Calories busted by cafe culture

Coffee and a cake A drink and a cake could contain more than half of a woman's recommended daily calorie allowance

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In a fast-paced world, demand for tasty, convenient food "to go" has spiralled. Fast-food outlets now feature on most high streets across the UK.

But before you stop to buy your next cup of Italian-inspired coffee or a burger in a box, you might want to check how many calories they contain.

Did you know, for example, that consuming these two items could wipe out more than half of your daily calorie allowance?

Add a muffin and a milkshake to the order and you could have your full quota, even if it's still only lunchtime.

The government wants us all to think more carefully about what we eat, to stem rising obesity rates.

Start Quote

Without clear calorie labelling it is easy to see how someone might consume - without any guilt - an entire day's calories in just one sitting”

End Quote Dietitian Helen Bond

It's asking fast food and other restaurant chains to put calorie and other nutrition information on menus.

McDonald's is on board and is this week installing calorie-content displays for every item of food and drink that it sells in all of its 1,200 restaurants. Starbucks has also signed up to the government's responsibility deal.

Dietitian Helen Bond says the figures might come as a surprise to some: "People don't necessarily realise what they are consuming.

"Without clear calorie labelling, it is easy to see how someone might consume - without any guilt - an entire day's calories in just one sitting.

"It's the calories that you do not factor into your daily diet that are most dangerous. Liquid calories are often the ones that creep in. They are easier to consume quickly."

Recommended daily calorie intake

  • Calories are a measure of energy, so the number of calories tells you how much energy is in the food. Although most people say calories the actual measure is kilocalories, shortened to kcals
  • Men = 2,500 kcal
  • Women = 2,000 kcal
  • Children aged 5-10 = 1,800 kcal

The trick to keeping within the daily limits, she says, is knowing what choices to make.

The average adult male should consume no more than 2,500 calories a day, and women no more than 2,000 calories a day, according to guidelines.

So, if you go to Starbucks for a coffee and pick an Americano, which contains 17 calories, you will still have lots of your daily calorie allowance left for meals.

But pick a Starbucks' Signature Grande Hot Chocolate loaded with whipped cream and 556 calories and you'll wipe out up to a quarter of your allowance.

If you are feeling peckish at the same time and decide to buy a Fairtrade chocolate chunk shortbread to go with your hot chocolate, you'll hit half of your quota for the day as a woman. Even a skinny muffin will add 344 calories to the total.

Yet a fruit salad from Starbucks will only set you back 95 calories.

Similarly, go to McDonald's and buy a large cappuccino and a grilled chicken and bacon salad for your lunch and the calorie count will be 285. But opt for a Big Mac with large fries and a milkshake and you'll have consumed 1,450 calories.

Comparison of Recommended daily intake and fast food items: Starbucks Grande Caffe Americano = 17 kcal; Starbucks Grande Latte (with whole milk) = 223 kcal; Starbucks Signature Grande Hot Chocolate (with whole milk and topped with whipped cream) = 556 kcal; Starbucks fruit salad = 95 kcal; Starbucks skinny peach and raspberry muffin = 344 kcal; Starbucks chocolate chunk shortbread fairtrade = 508 kcal; McDonald's Large Cappuccino = 120 kcal; McDonalds Large Coca-cola = 210 kcal; McDonald's Large chocolate milkshake = 500 kcal; McDonald's Grilled Chicken and Bacon salad = 165 kcal; McDonald's large french fries = 460 kcal; McDonald's Big Mac = 490 kcal

Ms Bond says: "You can see how things can quickly top up. If someone was to eat 500 extra calories a day above the recommended amount every day for a week, they would put on about a pound of weight."

If this pattern continues for weeks or months on end, it is easy to see how someone starting at a healthy weight could become overweight or obese.

But it's not just the number calories that we should be concerned about, it's also how much salt, fat and sugar is in the food that is important.

"It's true that calories are calories regardless of where they come from, but you are more likely to pile on the weight if you eat energy dense food - stuff that's high in fat," she explains.

If you eat a gram of carbohydrate, this equates to four calories. But a gram of fat equals nine calories.

"So if you eat 100g (3.5oz) of chips, that would be about 190 calories, which is twice as much as 100g of boiled potatoes."

Ms Bond says it is possible to still enjoy fast food and stay healthy. One way is to make sure you keep track of what you have consumed and compensate if you need to by having a lean salad in the evening instead of a calorie-rich meal.

