Calls for mandatory calorie labelling on pancakes and waffles

Action on Sugar looked at the nutritional content of these desserts at chains and also compared them to supermarket offerings.

16 September 2019
image credit: Getty Images

What are the latest foods Action on Sugar has under the spotlight?

This time its waffles, pancakes, pretzels and crepes. The campaign group says it’s conducted a first-of-its-kind survey looking at the excessive amounts of hidden sugar and calories in these products when eaten out.

Action on Sugar investigated 191 products from restaurants, cafes and takeaways, including 94 crepes, 12 pancakes, 16 pretzels, and 69 waffles and their toppings. Only 70 of these products provided full nutritional information in store or online.

Chains such as Creams, Kaspa’s Desserts, Snowflakes Gelato, The Breakfast Club, Wafflemeister, Auntie Anne’s and Mr. Pretzels had no nutritional information available on menus. So, for the first time, Action on Sugar commissioned independent laboratory analysis of 35 samples from these brands.

For other operators, like Harvester, My Old Dutch, Crepeaffaire, Brewers Fayre, McDonald’s and Marks & Spencer Café, nutrition information is available online. However, not all provide this information on the menus and customers may not be able to easily make an informed decision, warned Action on Sugar.

So how much sugar is stuffed into these sweet treats?

The Breakfast Club takes the top gong with its salted caramel banoffee pancake, which contained 1800 calories and would take over eight hours of walking to burn off. The chain also claimed the top three spots for the most calorific pancakes in the eating out sector.

Choosing a Creams’ waffle, Oreos on Mine with Gelato, would mean consuming 1200 calories and 19 teaspoons of sugar, the equivalent of more than two cans of cola. It was followed by Kaspa’s Desserts with its Choco-tella Spread Waffle coming in at 950 calories, while Snowflake’s Gelato Nutella crepe with vanilla ice cream was slightly less at 930 calories.

A Mr. Pretzels chocolate pretzel contained 930 calories per serving – the same as eating almost 18 KitKat fingers or 12 teaspoons of sugar, while its Nutella pretzel came in at slightly less at 820kcal. Auntie Anne’s also made the top three with its almond crunch pretzel amounting to 590kcal.

Meanwhile, a My Old Dutch four-cheese crepe had more calories and salt than three McDonald’s Big Macs. It would take a person, on average, three and half hours of cycling to burn off. It also contains 8.5g of salt, which is more than 140% of a person’s daily maximum intake of 6g a day. It also took out the other top two spots for high-calorie crepes with its Greek option and one with banana, nuts and chocolate sauce.

Overall, 43% of the 103 products with nutrition information would receive a red label for high sugar content.

Could supermarkets offer healthier options?

Well, by way of comparison, the survey also looked at 84 products from supermarkets, including seven crepes, four pretzels, 22 waffles and 51 pancakes.

They contained far less calories, sugar and salt in comparison to examples from the out-of-home sector, according to Action on Sugar, showing reformulation is easily achievable.

Even the highest waffle sold in a supermarket – the St Pierre Belgian Waffle with Butter – had less than a quarter of the calories of the highest waffle sold in restaurants and cafes.

The other high-calorie products included Tesco’s plain 100g pretzel with 293kcal and The Original Waffle Co’s traditional Belgian Liege Chocolate Waffles with 280kcal.

But hasn’t the government been targeting these goods with its obesity plans?

Yes, they are all included in the Morning Goods category of the Government’s sugar reduction strategy to tackle childhood obesity, except for pretzels.

But for the first year of the sugar reduction progress report, a large proportion of products from that category lacked sufficient data for robust analysis by Public Health England, said Action on Sugar. As a result, reporting on progress or lack of it for this category was limited. 

What changes do they want to see?

The group wants the government to make it mandatory for the out of home sector to use calorie and colour-coded nutrition information on menus. And for reformulation, of course.

“It is absurd that supermarkets are forced to be as transparent as possible about what they put in their products, from allergens to calories, but when eating out we often have no idea what is in our food and drink,” said registered nutritionist Dr Kawther Hashem, campaign lead at Action on Sugar. “If companies continue to hide their nutrition information, there is little hope for consumers to find the healthier options.”

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