One of our guiding principles is to empower people to make informed choices about food – we’re calling for honesty and transparency on all food labelling, packaging and advertising.
People are increasingly eating out-of-home with little to no visibility of the calories and nutrition in their food choices. In many case restaurants present items as healthy which may not actually be healthy – don’t get me started on those sugar saturated salads. We need to empower people to make good choices.
So, calorie labelling on restaurant food is just an obvious no-brainer, but it’s not enough.
Many people don’t have high levels of food literacy or may simply struggle with English as a first language or reading small print. We’re must simplify the science of nutrition to make it accessible – we need something straightforward that supports the needs of actual real people - whether it be sugar spoons (good), traffic lights or health rating (better), percentage of reference daily intake (too complex) or exercise equivalent (the worst, makes exercise a penalty for an unhealthy food treat).
We’d also want to make the case for carbs. I’m one of 4 million with type 2 diabetes and one of the growing wave managing it through a moderately low-carb diet rather than medication. Eating out is a minefield, sugar-saturated salads, curries, Chinese and Thai meals which have been discreetly carb-loaded by the chef - it's really challenging – we need to do more to help people who are trying to manage their health. Those who champion other health issues would make the case for labelling salt and bad fats. Clearly if we really want to empower people we need a traffic light +carbs on all food, however sold.
Regulators will need to consider “sharing plates”, before you know it we’ll have sharing plates which only show the calories for an “individual portion”, usually based on the eating habits a family of sparrows. Our view is that if it comes on a single plate it’s a single portion and if people decide to share they can do their own maths.
Much of the worst of the take-away industry comes from small businesses, and some of them are concerned at the burden of this measure – in truth, its very simple. There are tools available today such as checkyourfood.com which for a very modest fee (£3.99/month) enables anybody supplying food to calculate the calorie and other nutrition data – quick, cheap and simple. We’ll need a few sensible exceptions, such as the cakes at the school fairs, but we mustn’t let the chicken shacks slip through the net.
A final thought on enforcement. This needs teeth. We recommend random inspections and testing by local authorities to ensure compliance with a system of warnings and fines - so central government needs to step up with the cash for this work.