British people could be eating up to 50% more calories per day than they say they are, or realise, a recent report has found. The study was launched as an investigation into why official statistics have been showing a sharp decline in calorie intake, while, at the same time, obesity levels in the country have been on the increase.
The study, which was led by the government’s Behavioural Insight Team (BIT), discovered that the average British adult consumes around 3000 calories per day as opposed to the 2000 calories concluded by several national surveys. These underestimated calorie counts can cause problems for diet and health policy makers, and could contribute to the current rise in obesity. As a result of these new findings, government statisticians will be changing the way they correlate calorie data and national dietary guidelines are set to change too.
Is snacking to blame?
The team behind this study have suggested that one of the main issues behind the inconsistencies in calorie data is snacking. Over the past 40 years, ‘on the go’ eating and snacks have increased greatly. Partly due to changes in lifestyle and more options in shops, many of us are snacking on food outside of the three main meals per day.
BIT found that snacks such as chocolate bars and bags of crisps can often go unaccounted for when people are counting their calorie intake for the day. Does this sound familiar to you? Snack foods, according to this study, are harder to remember and are often eaten absentmindedly, unlike a sit down meal. This could be affecting all of us.
If you’re concerned that grazing on snacks in between meals could be affecting your calorie intake, the NHS Change 4 Life initiative suggests swapping sweet treats like chocolate bars and biscuits for fresh fruit, reduced fat yoghurt or low sugar cereal. Alternatively, if savoury snacks such as crisps and salted nuts are your biggest vice, Change 4 Life recommends opting for pumpkin and sunflower seeds, plain popcorn, celery sticks or rice cakes.
Change 4 Life also offers a sugar swap app. This allows Smartphone users to scan the barcode of a product before purchasing to find out just how much sugar it contains. This is a great idea for anyone who wants to keep a closer eye on the food and drink they are consuming.
In addition to switching the sort of foods that you snack on, it could make a big difference if you make a concerted effort to note down every time you eat between meals. Jot down what you ate, what time and, if possible, the amount of calories. This way you won’t overlook the snack when you work out how many calories you consumed during the day.
What else could be leading to mistakes in your food diary?
When the contrast in data between obesity levels and calorie intake was first noted, researchers suggested that it could be down to a lack of exercise in modern lifestyles. However, this idea was soon rejected as it would mean that British people today are walking a massive three hours less a day than people just 40 years ago.
So if you feel like you’re not being entirely honest with yourself when it comes to calorie counting, but don’t think that snacking is behind this issue, what else could it be?
The study also found that people hoping to lose weight could be giving inaccurate data regarding what they eat. The desire to lose weight could be leading you to underestimate what you eat each day and unknowingly thwart your own weight loss efforts.
Another factor which could be affecting calorie reports could be the increase in restaurant eating, according to the study. These days, more of us are eating out more often than ever before, but many people don’t realise that restaurant meals can be much more calorific than home-cooked versions of the same dishes.
How to lower your calorie intake
As well as monitoring the amount of calories you eat each day, in the form of a food journal or an app, it is essential that you make healthy choices and enjoy a balanced diet.
The Eatwell Guide by the NHS emphasises the importance of eating five portions of fresh fruit or vegetables a day, drinking plenty of water and balancing carbs and protein in every meal we eat.