Our food has been lying to us

For the last two months, I’ve been on something of a health kick. I’ve managed to misplace 8kg since the beginning of the year, largely by going back to the good ol’ fashioned basics: exercise and diet.

I go to the gym five days a week, and I count calories.

Simple. Boring. Effective.


But, perhaps not effective enough.

Because I’ve just discovered that all of my fastidious calorie counting is potentially built on lies. LIES, I tell you!

Susan Roberts, a nutritionist at Tufts University in Boston, has found that labels on packaged foods miss their true calorie counts by an average of 18% – while the information on some processed frozen foods misstated their calories by as much as 70%! In other words…

The tub of yoghurt that claims to be 150 calories? It could be around 180 calories.

The sushi roll that is labelled as 300 calories? It could be over 350.

And let’s not even get started on the calorie content of wine

Apparently, American government regulations allow food labels to understate calories by up to 20%. I did some digging locally, and although I couldn’t find the legal requirements in Australia around nutritional labelling, I did discover that Australian labelling laws are fairly strict, so that’s something to derive comfort from…

Incorrect calorie counts aren’t the only problem, Roberts adds; it’s their very calculation that leaves a little to be desired.

They’re based on how much heat a food product gives off when it burns in an oven, however, the human body is much more complex than an oven.

“When food is burned in a laboratory, it surrenders its calories within seconds. By contrast, the real-life journey from dinner plate to toilet bowl takes on average about a day, but can range from eight to 80 hours depending on the person,” reports The Economist.

“A calorie of carbohydrate and a calorie of protein both have the same amount of stored energy, so they perform identically in an oven. But put those calories into real bodies and they behave quite differently.”

Moral of the story? Much like when your browsing your mates’ highly filtered photos on social media, your best bet is to factor in a decent sized “fluff factor” when reading food labels. Consider the calories listed as the best possible scenario and add 20% for good measure.