The Greggs diet: is a ring doughnut much healthier than a jam one?

Doughnut and tape measur

 ‘Choosing a ring doughnut is the better option, but that doesn’t justify eating more of them or eating them on a regular basis.’ Photograph: Ian Hooton/Science Photo Library

At a recent childhood obesity conference, Roger Whiteside, the chief executive of Greggs, pointed out that ring doughnuts “are between 200 and 300 calories; the ball doughnuts are between 300 and 400 calories”. In lieu of a dream “diet” doughnut, Greggs has a different tactic to encourage healthier consumer choices. Its lower-calorie doughnut is simply a ring version that it will display more prominently than the heftier custard, jam or chocolate doughnuts.

The Greggs website clarifies his figures. A 245-calorie Greggs jam doughnut has 12g of sugar and 10g of fat. Its glazed ring doughnut has more sugar – at 13g, thanks to the glaze – but marginally fewer calories, at 191, because it is smaller. It compares better with the triple chocolate doughnut, which weighs in at 341 calories and 29g of sugar. Don’t be fooled by Greggs’ ring doughnut dripping in icing and sugar strands – coming in at 263 calories, it has more than twice as much sugar as the jam version.

There has been ridicule. Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City, University of London, told the Sunday Times that the move was “a bit of a joke”.

But isn’t the calorie maths right? “First and foremost, we should be encouraging healthier snacks over things like doughnuts,” says Samantha Gill, a dietitian and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association. These could include dried fruit, mixed nuts and seeds if you’re out and about, or hummus with carrot sticks or apple with peanut butter if at home. “But we need to be realistic,” Gill says. “Enjoying your favourite treats in moderation is fine and often more sustainable – if you deprive yourself of something, you often crave it more. Therefore, including occasional treats is more realistic for people. Choosing a ring doughnut over a jam doughnut is the better option of the two, but that doesn’t justify eating more of them or eating them on a regular basis. It’s all about moderation and balance, and ensuring lots of variety and diversity from all the food groups.”

Removing the centre isn’t a new idea – Pizza Express serves lower-calorie pizzas with a hole in the middle filled with salad. The holes in Greggs’ doughnuts are filled only with a deep longing for custard.