Calories in UK Restaurant Food 'Shockingly High'

Calories in UK Restaurant Food 'Shockingly High'

By Tracey Walton wlr team

Key Takeaways

  • Calories in popular UK restaurant chains “shockingly high”
  • 1 in 4 starters and 1 in 5 side dishes contain more calories than is recommended for a full meal

The calorie content of popular starters, sides and desserts served in UK restaurant chains is too high and only a minority meet public health recommendations, finds a University of Liverpool study published in BMJ Open.

The latest (March 2019) recommendations from Public Health England are that lunchtime and evening meals should be no more than 600 calories and breakfast 300. This is quite a blunt instrument given the differing calorie needs between men (2500 daily) and women (2000 daily) and people of different ages, sizes and actvity levels, but it does provide a reasonable guide.

The high calorie content and poor nutritional value of 'fast food' has been well studied, however food served by 'full service' restaurants has received less attention.

This is important for all of us. WLR data shows that eating out is no longer something that we do only, or even mainly, on 'special' occasions. We don't even have to leave home now when we want restaurant food.

The problem is our already skewed perception of what is a reasonable amount of calories to eat at a sitting gets even more distorted. The authors of this study are pushing for calorie information to be printed on restaurant menus and at WLR we think that's a good idea.

No-one wants to spoil a 'special' outing worrying about calories, but when restaurant food becomes a regular feature of our eating habits we need to know.

The Study

To better understand the extent to which restaurants are contributing to overconsumption, researchers from Liverpool University compared the calorie content of popular starters, sides and desserts from restaurant chains in the UK with more than 50 outlets.

This research follows up on previous research examining the calorie content of main meals published last year.

Led by Dr Magdalena Muc Da Encarnacao and Dr Eric Robinson from the University's Department of Psychological Sciences, researchers analysed the calories in 1009 dishes:

  • 212 starters
  • 318 side dishes
  • 479 desserts

from 27 large UK restaurant chains (21 full-service, six fast-food).

The Results

The researchers found the dishes contained:

  • Starters – average 488 calories ( 26% were over 600)
  • Side dishes - average 398 calories (22% were  over 600)
  • Desserts – average 431 calories (21% were over 600)

Compared with fast-food chains, desserts offered at full-service restaurants contained more calories and were significantly more likely to exceed the 600 calories reccomended for a full meal.

Researchers' Comments

The researchers call for the food industry to reduce the number of calories in food products sold to the general public and for mandatory labelling of all restaurant food.

Dr Eric Robinson, said:

"The foods we are being served across the food sector have far too many calories in them and it is not surprising there is an obesity problem in the UK. The food industry need to act more responsibly and reduce the number of dishes they're serving containing shockingly high calories. However, it's unlikely that they will do this without pressure and the government need to get serious about obesity."

Dr Muc Da Encarnacao, said:

"The average energy content of sides, starters and desserts sold in major UK restaurants is high. One in four starters and one in five sides and desserts in UK chain restaurants exceed the recommended energy intake for an entire meal.

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A bit or a lot on the side? Observational study of the energy content of starters, sides and desserts in major UK restaurant chains BMJ Open

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