Freedom of Eat? Calorie counts come to Britain

News comes that restaurant chain The Real Greek will be the first in the UK to carry extensive calorie labelling on their menu.

As the Indy reports: “The Real Greek chain said it was confident putting calorific values on its menu alongside starters, mains, desserts, wine, beer and juices would be popular with diners wishing to monitor their energy intake.”

About time, I say. Freedom of eat only goes so far.

In an ideal society, adults wouldn’t need to be babysat into making sensible choices about what they consume. But equally, in an ideal society obesity wouldn’t be sky high and parents wouldn’t take children to McDonalds as a “treat”.

And I wouldn’t have had the uncomfortable experience of sharing my seat on an underground train yesterday with a man who should really have booked for two.

And of course calories aren’t a foolproof guide to healthy eating. There’s far more than a number to consider – saturated and hydrogenated fats, hidden sugars and salts, and all sorts of other nutritional concerns.

But generally, if the number of calories in something is high, it’s a pretty good indication that it won’t do your heart or your waistline any favours.

Consider this: “a Greek salad weighs in at 676, probably on account of its feta cheese.”

Or this: “A couple drinking a bottle of a dry red Cretan wine, Ymnos, would clock up 669 calories”.

Wouldn’t you want to know that? I would, just like I’d like Starbucks to put helpful numerical notifications next to its drinks, or Pret to offer a by-numbers guide to which sandwich I really shouldn’t be eating for lunch.

Having travelled to Washington DC and New York in the last few years, two cities where calorie counts are prominently displayed next to every food choice, I hasten to add that just because you know it’s bad, doesn’t mean you don’t eat it.

Acting in a way that is bad for your welfare is just human nature – while I know that tub of Ha’agen Daas chocolate ice cream isn’t going to give me a get-out-of-gym free clause, I still dig into it on a pretty regular basis. Likewise, plenty of people see the numbers, ignore them and still supersize their portions.

So obviously, this is not a one-stop way to kill off overeating. But it’s a start.

For every person who sees a number and thinks, “oh, well”, another will say: “500 calories. For a salad. Crap, I’ll have the soup.”

Because let’s face it. Without sounding fattist, obesity is a problem in Britain – you only have to look around the high street to see that – and putting nutritional information on the menu is one way to target it.

Joined up with better health education, cheaper vegetable prices and a hike in the cost of doughnuts, we might have a way to stop Britain bulging at the seams.

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