Don’t shrink our desserts, Jeremy Hunt, just tell us what’s in them

    14 October 2016

    Is nothing sacred in the world of food? First we hear that farmed salmon has half the amount of omega-3 that it used to and now Terry’s Chocolate Orange has been shrunk. Not that you would know from the outside, mind you, unless you were eagle-eyed enough to spot that the weight has gone from 175g to 157g. The manufacturers have cleverly hollowed out one side of each segment so that it looks more or less the same. If you were to eat an entire Chocolate Orange in 2015 you’d have consumed 918 calories and 44g of sugar, but buy and eat one today and you’d be in for a mere 824 and 34g of sugar, which is the smallest of small mercies.

    It’s not just the Chocolate Orange that has been diminished. A multipack of Creme Eggs has been reduced by Cadbury from six to just five. Yet we had better get used to smaller chocolate bars, as well as smaller doughnuts, granola bars and cakes. In the coming years it may be hard to tell if our sweet treats are getting smaller. Is it a natural part of ageing, like police officers getting younger, or is it, we may wonder, because of Jeremy Hunt?

    First the food industry was asked to reduce 20 per cent of sugar from the products that children eat most. Now the government is focusing on food eaten out of the home, asking industry to cut the fat and sugar in restaurants and in food bought on the go. This applies to desserts and baked goods served in large restaurant chains as much as to those offered by small independent coffee shops or bakeries.

    Food sold in packets, such as an oat bar you might have as a snack with a cup of coffee mid-morning, has the advantage of a nutrition label that sets out the calorie, protein, fat, carbohydrate and sugar content. Yet a granola bar displayed on a fancy stand in a small coffee shop won’t have the label and as such it is quite possible that the bar contains significant amounts of sugar and fat, far more than the packaged equivalent.

    It is, of course, quite possible to take in far more calories than you might think when eating on the go. A large cappuccino made with whole milk contains over 200. Add in a baked treat, say the granola bar at 350, and you have had a quarter of your daily calories. Having the calorie content boldly displayed is likely to influence choices, so surely that should be enough — do we really need the authorities to tell us how to cook?

    By May next year restaurants in the US will have to display nutritional information alongside the name of the item but as yet no such measures exist here in the UK. To my mind that seems far more powerful as a tool to persuade us to make better food choices than the government getting involved in recipe development.