Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Ridiculous serving sizes at Costco

And unlike what you might expect, I mean small.

Thanks to our wonderful dietitian Joanne Kurtz I now know how many pieces to cut a Costco mille-feuille (Napoleon) pastry if I wanted to adhere to their nutrition facts panel's serving information.

Apparently the answer's 34.

Now I realize that the math involved in calculating calories in more realistic servings isn't all the difficult, but that's certainly not something the average consumer's ever going to spend time doing even if they do bother to read the label.

A wonderful example of why Canada's practice of allowing corporations to publish completely arbitrary serving sizes is an unfortunate one.

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  1. Great illustration. I am a Weight Watchers program leader and one of the biggest challenges our members have is dealing with reading labels and portion sizes. And, we humans are so great a under-estimating the amount we eat. Thanks for sharing the continued deception out there!

  2. Did you manage to stick to the serving size?

  3. But look, it has 1% of your RDA of vitamin A

  4. Thanks so much for those photos, it's eye opening!

    I didn't know that was the situation in Canada.

    Georgie Fear RD

  5. Anonymous9:11 am

    I wonder why they picked that particular number. 20g doesn't equate to any particular round number in ounces (it's 0.705oz). Usually a serving size for bread is about an ounce. And it's not like doubling it or tripling the serving would result in an unreasonable number of calories for something that would be considered a dessert.

  6. I wouldn't even touch this thing. It's got trans fat in it.

  7. I wonder if this is some kind of labelling "magic" to keep "servings" under 100 calories?

  8. Everything at Costco geared towards more than one person (serving). This should not be so surprising and that is the size that those desert 'should' be anyway so, what's the big deal.
    At least the information is there; people need to take responsibility for what they are consuming and read the labels.

    I hope that I do not sound too harsh.

  9. Theresa7:03 pm

    I'm betting the size is determined by the amount of trans fat. 0.4 in that serving.

  10. Anonymous9:15 pm

    That looks like a reasonable portion to eat of a desert that is essentially pure butter and sugar.

    I can't see the total mass from the label, but as long as it's evenly divisible by the serving size thats OK with me.

    1. Total mass as seen in the 2nd picture is 680 grams.

  11. Anonymous10:48 pm

    Great illustration of serving size (one portion). As AspdenL says, reading labels is so important - not just looking at the calorie count. This problem is certainly not unique to Costco or Canada... Carol

  12. Question... is the labeling system in Canada like the one in the U.S.? In the U.S. companies can put "0 trans fats" on the box, but that doesnt mean no trans fats. It means less that 1/2 gram.

    Is it the same way up there?

  13. Beachbody - NO, labelling regulations in Canada are not the same as in the US. In Canada, trans fat can be declared as "0" only if it is less than 0.2g AND saturated fat is less than 2g. This is based the serving size AND the reference amount (the amount CFIA considers a reasonable serving size). If saturated fat is more than 2g, trans fat must be listed to the nearest 0.1g on the nutrition table.

  14. In the United State there is a thing called an NLEA serving. This takes it out of the hands of the companies, but it's hard to please everyone. Do you make the serving what you think people really should be eating/drinking, or do you make it more realistic and cave into what people really will eat or drink so they'll see the damage, but at the same time assume that because it says that's a serving, it's O.K. to eat it?

    Here's how we explained NLEA serving at CalorieLab:

    Some of the food measures are followed by the parenthetical annotation "1 NLEA serving." NLEA is the abbreviation for the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, which, via regulations promulgated by the Food and Drug Administration, requires nutritional labeling for most foods (meat and poultry are exempted from the Act) and specifies the format and rules for such labeling. One of the improvements in nutritional labeling following the enactment of the NLEA was that portion sizes were subject to stricter rules: food producers were no longer allowed to define unreasonably small or large servings (to make the caloric content seem very low, or to make the nutritional content seem very high). The NLEA defines a serving as "the amount of food customarily eaten at one time"; the FDA, in its regulatory zeal, went on to define "Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed Per Eating Occasion" for 139 categories of food. These reference amounts are what is referred to by the phrase "1 NLEA serving."

  15. Wow. That's interesting. I'd love to know the reasoning behind all of this stuff. And does Canada mandate that GMOs be identified? The more I learn about the U.S. food industry the more confused I get, and kinda freaked out at the same time.

    Whats are all your takes on GMOs?