Tricky Nutrition Labels

I hate how marketers use the nutrition labels to display unrealistic information. They are following the rules sure, but the biggest thing they love to do is make the portion size so small they can put a big fat zero for everything. You are thinking silly am I being? (Yeah I love Yoda, so what)

Take this example. Pam spray, which is an oil, has zero calories. This is oil, pure oil, nothing else. Oil has 9 calories per gram, so they make sure that the hole size on the can does not spray out more than 1/18th of a gram in a third of a second so they can round the half down to zero. Then they tell you the serving size is a third of a second of spray. Well I spray about 2 seconds to cover a small 6″ pan to cook an omelet, maybe it is more like 1.62 seconds on further reflection. So let’s see, 6 times zero, oh that’s easy, zero. I am sure marketers are telling the food engineers, packaging engineers, and whoever else is involved to come up with certain numbers. Gosh if you could just make this 5 calories per serving then people will write it off as nothing but if you have to put 13, then we are not only going to lose those people that read labels for weight loss but anyone that is supersticious as well. Oh, well that is easy the group of engineers says, we just replace 15% of the sugar with erythritol and cut the serving size in half.

Now I am willing to bet there are much worse things going on than the simple serving size example of Pam spray. I have no proof, but if I thought of it after thinking about it for a total of say a few minutes then certainly someone in a position to do something about it could have. And one of them probably did it. So what might they do? How about sending a batch of food for testing that is not the same as the one they sell. Now outright lying is probably not a good idea, let’s say they get a batch of avacados for their guacamole that are not so creamy. They grew in less than idea condition or were picked too early or something and they have less fat content than the norm. Well send this batch off to test for the labels and voila, we have the lowest fat content in our guacamole of all the leading brands. There is variance in all foods that grow, it can be seasonal, it can be a bad area or bad farming techniques or just bad weather that year. It would be easy to alter the content of a test batch to get the results desired. Even if by accident this will be happening all the time. This is part of why buying your herbal remedies is frowned upon, no matter what you think you are getting if you are not going with a company that actually has to charge more to do it right, then you are getting junk quality, which is certainly not what they sent in for testing. We are talking billions of dollars in this business every year.

So now for one other example. Weight Watchers points is the perfect example. I did weight watchers way back when and got the little slider to figure out the points of a meal. Well, the handy dandy pocket slider tool was not something I was going to carry around. So I figured out the formula.

ww_points = (calories – 20 – 10 * fiber_grams + fat_grams * 50 / 12) / 50

So there are a few things to notice about the formula, first off each 50 calories is a point once you are past the free 20 calories and the fiber and fat modifiers. If you calculate 5 items separately you get an extra 100 calories. This is not only silly, but the Weight Watchers tells you to do the whole meal not item by item. Another thing to notice is that you get bonus calories for the fiber. It is supposed to stop at some number but I cannot remember what, I seem to recall 4 grams. It would depend on how much food you are talking about I think. You can’t just add fiber to a yogurt until it reaches 0 points and then suffer the abdominal pain, you can only count so much per item. If you are doing the calculations for an entire meal then obviously the limit would be higher and 4 grams would not be enough, but then who knows. I don’t use the program anymore so I am not going to look it up again. It should be very clear that if you are designing a meal to be labled with the weight watchers points you could easily do some things to make it look better. That is by reducing portion size to round down. Points were not meant to be broken apart.

Now for the product we are going to pick on. Progresso Soup, I have two cans, one each of Light Italian-Style Vegetable / Light Chicken Noodle. The label says 0 / 1 points and 60 / 70 calories. All of this is per serving of course. The serving size is 1 cup which is 242 grams/236 grams. Yeah, each soup weighs a different amount. The label says about 2 servings on both.

<<About?>>, what the hell!

Who is going to open a ready to serve can of soup and not eat the whole thing. It appears to be 120 or 140 calories which is not too many calories for anyone, so just put 1 serving on the darn label guys. Each can of soup has 524 grams in it. So the actual servings in each can is 2.17 / 2.22. I wish I could pay my taxes like this. $3225 tax bill is about $3000. Better yet let me pay about $125 every two weeks from my check and wind up paying $100  x 26 times.

So each can has

veggies: calories = 130, fiber = 9g,fat = zero of course,

chicken: calories = 155, fiber = 4.4g, fat = 3.3g

If you ate a can of soup for lunch you think you either had 0 points or 2 points if you just read the label, or you would probably assign the whole can of veggies 1 if you had any sense that they were tricking you. But in fact you would be eating 2 points for the veggie, or slightly under if you were not willing to round up, and 3 points if you appropriately round up the number for the chicken noodle. And if you just ate the soup every day for lunch thinking it was two servings and therefore 120 /140 calories, you would be surprised to learn that you ate an extra 3650 / 5475 calories during the year. Yeah I am using their “skewing data” techniques against them but they do it all the time so they can’t really complain that I am now can they?

Now all said and done I love the soup and didn’t buy it because of the weight watchers points or the exact calorie counts. It simply lets me fill up on soup and eat my crackers too. An easy way to get a meal under 400 calories is all I am shooting for when I grab a can.

So what can we take away from this? Besides the fact that I am long winded? One should always take advantage of a poor situation. I do this by math exercies in the store as I shop to work my way through all the obfuscation and to stay sharp so I can live longer.

Oh and another thing. Let’s all force the beer and wine and hard liquor companies to put the nutrition labels on their product too. It is, after all, something we ingest, although using the word nutrition is kind of an oxymoron.

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