Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Do nutrition facts panels make weight management more difficult?

Honestly, how does anyone stand a chance?

So our dietitian Joanne Kurtz decided to buy some whole grain mini pitas.

Looking at the back of the bag she clearly saw that 1 serving was listed as 2 pitas which weighed 14grams and contained 40 calories.

Being a dietitian, and moreover a dietitian whose work involves helping folks with weight management (and hence someone who talks and looks at lots of labels), she knew something was fishy so she cracked out her trusty scale.

What'd she find?

She found that each pita weighed 20grams, that's 185% more than the 7grams it was supposed to weigh.

Of course that also means the nutrition facts panel underestimates calories by 185%.

So even if you're watching your calories, even if you're diarizing what you're eating, even if you're doing everything right, if you trust your nutrition facts panels and you don't actually crack out your digital scale to double check your labels, you might be eating more than twice as many calories as you had thought.

Nearly three times as many calories does not help with weight management.

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  1. good job in highlighting this issue (also with yesterday's post) - do you think it would be more useful to standardise on contents per 100g, as in Europe. It certainly makes it much easier to compare different products, I suspect that the "serving" stats suit the industry more than the customer

  2. Thank you for your blog posts - I am a TOPS leader and hope to do a program in the new year about reading nutrition labels - your last two posts are very helpful and insightful! Great work!

  3. So if they missed that, you gotta wonder what else they missed.....

  4. Oh man. That's not cool. The more time goes on, the more get further and further away from processed foods. I never thought I'd be one of "those" people. But I'm starting to think they are right.

  5. Anonymous8:03 am

    Well, this is an insightful read/annoying revelation first thing in the morning! I'd really like if you kept posting a series of these "let's bust out the scale and take a looksie" pieces back-to-back-to-back.

    - Jake (an email subscriber)

  6. Anonymous8:48 am

    Since the facts panel was so outrageously inaccurate, was it reported to CFIA? Seems that product so clearly mislabelled should be highlighted to the authorities for some enforcement action.

  7. Keith - yes standardization would help for certain. I'd also like to see on the front a calorie per package in big numbers.

    Anonymous, yes, the post will be forwarded to the CFIA.

  8. Anonymous9:08 am

    I agree with reporting to authority. Any which way you calculate it this bag does not add up. 200g per bag @ 18pcs should be 11g each; nope. One serving of(2 pitas)(14g) about 12 per container, servings?; nope. Sorry Haddad Bakery, you are fit-for-the-pit.

  9. I see a few issues with the label. The front of the package says it contains 18 pieces and 200 g. Hence 1 pita should be 11 g.
    The way the serving size is stated is very confusing. What does serving size 1 (2 mini pita) means?
    If there are 18 pitas in the bag, there can't be 12 servings in the container.
    This situation in unfortunate for people trying to manage their weight but can also be troublesome for people living with diabetes who try to calculate the amount of carbohydrates they eat.

  10. Chris9:44 am

    And why the hell does the French version of this thing's name put a capital initial on each word? It looks very strange, like a failed attempt at solemnity (by a barely literate person)

  11. This is NOT an issue of nutrition tables being unhelpful. This is clearly an issue of labelling incompetence on the part of this company. They have not properly listed the serving size or accurately listed the serving weight. The Costco product yesterday was the same - the nutrition table was a mess and did not follow labelling regulations.

  12. Damn. That is so frustrating! I'm with Beachbody Coach Will: this is yet another motivation to move further away from packaged, processed food.

    It does shed light on a mystery, though. I do count calories, and it seems as if my daily calorie budget for weight maintenance is lower than it ought to be. I seem to be eating more calories than I'm counting, and I've been trying to figure out why. I suspect part of the reason is that I'm sometimes underestimating in situations where i can't measure (like eating out). But I now wonder if part of the reason is that calorie counts on the foods I'm eating are inaccurate.

    Please keep writing about this issue, Dr. Freedhoff. It's important. Weight management is hard enough without inaccurate food labeling making it harder.

  13. Yoni, at this point I think those numbers would have to be dragged kicking, screaming, and bleeding from the back of the package. And then they'll still be inacurrate and and/or formulated using riddles.