Thursday, August 24, 2006

Shifty Nutrition Labeling Practices May Give You More Carbs Than You Bargained For

One of the points I constantly harp on is READ YOUR LABELS to find out the nutrition in everything you buy to put inside that mouth of yours. It's the only way for you to know EXACTLY what you are allowing to enter your body right down to the exact number of carbohydrates you are eating.

Or is it?

I recently became aware of a shifty numbers game that the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) allows regarding nutrition labeling on your favorite low-carb foods. When you see 1g net carbs listed on a nutrition label of that low-carb product you have purchased, would you believe it is POSSIBLE that very same product might actually be closer to 2g or even 3g net carbs instead?

WHAT?! How can this be?

It's all in the rounding that the FDA allows companies to do with the carbs especially. When you are livin' la vida low-carb, you can come up with the net effective carbohydrate count by taking the total carbs and subtracting the dietary fiber and sugar alcohols.

For example, here's the nutritional info for a low-carb product:

Total carbohydrate: 19g
Dietary fiber: 8g
Sugar alcohol (i.e. erythritol): 10g

That would be 19 minus 8 for the fiber and minus 10 more for the sugar alcohol for a grand net carb total of 1, right? The unsuspecting low-carber might think that's low enough to eat TWO servings since that would equal a mere 2g net carbs.

But watch this...

According to the FDA Nutritional Guidelines on rounding (See Section II, #7), < .5g of dietary fiber or sugar alcohols can be considered zero carb because they allow them to be rounded down when the value is 0.49 or less.

So let's look at our example again:

Total carbohydrate: 19.49g (rounds to 19g)
Dietary fiber: 7.5g (rounds up to 8g)
Sugar alcohol (i.e. erythritol): 9.5g (rounds up to 10g)

When you take the 19.49g of total carbs and subtract the 7.5 for dietary fiber and 9.5 for sugar alcohol, you are left with a carb count of 2.49g net carbs, NOT just 1g net carb as the packaging shows and as you assumed to be true. When you add that second serving of this product that was thought to be 1g net carb, the low-carb product you just ate actually may have been a lot closer to 5g net carbs instead of just 2g. Whoa!

While that may not sound like a lot, compound that problem with EVERY SINGLE LOW-CARB PRODUCT you eat and you can easily see how those sneaky extra carbs that the FDA is allowing to be excluded from the actually labeling can quickly add up to a lot more carbs than you expected. When you are in the early stages of counting carbs, this is especially important to watch out for because even a few extra carbs may kick you out of ketosis and stall your weight loss.

Of course, not all low-carb products have this issue, but the rounding issue is a problem that you must be aware of and willing to deal with. I know that I routinely added an extra .5 to 1g of carbs to almost EVERY labeled product I ate when I was losing my 180 pounds in 2004 on the Atkins diet. It helped me keep from overconsuming carbohydrates that I did not need.

A word to the out for those shifty nutrition labeling practices!

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Blogger BillyHW said...

I'm also concerned that products with .49g trans fat may be able to claim they are "trans fat free".

They can just downsize the serving size used on the label till they hit the .49g magic number and voila.

For example, regular Kraft smooth peanut butter claims to be trans fat free but still has partially hydrogenated veg. oil in the ingredients list. And no one eats just one tbsp. of the stuff (at least not me!).

Let's say I eat 3 tbsp or something, I could be getting 1.47g trans fat! But who knows.

Now from what I understand, the actual amount of hydrogenated and trans stuff in peanut butter is very small, but it's a little frustrating how the labelling laws work.

The trouble is when you are dealing with such small quantities to begin with, it makes the roundoff error that much more significant.

I think they ought to change the labelling rules so that you can only round to the nearest gram when quantities are greater than 5 grams and that for anything less than 5 grams you should have to round to the nearest tenth of a gram.

8/25/2006 2:13 AM  
Blogger Psychic Grandpa said...

There are many misleading practices used by food manufactureres. Besides the FDA rounding rules, there are the "natural" and "fat-free" loopholes. I set up three web pages discussing some of these outrageous labeling practices:

8/25/2006 10:15 AM  
Blogger Science4u1959 said...

Excellent info, guys! Now everybody can read and learn what misleading practices are considered "normal". There's much to worry about - and more bad news is in the making, especially in the supplement market. Big Pharma is, more than ever, trying to kill off healthy supplements. We have to keep pointing out things like this and stay alert - for the benefit of everyone.

8/26/2006 1:39 AM  
Blogger Barbara Kellmann said...

Very timely topic, I was so mad yesterday in the grocery store, walking through the freezer section I saw "Sugar Free Cool Whip" I thought hmmm, might come in handy once in a while, so I looked at the label, and there were carbs, not sugar alcohol or fiber, but sugar I check the ingredients, and guess what was number 2???
CORN SYRUP!!! Yup, good old corn syrup, but they call it "Sugar Free" in big bold letters.
I was so mad I lost all desire for sweet, creamy, frozen foods, so thank you whoever makes that crap!

8/26/2006 2:49 PM  
Blogger Newbirth said...

I read labels to see if things have "partially hydrogenated" oils, high fructose corn syrup, and other things. I've had to switch to natural peanut butter because there's no brands withj trans-fat but without added sugar. (Peanut butter was one thing I was willing to compromise on because I don't like how the natural stuff separates.)

8/27/2006 9:59 PM  

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