Big Fat Lies

nuwanee —  June 25, 2009 — Leave a comment

By Nuwanee Kirihennedige, Nutritionist

Don’t we always go crazy about that “F” word? The word “Free.” Especially when it is combined with another “F” word like “Fat,” as in “Fat Free?” Every year, food industries come up with favorite, traditional food items branded with sinless naming: fat free, light, no cholesterol, low sodium, sugar free, etc. But do we really understand the terms used for food labeling? Do food industries really mean what they say on their labels? There are so many confusing terms and wordings on food labels that cause confusion and disregard to us consumers.

The truth is that there are FDA standards for foods label used by companies to market their goods. Such standards regulate what companies can and cannot put in regards to nutrient content in food labels. In a way, this is good news because food industries cannot just put irrelevant information and terms on the labels to confuse consumers; however, those terms can be used for semi-misleading messages to the some food products.

There are common misconceptions especially in the word “free.” The term “free,” “no,” “zero,” or “without” can be used on food products that are containing less than 0.5g of fat or sugar per serving. This means that if we eat 5 servings of fat free potato chips which may contain 0.4g of fat per serving (remember, anything less than 0.5g of fat can be labeled as “fat free,” etc), we have consumed 2g of fat (0.4g x 5 servings) from the supposedly “fat free” potato chips. Two grams of fat contributes to additional 18kcal to your total calorie intake. The same concept goes with labels like, “zero trans-fat” or “no sugar” that you see on the shelves in grocery stores.

For calorie labeling, companies can claim that if there is less than 5 kcal, again, per serving, they can label it “calorie free.” Let us assume that we drank a calorie free drink that contains 4.9 kcal per serving and we also had 6 servings (2 servings for each meal) throughout the day which means that we added another 29.4kcal to our total energy intake. If we continue doing the same thing for the whole week, we end up adding extra 205.8 kcal (29.4kcal x 7 days) per week. Do the calculation for a month, and you’ll see how such labeling can mislead the way consumers think about the so-called “risk-free foods.”

It’s the same thing in regards to “light or reduced fat” dressings on dairy products. We’ve seen some people eat twice as much just because it says “reduced fat” or “light” on the bottle of ranch dressings. If they eat more than what they used to eat, choosing a reduced fat item might not be working as it supposed to be.

The bottom line is that too much of anything is not good. We cannot abuse and take seriously the marketing labels of most processed foods. Instead, try home-made healthier alternatives if possible. This is one way of taking control of what you are putting in your mouth, as well as, those you care for. If, however, it is necessary to use such processed food items, consume in small amounts.

Table 1 is the summary of the commonly used terms on food labels and the regulations regarding the terms.

Fat Sugar Calorie Sodium
Free, no, zero, without Less than 0.5g/ serving Less than 0.5g/ serving Less than 5 kcal/ serving Less than 5g/ serving
Reduced At least 25% fewer than reference food At least 25% fewer than reference food At least 25% fewer than reference food At least 25% fewer than reference food
Low 3 g or less per serving N/A 40 calories or less per serving 140 mg or less per serving

Table 1: Summary of Common Terms on Food Labels

Reference: Stehlin, Dori, “A Little ‘Lite’ Reading.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/Fdac/special/foodlabel/lite.html

Big Fat Lies

Don’t we always go crazy about that “F” word? The word “Free.” Especially when it is combined with another “F” word like “Fat,” as in “Fat Free?” Every year, food industries come up with favorite, traditional food items branded with sinless naming: fat free, light, no cholesterol, low sodium, sugar free, etc. But do we really understand the terms used for food labeling? Do food industries really mean what they say on their labels? There are so many confusing terms and wordings on food labels that cause confusion and disregard to us consumers.

The truth is that there are FDA standards for foods label used by companies to market their goods. Such standards regulate what companies can and cannot put in regards to nutrient content in food labels. In a way, this is good news because food industries cannot just put irrelevant information and terms on the labels to confuse consumers; however, those terms can be used for semi-misleading messages to the some food products.

There are common misconceptions especially in the word “free.” The term “free,” “no,” “zero,” or “without” can be used on food products that are containing less than 0.5g of fat or sugar per serving. This means that if we eat 5 servings of fat free potato chips which may contain 0.4g of fat per serving (remember, anything less than 0.5g of fat can be labeled as “fat free,” etc), we have consumed 2g of fat (0.4g x 5 servings) from the supposedly “fat free” potato chips. Two grams of fat contributes to additional 18kcal to your total calorie intake. The same concept goes with labels like, “zero trans-fat” or “no sugar” that you see on the shelves in grocery stores.

For calorie labeling, companies can claim that if there is less than 5 kcal, again, per serving, they can label it “calorie free.” Let us assume that we drank a calorie free drink that contains 4.9 kcal per serving and we also had 6 servings (2 servings for each meal) throughout the day which means that we added another 29.4kcal to our total energy intake. If we continue doing the same thing for the whole week, we end up adding extra 205.8 kcal (29.4kcal x 7 days) per week. Do the calculation for a month, and you’ll see how such labeling can mislead the way consumers think about the so-called “risk-free foods.”

It’s the same thing in regards to “light or reduced fat” dressings on dairy products. We’ve seen some people eat twice as much just because it says “reduced fat” or “light” on the bottle of ranch dressings. If they eat more than what they used to eat, choosing a reduced fat item might not be working as it supposed to be.

The bottom line is that too much of anything is not good. We cannot abuse and take seriously the marketing labels of most processed foods. Instead, try home-made healthier alternatives if possible. This is one way of taking control of what you are putting in your mouth, as well as, those you care for. If, however, it is necessary to use such processed food items, consume in small amounts.

Table 1 is the summary of the commonly used terms on food labels and the regulations regarding the terms.

Fat Sugar Calorie Sodium
Free, no, zero, without Less than 0.5g/ serving Less than 0.5g/ serving Less than 5 kcal/ serving Less than 5g/ serving
Reduced At least 25% fewer than reference food At least 25% fewer than reference food At least 25% fewer than reference food At least 25% fewer than reference food
Low 3 g or less per serving N/A 40 calories or less per serving 140 mg or less per serving

Table 1: Summary of Common Terms on Food Labels

By Nuwanee Kirihennedige, Nutritionist

Reference: Stehlin, Dori, “A Little ‘Lite’ Reading.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/Fdac/special/foodlabel/lite.html

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