Stan Cauvain, co-founder and director, BakeTran, on the challenge of recent calls for a 20% calorie reduction in baked goods

The recent appeal from Public Health England (PHE) for food manufacturers to ‘slash’ 20% from the calorie count of sandwiches, pizza and certain breads, inevitably focuses attention on the reformulation of bakery products.

Bakers have reacted positively to previous health-led initiatives, with salt reduction, elimination of trans fats and now sugar reduction. So surely the call for calorie reduction in baked products is another positive opportunity for them to develop healthier goods – or is it?

The challenge from PHE is for the food industry to take 20% out of everyday foods (my italics). At BakeTran, we regularly experience the challenge of helping bakers reduce calorie counts… and it is not that easy per 100g of product.

The calorie counts for the major food constituents are four per gram for carbohydrates and proteins, and nine for fats. So simply using lower fat levels will not achieve the goals being called for; indeed, fat reduction leads to higher protein levels (probably a good thing) and higher carbohydrate levels (bad if sugar levels go up). Fat and sugar replacers have fewer calories per gram, but often lack the necessary functionality to manufacture baked goods and, in any case, fat and sugar levels in UK breads are already very low, so why use low-calorie substitutes?

The PHE call is focused on composite products using calorie-rich fillings and toppings. Perhaps it is in those areas where the 20% saving might come rather than with basic breads. Reformulation of toppings and fillings may also raise other concerns around acceptability with consumers.

The baking industry has been supportive of health initiatives, but I wonder whether, this time, placing the burden on food manufacturers to ‘deliver reduced calorie goods’ is a little misplaced. The PHE draws attention to the over-consumption of calories on a daily basis. Consuming 20% fewer calories per day is not the same as producing foods that contain 20% fewer calories. Surely individual responsibility for portion control has to be a target for PHE through better consumer education?

Taking out sandwich fillings and removing pizza toppings, while drinking only water (no calories) will make positive contributions to reducing our daily calorie count. While reminiscent of the punishment diet of bread and water, at least we bakers would be happy making all the tasty, nutritious and filling bread required at around 100 calories per slice.