Sean Van Staden
4 minute read
13 Feb 2016
11:00 am

Don’t take product’s calorie count for granted

Sean Van Staden

Low fat has long been the buzz word on products.

Sean van Staden

I am sure by now you have watched the State of the Nation Address and I am sure you are still trying to pick your jaw off the ground. My article today is most definitely not on politics but rather addressing the state of the nation’s nutrition. Consumers place their faith in food brands and in return become loyal customers for life.

Food brands bring out new and exciting products for the sole purpose of making money and dominating the market. They research what is trending and then react by coming up with a competing product and lace the exposure of the product with clever marketing.

Low fat has long been the buzz word on products and food conglomerates but leveraged the hell out of low fat being the better option to buy. Typically, what happens is, mom pops off to the local store and thinks she is doing her family a service, just choosing the “healthier option” of low fat.

Meanwhile, she might as well be sticking to the full version and changing the brand. Do yourself a favour and hold the original version of any product next to the low fat version and look at the nutritional contents. What you would typically see is that the kilojoule or calorie value remains the same, the sugar content remains the same, or is inflated to compensate for taste and then fat is reduced. It doesn’t end there.

Good healthy fats are what give food flavour and by reducing the fat content, they need to add something to keep the taste palatable. Let’s take one of South Africa’s most trusted and loved cereal brands.

Take the original wholewheat version and the “Lite” alternative and place them side-by-side.

Before you start comparing. Ask yourself this question: why am I buying the light version? Generally, it is to reduce your kilojoule intake and be a bit healthier when it comes to breakfast.

Theoriginal per serving (50g) has 772Kj, 2.5g fat, 31g carbs of which 10g is sugar, protein 8g and sodium 96mg. The “light” version has 761Kj, 1.5g fat, 39.1g carb of which 9.5 is sugar, 3.4g protein and sodium of a whopping 191mg. Wait a moment. I almost fell off my chair when spitting out my morning cereal after comparing boxes.

The goal of a “lite” product is to reduce kilojoule consumption and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a degree in nutrition to see how global food corporations are manipulating you. Globally, brands have found a loophole in the system that allows them to get away with this type ofmarketing.

Go into the yoghurt section of your local store and have fun comparing low fat with full cream and the sodium and sugar levels. It is quite a scary and enlightening moment. There is an answer to this problem but it will take a decision at government level to lobby for this grand idea.

The idea is to make all food outlets, school tuckshops and fast food joints display the kilojoule content of the meals they are displaying and selling. Picture yourself going to your favourite fast food store on your cheat day, and ordering a burger and chips with coke. Each of those items should, by law, display the kilojoule content.

This exact system is working well in Australia and, believe it or not, children are actually making better decisions. Don’t get me wrong, I still saw the McDonald’s queue was longer than the salad bar, but few children, from what I saw, were opting for the super-sized versions.

The average kilojoule consumption that a young, growing teen and adult female needs is 8 700 kilojoules or roughly 2 000 calories per day. The average male should stick to approximately 10 500Kj or 2 500 calories. If you had to order a hamburger meal, how many kilojoules do you think are in that one meal?

The reality is that you don’t know, and therefore you are ruled by desire rather than rational thinking. The answer is 4 560Kj, which just so happens to be 52% of a teen and female’s daily allowance.

Can you see why people are getting bigger and fatter? You just don’t know the truth about the calorie-rich dense food you are putting into your mouth. If you knew what your meal calorie content contained, would you be more conscious? Share your thoughts with me on Twitter @SeanVStaden on whether this grand idea would work in South Africa.