UK Adults Underestimate Their Calorie Intake


Evidence suggest that we often find it difficult to accurately calculate what calories we are consuming each day. Data from the Office of National Statistics, based on a study of 4,000 people, suggests a large discrepancy in what we think we are consuming and the real figure.

Calorie Targets

The recommended daily calorie count is 2,500 calories for men and 2,000 calories for women. The data suggest that men think they consume 2,000 calories a day, when they actually consume 3,000 and women say they consume 1,500 calories, while actually consuming 2,500 calories.

The advice from Public Health England is that to get the calories right each day, try and target 400 calories for breakfast and 600 calories each for lunch and dinner, which allows you some extra calories for drinks and snacks during the day.

Why Is There A Discrepancy?

There are a number of suggestions for this. It could be that people knew they were in a survey and therefore changed their consumption figures or it could simply be that we are not good at recognising all the things we eat each day, including snacks. Another issue to consider is portion size,  we may not be accurately assessing what a portion should be. Some food labels are also unclear, often quoting a calorie figure that doesn’t equate to the actual size of the food in the packet, so unless you can do the maths it is unclear what you are consuming.

Another factor may also be that if you eat in cafes and restaurants it is often not easy to calculate calorie intake as we won’t be aware of what has exactly gone into the food. Some restaurants are good at giving calorie indications, others are not.

Drinks can also cause confusion. Many people may not be aware that alcohol contains a lot of calories and needs to be taken into account. A large glass of wine contains as many calories as a doughnut, a pint of lager is the same calorie wise as eating one bag of crisps. If we do the maths just drinking 5 pints of lager a week adds up, over a year, to the same calories as eating 221 doughnuts.

Tips For Calorie Counting

There are online tools that can help you calorie count. It is also important to note that we will all be different in terms of our current weight, metabolism and the exercise we do. The following tips are intended to get you thinking about the calories you consume each day.

Keep A Record

The first thing that dieticians suggest is that we all keep an accurate record of everything we eat and drink each day and we keep that record for a number of weeks. This can be useful as we may not be aware that in fact we are consuming too many calories in snacks or alcohol or that we are simply having too big portions. That data will help you see very clearly exactly what you are consuming as opposed to what you think you are consuming.

Online Calorie Counting

There are tools available online to help you then calculate what your intake equates to in terms of calories. The NHS website has a database of 150,000 foods to help you. So for example they will advise you that a medium sized banana, 100g, contains 95kcal.

Calories In Calories Out

You may have heard this simple line, calories in, calories out to explain what we should all be aiming for. But what does this mean?

Essentially calories in is the total of all the calories we consume as food or drink, calories out is the calories we burn each day. The ideal state according to some is to have these two as equal. If we take too many calories in then the result can be muscle and/or fat gain, if we have too many calories going out then this could cause fat and/or muscle loss. So calories in, calories out is where there is no calorific surplus or calorific deficit. In fact experts refer to this as ‘calorie maintenance level’.

For each person the figures will vary as to how you get this ideal balance. For example to calculate your calories out you will need to calculate your BMR, your basal metabolic rate. There are online tools to help you calculate this but it essentially looks at your weight, height and age and calculates the energy you need just to live each day.

Following on from this you need to calculate your total energy expenditure including any exercise that you do. You should then end up with a figure that tells you how many calories you are expending. You can then sit this alongside the calories you are consuming to see if you are achieving the maintenance of calories in, calories out.

It is important to note that if you are looking to lose weight then do seek the guidance and support of your doctor as not everyone will be the same and you may have medical issues that require special attention.

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