Monthly Archives: May 2007

Serving Size

Everybody either knows somebody on a diet or is on a diet themselves. Why? Because the United States is one of the fattest countries on the block. While food labels have been standardized to make it easier to obtain nutritional information, I find them to be extremely deceptive and misleading, even if you are trying to do the right thing.

When I go to to the supermarket, I use the nutritional label to tell me some very important things. For instance, a breakdown of fat and vitamin content are available at a glance. But one of the most important pieces of information on the label is the calorie count. Knowing how many calories are in the food I’m going to eat helps me decide what food to buy and eat.

At first glance, that 6 oz can of tuna doesn’t look so bad. The label says that it contains 70 calories per serving. These tuna cans have been around forever and they are all the same size. It would never occur to me that the can contains anything more than a single serving. WRONG! Grab a can of tuna off your shelf and have a look. That 6 oz can actually contains 2.5 servings. Two and a half servings in one standard sized can of tuna… are they kidding? Who makes 2.5 sandwiches out of one can of tuna? I know that I don’t. Is it possible to buy a single serving 2.4 oz can of tuna? I’ve never seen them. If you do, let me know.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the food industry is largely responsible for making us fat. With so much information to sort through at the supermarket, why make us think anymore than we have to when selecting products. I spend part of my time comparing package sizes:

  • Is the 16 oz package a better value than the 36 oz package?
  • Is this brand name cereal a better value than this larger store brand package that I’ve got a $1 coupon for?

I also compare the nutritional content of multiple brands:

  • This can of tuna has more sodium but less fat than this can.
  • Which is better for me considering my current health situation.
  • These nuts have a lot of fat. Oh wait, is that good fat or bad fat?

With so many questions, who has the time to figure all of this out? Although the food industry is following the guidelines for nutritional labeling, something needs to change in order to allow us to make faster or fewer decisions during our busy lifestyles.Tuna cans are just one example but many foods contain more than one serving in a package that may seem to contain just one serving. Have you ever looked at a bottle of Snapple? That 16 ounce bottle actually contains 2 servings of 100 calories each. Does Snapple serve one serving bottles? I doubt it. Does anybody buy a single bottle of Snapple, drink half for lunch and the other half for dinner? Unlikely.

How about Ramen noodles? You know those small bricks of noodles that come with a soup packet. The package says: “Serving Size: 1/2 block of noodles with seasoning. Servings per container: 2. Calories per serving: 190.” Keep in mind that all of the other numbers double as well. The saturated fat is 3.5g per serving. But that’s 7g of fat per package.

The biggest, most shocking abuse of “serving size” was my visit a few years back to Boston Market. Along with lunch, I got a large brownie. Although this brownie was called “family size” it looked the size of a brownie you’d share with a friend. I don’t remember the exact details and this particular brownie and I can’t check it it on the Internet as it no longer appears to be available, but it contained something about 160 calories per serving. A quick glance at the label revealed. After eating the entire brownie, another glance almost made me lose my lunch. It contained, not 2, not 5, but 17 servings! That’s over 2700 calories in a large brownie. Even if shared, that would have been over 1350 calories. I’m not even sure how I would cut up a brownie into 17 even pieces but I think I’d look like an idiot doing that and taking the other 16 pieces at home to eat over the next week. If you ask me, we should be sending these brownies to starving countries to get them on their feet and give them a sugar rush in the process. That’s more calories than they probably eat in a month and will certainly hold them over for a while.

I’m convinced that the people who do look at the calorie content are indeed concerned about the number of calories in the food they eat. With so much information to process while shopping, why not make it easier for us by including the number of calories you would consume if you ate the entire package.

What I propose is a change to food labels. Right below calories but above “Calories from Fat” include a number for the “Calories in Package.” This number would contain the entire calorie count if you were to eat up the entire package, no matter how large the package is. The weight or volume of the package isn’t broken down into “per serving” measurements so why should the calorie content? Image for a moment if a 12 oz package said “3 oz” on the front of the box and you then had to multiply this number by the “serving size” in the box to figure out just how much you were buying. That would be nuts. Why should calories be treated any differently than package size?

For those that have ever sat down and ate an entire box of cookies, this change to the label might help talk you off your ledge. A standard 18 ounce bag of Oreo cookies for instance contains 160 calories per serving. There are three cookies in a serving and each package contains 15 servings. When you’re about to eat an entire bag of cookies, you’re not really thinking too clearly and need all the help you can get. Wouldn’t it be useful to know that you’re about to eat 2400 calories? Even if you might do it anyway, at least you’d know what you’re getting yourself into and it’s your decision.

I do commend Hostess and other companies for releasing “100 calorie packs.” This is a great start and you know exactly how many calories you’re about to eat. What you actually get in a package may be small, what do you expect? It’s all crap. What did you expect? You shouldn’t be eating it to begin with. But at least you’ll know what you’re getting yourself into.