5 Things You Didn't Know About Nutrition Labels

Apr 14 2017
We always stress the importance of reading a food's nutrition panel before you buy, but how well do you really understand those labels? Here are several surprising facts...

1. Nutrition labels are legally allowed to be off by up to 20% in the US.

It's true. The US Food and Drug Administration allows a pretty large margin of error on those numbers. So that 250-calorie snack bar could contain 300 calories. Don't let this info cause you to spiral into a paranoid panic! Stick with trusted big brands, for the most part, which are less likely to have inaccuracies. And don't depend too heavily on packaged foods. Fill your diet mostly with natural whole foods: fruits, veggies, lean unprocessed protein, healthy fats, etc. And if something seems too good to be true, it probably is...

2. Many packages that appear to contain a single serving actually hold two or more.

This one is frustrating. Who eats half a can of soup or consumes a candy bar in two and a half sittings? Exactly. And yet, most cans of soup and many small packaged snacks contain "about 2" servings. If you ask us, if something isn't packaged in a re-sealable container, it shouldn't be considered more than 1 serving. And on a similar topic…

3. The listed portion size is often way less than the average person eats.

When was the last time you scooped yourself a 1/2-cup serving of ice cream? It's totally inadequate! But that's the industry standard on labeling for packaged ice cream. Crazy, right? On a related note, any food with fewer than 5 calories per "portion" is legally allowed to list the calorie count as zero... but that portion is often unrealistically small. Say there's a zero-calorie condiment you love. You use it liberally because, hey, no calories! But if you use five times the given portion size, you could be adding 20 calories to your daily intake each time you use it. Case in point? A serving of nonstick spray is typically listed as a 1/4-second spray. How is it even possible to spray that quickly?! A 2-second spray has closer to 20 calories. HG tip: Always check the serving size, and do some math when needed.

4. For the most accurate portions, weigh; don't count or measure.

We frequently see serving sizes like "1 oz. (about 24 chips)" or "30g (about 3 cups)." And since it's SO much easier to count out some chips or use a measuring cup, that's what we do. But those numbers are just estimates -- hence the word "about!" The official nutrition information aligns with weight. If you want to make sure your snack's stats are as accurate as possible, whip out a food scale. We weighed several brands of popcorn and found many of the true serving sizes were much smaller than those estimates!

5. Changes are in the works for a label update.

FINALLY, some good news! Some of the issues we've discussed here today are being addressed in the updated nutrition facts label. For example, the industry standard for ice cream servings will increase from 1/2 cup to a slightly more reasonable 2/3 cup. Those soup cans? Packages that contain between 1 and 2 servings will list the nutritional info for the ENTIRE package. The emphasis on certain info, like serving size, will shift as well. Click to see what the new labels look like and what other useful info you'll find! Major food manufacturers have until July of next year to comply with the new label format. (Small companies get an extra year.) Yay, progress!

Chew on this:

Today, April 14th, is National Pecan Day. These Savory Cranberry & Cheese Bites are just what you need...

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