Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What do YOU think Wedenadays 6 - Nutrition Food Labels

Rain, rain, go away, come again when I'm done marathon training..... If you sing it out loud, the words actually fit the tune. I'm quite the Mozart right here. I must be a born genius or something :)

So let's dive right in shall we? This week's What do you think Wednesdays is a topic that has left me frustrated quite a number of times: Food Nutrition Labels.(image source)

While I appreciate the fact that American laws require all packaged foods to include a nutrition/food label, even on salads greens! - I often feel like I'm being tricked; like I'm being laughed at by all the fat cats in the food industry with their nice leather office chairs. (BTW in Japan, only a handful of items come with nutrition labels. So I do like the fact that in America, even water has a nutrition label)

I feel like the food industry is having a good laugh at our expense - the unassuming, naive consumer. A feat of legerdemain for the food industry to make us believe we are eating healthy... but I can hear them snickering now.

Why do I feel tricked? Well, according to this article by William Neuman in the NY Times, "official serving sizes for many packaged foods are just too small. And that means the calorie counts that go with them are often misleading."

Have you noticed this too? Like, a bottle of coke is 20oz. On the nutrition label, it says it's 110 calories.

"Great! Only 100 calories? I'll take it," you think.

But WAIT! upon closer perusal...
it says Serving Size: 8 fluid ounces = 110 calories.
And wait!
There are 2.5 servings in the bottle.

WTF. So that means.... there's double plus half... wtf I suck at math.... so that's 110+110+(110/2) WTF! I don't want to figure this shit out. How annoying is that! (the answer is 275 calories BTW)

So now, all of a sudden, that seemingly innocuous drink of 11o calories is a whopping 275 calories. That's 3 miles of running! Yowza. Just for a quick thirst quencher.

Another case in point: My beloved tofu.
One package is 19 oz, and it has four blocks of tofu in it. So I'm thinking, that's about 20 oz divided by four pieces, which is about 5 oz per block. Easy, right? Not so much.

The food label says each serving size is 3 oz and there's 6 servings per container. Huh? WTF? 6 servings? But there's only 4 pieces in there! WTF! And besides... 6X3=18 oz... but the box says 19oz.... WTF? So each block of tofu is how many grams of protein? Ok Let's see. If there are 6 serving sizes of 3 oz each, that's 18 total oz. 18 oz/4 pieces = 4.5 oz each piece. If each 3 oz serving has 7g protein, each 4.5 oz block would have 7+(1/2X7)=10.5g protein. And if 3 oz = 60 calories, each block is 90 calories.


I mean, who buys a 20 oz bottle and only drinks 8 oz? Why would I buy a tofu that's nicely pre-cut into four pieces, only to eat only 3 oz of the 4.5 oz block? WTF WTF WTF!
AND I HATE MATH! And I hate the fat cat food biz a-holes for making me do math! GAH!

Deep breaths. Deep breaths.

Anyway. So the above mentioned article goes on to say that "the FDA is now looking at bringing serving sizes for foods like chips, cookies, breakfast cereals and ice cream into line with how Americans really eat." Oh, you mean, you're finally realizing I'm not just gonna eat the 3 oz of my 4.5 oz piece of tofu? Well Congratu-freaking-lations! (insert sarcasm here)

Moreover, they are looking at placing the nutrition label in a more prominent location, like the front of the box, in hopes that there "could be a greater sense of public caution about unhealthy foods." Apparently, "If you put on a meaningful portion size, it would scare a lot of people." Furthermore, "To consumers, the serving size appears to be inconsistent and unintuitive... they have trouble trusting it." WTF! They needed professors to figure this shit out????? Wow. Um... hello, like, d'uh!

I mean... a serving size of granola is listed as 1/4 cup. Seriously folks? Who eats that little granola? That's barely enough to top yogurt with!
I mean.... I wouldn't be surprised to buy a carton of eggs, and have the nutrition label say "Only 35 calories!" only to find out later that the serving size was half an egg. Come on folks, get with the program. Stop trying to trick us, or make us USE MATH. meh.

Deep breaths.
Well sorry about the rant! I guess half the anger is that I really hate having to do unnecessary math calculations. But mainly, I just don't get why the nutrition labels have to be so darned misleading! When a serving of chips says 100 calories, it's easy to think that's not so bad. But when it consists of only 9 chips... come on now. Who can stop themselves at only 9 chips?

I'm not exactly a naive shopper or eater, so I'm aware of these things, and no matter how much I hate math, I actually take the time to figure it out. But I know my friends who take one quick glance at the label and decide it's "low-calorie" only to eat the entire package, not knowing the entire package is 2.5 times the calories listed!

So bottom line: yes, I'm glad the FDA is finally taking their heads out of their asses and realizing they are kind of full of BS. But it took them 20 years to realize this...? come on now.

*end rant*

So what do you think about Nutrition Labels?
  • Have you ever feel like you've been tricked?
  • What kind of changes would you like to see?
  • Do you think this kind of effort is too little too late in the fight against obesity?
  • Do you hate math too? :)


  1. Seems like the latest in the line of people needing to take charge of their own life/ health. Educate yourself and utilize a common sense approach. Don't be distracted by the blizzard of influences.

  2. I totally agree with what you are saying!!

  3. I'm with ya sista! I calorie count like a mo-fo while I'm training and it gets so tedious! I want to eat 110 calories without doing math and portion sizing thankyouverymuch!

  4. rant away..i totally agree!! I am glad to see that they are hopefully going to be doing something about it but it is just rediculous and i don't do math!!

  5. I've always liked math and have since become quite the mathematician when I started really reading nutrition labels. Portion sizes are really out the yin-yang, and I'm TOTALLY with you on 1/4 C of granola for a serving. Really? I'm hoping more for like a 2 C serving size.

  6. You have to remember, as an athlete, you're the minority, so you can afford to eat a whole package of tofu or whatever it is. But the majority of Americans should be eating just one serving size... obesity is a real problem.

    If they increase serving sizes on labels, that will just justify eating more... not a good idea with the percentage of folks who are overweight.

    I agree some nutrition labels need to be changed, but advocating larger serving sizes is not good for the majority.

  7. I read a lot of food labels, particularly for cereal. The serving size is all over the map -- 1/2 cup, 2/3 cup, etc. But equally as important as the volume of the serving size is the weight of the serving size. I bet the 1/4 cup of granola weighed more than 2/3 cup of Kashi Go Lean Crunch. It can be baffling.

  8. As a Dietitian/Nutritionist - I can't say I ever feel "tricked" by labels, but OOF - I hate doing the math too!! That TOFU packing - with the 4 blocks but the 3 oz svg size? Thats RIDICULOUS.

    Serving sizes are based off of what counts as a "serving" for a food group. For instance - with most meat/poultry products, 4 oz is "one serving", and it is recommended to eat ~3 "servings" per day. So, yes, there is *some* reasoning behind it all...but I'm definitely more in agreement with you and on the side of consumers. It's ridiculous to assume that even half of consumers take the time to do the math.

    Ugh. Um, anyway. ha - i guess this is definitely a topic to be debated!

  9. Yes, agree! People don't realize how small a serving size is!
    Glad to find your blog and another Hawaii runner!!
    Come visit Mom's Best Bets!

  10. Wow that makes me sick! I never realized how much of a trick it is. I dont understand why they just cant make it a serving size or actually put the amount of calories is in the bottle. There is a serious problem that NEEDS to be addressed! I couldnt agree with you more!

  11. Great Blog! This is important stuff! Couldn't agree with you more!



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