Lying Food Labels

Don’t believe everything you read on the back of a package.

by June M Lay M.S. • Member { View Profile }

Misleading labels was in the news again recently, so since Focus on the Tools was a recent tip of mine, and one very important tool in my program is "Read the Label" I’m telling my story again! Reading food labels is an important tool for us to use for our health and for our weight loss efforts. I also counsel clients to read beyond the package description and I always recommend to my weight loss clients to only buy foods, particularly treats and sweets (this includes muffins!) that have food labels. Ignorance is not bliss when we’re trying to lose weight. But do we always know what we’re eating even when the food has a label?
Maybe not!
Back in January of this year, The American Dietetic Association released this statement: Restaurant and Packaged Foods Can Have More Calories Than Nutrition Labeling Indicates". This indeed was the research finding published in their January journal.  They referred to both restaurant food labels that we read in chain restaurants, and packaged foods. I reported "The Lying Label" a few years ago, and well, the lying obviously continues. Let me clarify one point, the FDA regulations allow manufacturers a margin of error up to 20%. Doesn’t sound like much? Well over the course of one day, one week, heck one year, you bet it adds up.
The last time I discussed The Lying label, it was because a couple of my close friends called to tell me that my favorite evening treat was in the news and that the manufacturer had under-reported the calories per ounce. I was not surprised, and in fact I always add 20% to my calculations based upon the margin of error that manufacturers are allowed. It turns out that my soft frozen dessert contained approximately 22% more calories per ounce, so I wasn’t upset (Now why couldn’t it be less calories for once?). Of course this is a national company, which provides us with a label, so our chances are good that they aren’t too far off the mark. But, I do remember another example of a misrepresented label that was further off the mark, which initiated my original article.
One of my client’s brought in a label from a cookie to discuss its ingredients from a health perspective. After discussing the cookie for a moment, I asked her how satisfying she found the cookie to be, since it appeared from the label to be a very small cookie. She then informed me that the cookie actually weighed double what the label listed! My client did what I probably would not have thought to do at that time. She weighed the cookie! The label listed 1 serving as 2 ounces for 150 calories and the total ounces for the package was listed as 2 ounces (giving us 1 serving for the whole cookie). Guess what? The cookie weighed 4 ounces and at double the calories, it came in at 300 calories. The Lying Label!
What to do? There are a few things we can do for now, because what really counts is what we do on a regular basis, not the occasional unlabeled treat.
Learn How to Read Labels. The serving size listed may reflect a very small portion of the total package and most likely we are going to eat more that 1 serving. This is likely to happen with foods such as potato chips, where the saying "can’t eat just one" can apply. It usually applies to our non fat treats, which list the tiny portion sizes in small print. Non fat, low fat, and low carb, may not mean low calories!
Look for a National brand. Our cookie came from a health food store and was featured as a gourmet (mom/pop) health cookie. While all manufacturers are allowed to fudge about ingredients on a label for a small percentage, the national brands such as my frozen treat, are under more scrutiny. This cookie company probably lied about the calories per serving too.
Weigh and Measure Foods Periodically. This is really important if we’re watching our waistline (who isn’t?). When we weigh and measure, we are more likely to catch a lying label at least for its weight.

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