When Xmas food packaging info is wrong

  • Just because it’s a Covid Christmas we don’t want to be suckered by this calorie trick 
  • Look out for this dodgy info on party food packaging 
  • How to make festive eating a bit healthier

Ho ho ho!

Pandemic or not, Christmas is in full swing.

OK, so we may not be allowed to see friends and loved ones indoors…

And in some areas, we may not even be allowed to mix outside in the cold.

But hell will surely freeze over before the food industry gives up on Christmas.

There’s too much money to be made.

And too much money to be lost by not grabbing our attention and luring us into the shops.

As I said the other week, the supermarkets have launched their advertising campaigns, telling us that we can buy instant nostalgia for better times in the form of food.

And accordingly, there are a lot of treats on the supermarket shelves right now.

Despite what I said on Wednesday though about a hedonistic Christmas, we do need to act with some caution.

Sections marked ‘party food’ are full of festive ready meals and processed snacks, ready to slam in the oven, even if people aren’t throwing parties.

There are chocolate-covered nuts in alluring boxes and mince pies stacked head height.

Now, I’m not against this – so don’t worry, I’m not the Grinch!

I’m not going to lecture you, or suggest you abandon delicious food in the festive season, as you will recall from Wednesday.

Particularly not this year, when eating is all that many of us have to look forward to.

After all, there are no office parties, no work outings, no neighbours round for Bombay mix and mulled wine, no Christmas carollers (or perhaps there will be some in groups of 6, socially distanced!)

So we may as well eat and joy it, right?

Well, of course…

And I PLAN to!

But just because it’s a Covid Christmas we don’t have to be suckered by the food industry this year.

Why calorie counts aren’t always correct

While we’re happy to indulge in December, none of us want to pile on the pounds unnecessarily, or make ourselves vulnerable to illness and infection.

So if you’re like me, you’ll keep an eye on what you buy, and make informed judgements when you buy the naughty, goopy, fatty, sugary stuff.

But how do we make these judgements?

Well, when it comes to processed food we have to go by the stats on the box.

And one of the key measurements that many of us use is the number of calories.

In fact, many diet versions of foods, like yoghurts, desserts and pasta meals will have “ONLY X CALORIES” emblazoned on there in order to get you to buy.

You think you can eat these kinds of foods with less guilt.

Or you can eat MORE of them for the same result.

But the problem is, those numbers aren’t always correct, and here’s why.

Calories aren’t ‘things’ you can eat.

For instance, a mince pie doesn’t contain actual calories inside the pie, like it might contain carbohydrates or fats.

A calorie is actually a measurement of energy.

Precisely, a food calorie is known as a ‘kilocalorie’ and it’s the amount of energy need to increase the temperature of one millilitre of water by one degree Celsius.

Here’s how it is measured…

  • First, they evaporate all the water from a specific amount of food.
  • Second, they put that food into a sealed container, surrounded by water, called a ‘calorimeter’.
  • Thirdly, they burn the contents.

The calorie content is measured by the rise in the temperature of the surrounding water after all the food is incinerated.

So the idea is that if we were to burn all of that ready meal’s contents inside out bodies to use as fuel, it would take that amount of energy, which then goes on the box as a number.

The idea is that if you eat fewer calories than the amount you need for fuel, your body starts to burn up excess far instead.

And if you eat more calories than they amount you need, the body stories them as fat.

But here’s the problem…

Not all foods are absorbed the same way

The calorimeter assumes that we use up all that food in any given ready meal – but that’s not the case. Some of those calories don’t get absorbed and digested.

Also, some ingredients are more easily digested and used by your body that others.

Those things aren’t always factored in.

So what food companies try to do now is subtract certain fibres that don’t usually get digested, in order to make it more accurate.

But it still stands that the calorie count is not really as simple and accurate as they make out.

And here’s another important thing to know…

The amount of calories you consume is all part of a balancing act with how many calories you burn in the process.

For instance, a digesting a protein like meat requires the use of more energy from your body.

In fact, your body will use around a third of the calories in that protein just to digest it.

However, when you eat carbohydrates, you body will only need around 5% of the calories in the digestion process.

So what does this mean?

Well, I’d recommend is that you don’t try and track the calorie count when you’re shopping for Christmas food.

Don’t assume that because something boast a low calorie count you can eat it guiltlessly in any amount you like.

Instead, keep an eye on things like saturated fat and trans fats – as these are the bad fats you want to avoid. Then look the amount of sugar too.

Then try and keep those processed party food treats to a minimum, for special occasions.

And wherever possible, try whole food versions.

As I mentioned the other week, if you want some wholesome tasty food ideas that inspire feelings of nostalgia, check out the Nostalgic Cookbook.