Good News? UK Recommended Calorie Intake to Increase…

Have they gone mad in Great Britain?

SACN, the UK’s Scientific Advisory Council on Nutrition, has just released a draft proposal [download] which claims that the dietary guidelines for daily caloric intake should be revised UPWARDS by up to 16%. In a country where 60% of adults are overweight or obese (2nd after the US), this is quite the shocker.

From the UK’s Times Online:

According to a draft report by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), the recommended daily intake of calories — currently 2,000 for women and 2,500 for men — could be increased by up to 16 per cent, suggesting that some adults could safely consume an extra 400 calories a day (equivalent to an average-sized cheeseburger, or two bags of ready-salted crisps). read more…

How could this be?

What you need to know:

The members of SACN are all highly regarded scientists in the UK and there are no apparent food industry affiliations. So why would they propose something outrageous as this? Shouldn’t this kind of data better be “swept under the rug”?

Well, scientists are not politicians, they look at facts. Going back to the early 90′s when the exiting guidelines were set, they discovered that the tests used to measure people’s energy output were underestimating the actual values. Since energy in = energy out, that means that the calorie recommendations were too low as well.

But why then is everyone getting fatter and fatter?

For one thing, people are still way above their target daily values for calorie intake. In the US, the average intake is 3,700 calories per day! And the UK can’t be far behind. So the daily recommended value is really just a theoretical number with no grounded basis in real life for real people?

Or is it?

The groups most likely to gain from raised calorie allowances are food manufacturers. The nutrition labeling laws require them to display the values of naughty nutrients as saturated fat as both grams and percent-of-daily-allowance. The percentage is derived from the total number of calories per day.

For example – in a 2000 calorie a day diet you can have just 20 grams of saturated fat. But at 2500 calories a day, the magic number is up to 25 grams. Which means that a trashy meal with 5 grams of saturated fat, previously labeled as 25% of the daily max, will now appear as only 20%.

If you think that is insignificant, consider Britain’s Traffic Light System for nutrition labeling. In stores for the past 2 years, the color coded system give shoppers a quick glance at values for sugar , sodium, and fats. Green means low, amber is so so, and red means high. Manufacturers hate this system because products with red are stigmatized as bad.  The colors are based on thresholds of percent-of-daily-allowance. Guess what happens when the percents go down? More greens and yellows, less reds.

What to do at the supermarket:

Folks, don’t party at the junk food aisles just yet. Whether the theoretical-for-most daily recommendations will change or not, people need to cut down on calories not add to them. A good place to start is the beverage aisles – just skip them and go for tap water. Good for you, your wallet, and the environment

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  • Doug

    After reading that article in the Times, I wondered what percentage of overweight Brits are eating less than the suggested calorie totals – new or old???

    Not many I bet.

    And yet, they are going to be the ones who are going to mention this story when someone comments on their eating habits

    BTW, that burger has got my mouth watering…I hate you

  • Gavs

    1. I’m not sure this is a good idea. While it’s all very well for those living a healthy lifestyle, overweight people will likely use this as an excuse for their eating habits.

    2. That’s a tasty burger. Hooray for movie references!