Friday, January 25, 2008

How Food Labels Try To Trick You

This lesson was one of my favorite nutrition classes to teach. All of my clients were trying to lose weight so it was a re-education for them. It was eye-opening for me and for them too. I hope it gives you new eyes on reading labels and what they really mean.
You May Be Eating More Than You Think

This article was emailed to me from Lou Siri,

Do you really know how much you're eating? When you check out the food label on your breakfast cereal or microwaveable dinner, you had better read carefully, or you could wind up consuming more calories and fat than you think.

The biggest mistake people make is not looking at the serving size. You might say, "oh wow, this only has 100 calories!" and eat the whole thing. But be careful, the package may serve four, which means you'd be eating 400 calories, not 100.

You can find the serving size listed directly under the Nutrition Facts on the food label. When reading your food labels, this is the first place to look because it influences all the nutrient amounts listed below it. The serving size is supposed to be based on the amount of food people typically eat, but this is not always the case. Breakfast cereals are a great example. A serving size is typically listed as one half cup or three-quarters cup, but most cereal bowls hold two cups.
Another place consumers get confused is the fat content. Less than 30 percent of your total calories should come from fat.

Unfortunately, we can't always rely on the advertised percentages to paint a true picture. Labels that boast "98% fat free" or "50 percent less fat" are misleading. The fat percentages on these labels are based on volume only. For example, if you were to take a bottle of water and put one drop of oil in it, you could say that by volume, that water is 99 percent fat free. Yet 100% of the calories come from fat.

The next time you're at the store look at the milk labels. One serving of 1% milk typically contains 100 calories and 25 of those calories are from fat. That's 25% fat, not 1%. To determine whether the food you buy is less than 30% fat, follow this simple procedure. Look at the label on a particular food. It will show the number of calories per serving and the number of calories from fat. Next, divide the calories from fat by the total calories to see if it is less than 30%.

Even if you find a food that has less than 30% of calories from fat or one that has no fat, be careful not to fall into the fat-free trap. It's a proven fact that people eat more than they should if it's labeled fat-free. Just because it's fat free, doesn't mean it's calorie free. Another potential problem with fat-free foods is the sugar content. A lot of fat-free foods have a lot of added sugar. Read the ingredient list. If sugar is one of the first things on the list, then that is what was used to replace fat. If you're concerned about your health you don't want added sugar in your diet either.

So what do the label claims mean? Below is a list of some of the common claims seen on food packaging and what these claims mean, according to the FDA regulations.

- Fat free = less than 1 gram of fat per serving
- Low fat = 3 grams of fat or less per serving
- Reduced fat = 25% less of the nutrient or calories than the usual product has.
- Light = one third fewer calories or the fat of the usual food.
- Calorie free = fewer than 5 calories per serving.
- Low sodium = less than 140 mg of salt per serving.
- Low calorie less than 40 calories per serving.
- Low cholesterol = less than 20 mg of cholesterol and 2 grams of fat per serving.
- Reduced = 25 percent less of the specified nutrient or calories than the usual product.
- Good source of = provides at least 10% of the daily value of a particular vitamin or nutrient per serving.
- High fiber = 5 or more grams of fiber per serving.
- Lean (meat, poultry, seafood) = 10 grams of fat or less, 4 grams of saturated fat and less than 95 mg of cholesterol per 3 ounce serving.

My favorite is the cooking spray "for fat free living". There are zero grams of fat and only 2 calories per serving (sounds good doesn't it?). Guess what the serving size is? 1/3 of a second! Think about how much you need to coat a small pan...
If you look at the ingredients of that "fat free" cooking spray it has only one - vegetable oil - 100% fat!


When I taught these classes I loved to use props; visuals. I would use this bag of Gummy SweetTart Bugs candy. The bag was always empty. Someone had fallen for its ploy.... :) Really....I dug it out of the trash can. ;) But right on the front of the package was this huge graphic star that said 'FAT FREE!!!!' Well of course.....It was all sugar!!!!

Now, hopefully, you too, will be very suspicious of the packaging. These food manufacturers want to deceive you. Otherwise, if you want to truly be healthy, you won't give them your business.

Take care,

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