Thursday, April 10, 2008

"A Perfect Portion"

My wonderful wife picked these up for me from the cafeteria at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

Notice two things - the words, "A Perfect Portion" and the 75g size of the bag.

I imagine most folks when buying the People's Pantry line of "Perfect Portions" (they sell lots of different "Perfect Portions" - other nuts, jelly beans etc.) would assume that they were appropriately sized portions.

Now let's take a look at the back (click it if you can't see):

2 obvious questions here:

If it is a "Perfect Portion" why is it that the nutritional information is per 40g of the 75g serving?

How it it possible that the salt-as-a-second-ingredient, visibly-covered-in-it nuts only contain 1mg of sodium per serving?

The lesson here of course is that you've always, always got to read labels to actually know what you're eating.

In this case the "Perfect Portion" of nuts, if consumed wholly, would provide you with a perhaps not so perfect 460 Calories (more than a quarter-pounder at McDonald's) and who knows how much sodium.

[Given the sale of this product in a hospital, where some patients may well medically be ill-advised to consume too much sodium, I've taken the liberty of writing to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency who I hope might also take issue with the wording, "A Perfect Portion" on the front.]

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  1. I don't know how Canada does it, but in the U.S. the serving in the Nutrition Facts label is regulated by the FDA -- there's a list of NLEA serving sizes for various foods. The idea is that they don't want manufacturers to set the portion to be artificially big to make it look like it supplies a huge amount of "good stuff" (vitamins, etc.) or artificially small to make it look like it has a small amount of "bad stuff" (calories, sodium). So there may not be very much flexibility there.

    They might have hired an outside consultant for the Nutrition Facts label, someone who knows the rules and regulations (NLEA servings, rounding, ingredient order, format, etc.), which aren't simple, and that's the label they got back.

    As for salt being the second ingredient, obviously all the ingredients besides almonds are present in very small amounts. Salt is the "tallest midget" here, so to speak.

  2. Mark - even though salt is the "tallest miget" as you say, I can almost guarantee that there is more than 1mg of sodium for a 40g serving of salted nuts. That is clearly a labelling error and should have been reported to CFIA as Dr. Freedhoff has done. In fact, if it were truly 1mg of sodium, they could have just rounded the value down to zero and listed 0mg. Why would you even list 1mg? It doesn't make sense. And yes, Canada does have regulations for serving sizes but only when a nutrient content claim is present. Otherwise the serving size guidelines are just "reference amounts" (basically just suggestions or guidelines, not a requirement).

  3. As I have recently discussed with Yoni, this portion size deception is a big issue with me. Many "single serving" items will do exactly what this package has - put food in a package that people are likely to eat in one sitting, but have a different portion on the back. You'll see this alot on snack foods, in particular, chips.

    I vaguely recall where the laws for labelling are outlined (Somewhere on Health Canada's Website) because I've had to research it in the past, but I apologize that I don't have the time to dig it up. There are, in theory, similar guidelines here for "reference" or standard portions that are stated as being something to the effect of "what would usually be consumed" but portions are noted in larger and smaller sizes all the time and do exactly what you mentioned Mark inflates or minimizes the data depending on what they want us to believe.

    Cereal and bread labels are horrible for this and I don't know how it is allowed. They count on consumers on the whole to be oblivious to the details. I have a "label vigilante" class for my patients (I'm a dietitian) that addresses these issues. eg. "of course that bread has 8 grams of fibre compared to this bread having 4! It's 3x the portion size! duh!"

    yikes, neverending rant there, sorry :)

  4. Thanks for the heads up. I've gotten into the habit of reading most labels lately but can't remember if I've read any from a product that says "A Perfect Portion" or anything similar. I've lost 50 pounds in the last 8 months and have 58 more to go.