with adding calories to menus is that they’re likely to be highly inaccurate. Recipes can vary slightly between chefs and quantities of ingredients can also change marginally which would lead to differences between the calories listed and the number in your final dish.

Finally, we can’t ignore the impact of calories on menus on those with a poor relationship with food or a history/ current eating disorder. Often those recovering from eating disorders may be sent out to restaurants as part of the recovery process but having the calories on menus can be very triggering for some individuals.

Ultimately, for some people having calories on menus can be a great way to encourage them to make healthier choices, however, like everything there is no one size fits all and unfortunately when it comes to legislation it’s very difficult to separate these two camps.

It might be useful to know that in many food establishments now, you can ask for a menu without calories on display!