Opinion

Why every calorie counts when combating obesity

By Judy Buttriss

- Last updated on GMT

The concepts of nutrient density and energy density should be considered in helping to curb obesity in the UK
The concepts of nutrient density and energy density should be considered in helping to curb obesity in the UK
British Nutrition Foundation director general Judy Buttriss discusses the importance of calories in curbing the nation’s obesity problem.

The harsh reality is that the majority of UK adults would benefit from losing some weight.

It’s obvious, when you think about it, but if we cut back on calories, we need to ensure that we don’t lose out on the many essential nutrients needed regularly for health. So, important as it is to cut calories to tackle obesity, in practice calories cannot be considered in isolation.

The overall nutrient quality of dietary choices made is paramount for health, along with dietary variety to capture the many different nutrients we need on a regular basis.

Making the right choices

The amount of nutrients that accompany calories really matters, and the good news is it’s not necessarily about eating less. By making the right choices, the quantity of food consumed can actually rise, helping with satiety and staving off hunger pangs. This is the basis of a number of successful weight-loss plans.

Nutritionists sometimes refer to energy (calorie) density and nutrient density (or nutrient quality), often expressed per 100g of food. At the very least, the nutrient density of diets needs to be maintained, and ideally increased when calories are cut.

Dietary quality

We need all the vitamins, minerals, protein, essential fats and fibre required, while limiting intake of free sugars, saturated fat and salt. Just counting calories risks avoiding higher-calorie foods that are also nutrient-rich, such as oily fish, nuts and cheese, which can contribute to dietary quality even when portion sizes are small.

To help communicate the concepts of nutrient density and energy density, the team of nutritionists at the British Nutrition Foundation has launched the Quality Calorie campaign,​ which helps us think about the food choices we make, using ideas and tips on how meals and snacks can be tweaked to improve the balance between essential nutrients and calories. The focus is on quality as well as quantity.

Related topics: Ingredients, Obesity Debate

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