"Having calories displayed in restaurants and on food packaging will make a difference to those who want it to. It empowers people to make choices and take control of their own health. And it might make some people reconsider what they are eating."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    It would be really helpful to have calories displayed. I didn't have time to pack lunch the other day and went to buy a sandwich in the supermarket, and was realy suprised by how hard it was to find one under about 450 calories that wasn't just plain ham.

    I heard once that McD's has gherkins in the bugers because otherwise the suger content would classify them as a pudding!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    littlemunchkin: "Ok, most people would usually see McDonalds as a treat, yes?"

    I'm not so sure. I think that a reasonable proportion of the population regard takeaway food a major, regular part of their diet. And therein lies the problem. Whether or not making the calorie content of takeaway food easily visible has any effect on consumption, time will tell.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.


    People who count calories are not 'prevented' from doing so by small business owners who have better things to do than hire a team of scientists to test their menu.

    If you are really, honestly, so concerned about the mystical 'calorie' (as opposed to what is actually in the food...) get a salad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    erm.. Ill try again..
    If I eat 2000 calories in one meal i.e. 3/4 of my daily intake I tend to eat less for the rest of the day because I am not greedy.
    Is that more acceptable?

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Like McDonalds and Starbucks are the height of day to day culinary excellence. I can't remember the last time I set foot in either place, or could even afford to. My weight's declining now as it's Summertime. In Winter months, especially the last half of December, it typically increases. In Summer I eat less and get more exercise and in Winter I eat more and get less exercise - Common Sense?

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    I think we are all aware that a Big Mac or Starbucks muffin are high in calories but the drinks are where this will really help.

    A few years ago I woke up to how many calories I was drinking. Between latte's, beer and smoothies the total was startling!

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Someone on here implied that its their own prerogative to over eat and get fat. You don't just become obese, your overall health is increasingly likely to deteriorate. Oh and look, the tax-payer picks up the bill. And it's a big one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    6. Paul

    If you want to eat 10,000 calories a day, knowing how many calories are in what you're eating lets you do that on an informed basis - who knows, otherwise you may be surpassing your target by a few thousand, or failing to reach your goals! you can then choose to eat the foods that give the most calories.

    alternatively you can use the information to help you choose healthier options!

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Woah! Are you seriously telling me that a big mac and fries might be fattening?

    How come you're always first with the news? This is genius and might explain why i'm 29 stones......

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    It's obvious that a coffee with no milk is going to contain less calories than one with milk and fresh cream on top, but what would be useful is to see how many calories you could cut down on by having a skinny latte rather than a regular latte - so I think this is a good idea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    the food industry....and its interested in selling food, more than it is in health. food that is good for your body, is not food that gives you the craving for it every 2 hours.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Imagine you run a little restaurant and change your menu monthly. Do you know how much effort, time and money goes into this calorie testing? Every month?

    Don't make struggling business owners pay the price of fat peoples' weak willed attempts at self-justification.

    Calorie counting is a false dietery method anyway. Fresh food, in moderation, not deep fried. Not difficult!

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    I went to a certain well known fast food outlet fronted by a clown last night. They have stopped selling salads on their own. Now they come with chicken. My partner was unhappy and ate nothing rather than a so called 'salad' or a burger. Give people the choice, not PR fluff.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Well I for one think it's a brilliant idea. I am trying to lose weight, and knowing how many calories are in foods is useful, especially when I am out and about. I don't understand why some people are so against it. It's no different to showing whether something contains nuts or is vegetarian.
    If it's not helpful to you, ignore it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    blimey, my rare mcbreakfast this morning was a thousand calories - i just checked their website! awesome.. i had guessed around 600! that's great news - i'm marathon training at the moment and aiming for about 3500 a day! (don't worry though - M&S salad, roll and yoghurt for lunch - a much healthier thousand calories)... bring on dinner!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Displaying calories is useful BUT so is making available cheap good food. Have you been shopping and costed out a 'good' meal against a 'junk' meal ? It is more expensive to eat healthily in this country than elsewhere in Europe. Difficult to understand when we are a food producing nation. Everything costs more here, and we put up with it. Why ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Yes, and it will be YOUR body with the diabetes and the obesity related illnesses needing MY taxes to treat it. Or perhaps you wont want the NHS interfering and trying to fix your self-inflicted conditions.

  • Comment number 26.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.


    Maybe you do want to eat 10,000 calories a day and get really fat; there is nothing in the government's proposals stopping you from doing so. But those people who do want to stick to a healthy number of daily calories are effectively prevented from doing so unless information for convenience foods is available.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    I was told that you have to eat to lose weight.

    I ate loads and now I'm fat - so called professionals bah !


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