The British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) is launching a concept called the ‘quality calorie’, to help guide people to making better food choices. They state that counting calories is not enough in order to eat healthily.1

The quality calorie concept encourages people to not just look at the number of calories they consume, but also the quality of their diet ­– to help them get enough of the nutrients they need (including vitamins, minerals and fibre) and limit their intake of foods and nutrients that are of concern (free sugars, salt and saturated fat).

Dr Frankie Phillips from the British Dietetics Association said: "If you are eating too many calories, then you need to be cutting down but also making sure the ones you are consuming count for more in terms of nutrition. It's about getting value for your calories. Focusing on just one nutrient, like cutting down on only fat or sugar or calories, runs the risk of missing out on crucial nutrients."2

For example, swapping a bowl of chocolate flavoured cereal for a bowl of porridge with semi-skimmed milk and sliced banana will provide more B vitamins, potassium, wholegrains and less free sugars.3

Not just about the numbers

Foods with a similar calorie content can contain different nutrients. For example, wholegrain versions of bread, pasta and rice are higher in fibre than refined versions (white bread, pasta and rice). And processed meats contain more salt than lean unprocessed meats, even if they have a similar number of calories.

If people only think about calories as numbers, they might choose to avoid foods that are relatively high in calories but have a high nutritional value, such as nuts and seeds, oily fish and avocados.

Could quality calories reduce our cancer risk?

A recent European study linked diets with low nutritional quality to an increased risk of developing cancer.4

Eating a diet rich in quality calories could encourage people to eat more wholegrains, vegetables, fruit and beans. Basing your diet on these types of foods may help protect against cancer. They provide us with fibre, which can reduce the risk of bowel cancer, and they are low in sugar and fat which can help people to maintain a healthy weight.5

Making food choices based on quality calories could also reduce the amount of sugary drinks, fast foods and other processed foods high in fat, starches or sugars in the diet. Diets high in these foods can promote weight gain and research shows that being overweight or obese is linked to 12 common cancers including breast and bowel cancer. People may also change their drinking habits ­to limit alcohol intake, reducing the risk of six cancers, including breast and stomach.6

References

1. British Nutrition Foundation. The Quality Calorie Concept. 2018.

2. BBC News. Making sure you get the right type of calorie. 2018.

3. LACA. BNF launches quality calorie concept. 2018.

4. Science Daily. Eating foods with low nutritional quality ratings linked to cancer risk in large European cohort. 2018.

5. World Cancer Research Fund. Eat a diet rich in wholegrains, vegetables, fruit and beans. 2018.

6. World Cancer Research Fund. Limit alcohol consumption. 2018.