Low fat! All natural! One of your five a day! No added sugar! Sugar-free! And so on, and on. Most of what we know about the nutritional value of food comes from what we see on television or read on food packaging.

But don’t be under any illusions: manufacturers want you to buy their products and if they think sales can be increased if they brand something as healthy, however iffy the claim, they will do so.

And recently a group of leading nutritionists warned that even basic kilojoule labelling is deceptive, meaning that many people are eating more kilojoules than they think.

‘There is a lot of misinformation around [kilojoules], and it is crucial for the consumer, whether they are on a diet or not, to have the correct information about what they eat,’ says Professor Richard Wrangham, of Harvard University. He says the public was being given ‘erroneous information about the energy value of many foods’.

And that’s presuming people carefully read nutrition information, which most of us do not have the time to do. Then there are the issues of food additives, portion sizes, hidden sugars and basic, natural presumptions (fruit’s good, right? Yes, but…). It’s a food minefield, so let WRA take you safely through it:


Olive oil – Olive oil can help reduce bad cholesterol and improve your immune system, but pouring it over every salad and adding it to every dish is a bad idea, as each tablespoon contains nearly 500 kilojoules. So just four tablespoons of olive oil adds up to almost a quarter of a women’s recommended daily KJ consumption. Go easy.

Fruit juices – Would you eat three oranges in one go? Probably not, but a 250ml glass of 100 per cent orange juice, made from the juice of those same three oranges, contains around 460 kJ.

Dried food – When you take the fluid out of food to produce dried fruit you increase its calorie content. So, avoid eating heaps of dried fruit, as it is very easy to consume half of your recommended daily amount of kilojoules in just one snack.

Nuts – They’re healthy – a great source of protein and plant oils – but they are very calorific. Limit yourself to one or two tablespoons at once to ensure that you stay within your daily allowance.

Spreads – Nutella and peanut butter are marketed as healthy, and although they contain high levels of protein, they also contain more kilojoules than jam. One teaspoon (10g) of peanut butter contains 259 kJ.

Banana – Bananas pack a huge nutritional punch, but one medium banana contains 418 kJ. To burn those off you’d need to run for about ten minutes.

Yogurts – You might be surprised to see yogurt on the list, but with the large variety available on supermarket shelves you need to take care when you make your choice. A small pot of yogurt can contain up to 1046 kJ.

Breakfast cereals – Despite the many campaigns to make breakfast cereals healthy they still contain a lot of calories. The recommended portion size is 30g, which contains 460 kJ calories. By increasing your portion size to 50g you increase your calorie intake by 313 kJ per portion.

Smoothies – As with juices, it’s very easy to increase your kilojoule intake with smoothies. By combining milk, fruit, vegetables and protein powders, you can easily hit 2000 kJ plus. If you use a smoothie as a meal replacement you will be fine, but there’s a good chance the Kilojoule content will be too high for a snack.

Salad dressings – Some salad dressings can increase the kilojoule content of a healthy meal to more than that contained in a hamburger with chips. Three teaspoons of salad dressing can contain 350 kJ and there are more than three teaspoons in the pots of salad dressing that come with supermarket salads. Choose your salad dressing with care and use it sparingly.

Words by Anne-Marie Lategan