Thursday, January 31, 2013

Just the facts? What nutrition labels hide

The old saying - "There's lies, damn lies and statistics" - has some truth to it. And today, I'm here to say Nutrition Facts fall into the statistics category.

I took out the pack of Kirkland Crumbled Bacon from the fridge and heated a tablespoon for an omelet I was making. While I was waiting for it to cook, I got to reading the recipe on the side for Linguine Carbonara and comparing it to how I usually make the dish.

I usually use 2 ounces of uncooked pasta per person, and this recipe called for a pound, so I'm assuming it will feed eight people. The rest of the ingredients are looking pretty good, a pretty nutritious dish, actually - until I saw how much bacon it called for: 1 cup.

For most ingredients and liquids, a cup contains 16 tablespoons. But some things that have a lot of air in them can fluff up and measure out differently. So from my measurement, 8 tablespoons almost filled up a cup, but not quite. So I decided to go by the weight the package said a tablespoon of bacon crumbles was, 7g. Well, according to, 56 g (8 x 7g) is approximately 2 ounces. On my kitchen scale, a cup of bacon crumbles weighed in at 6 ounces. If a serving is 7g, then why is Kirkland advocating a recipe that uses three times the amount that is suggested as a serving?

Moreover, I know a lot of families of four eat a pound of pasta at a sitting. Divided by 4, that would be 6 servings of bacon per person in this recipe. That's 12 grams of fat (6 saturated) and 1440 mg of sodium (about 60 percent of the daily value) just from the bacon.

According to Wikipedia, the Nutrition Facts label was mandated for most food products under the provisions of the 1990 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, per the recommendations of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It was one of several controversial actions taken during the tenure of FDA Commissioner Dr. David Kessler. The law required food companies to begin using the new food label on packaged foods beginning May 8, 1994.

The government's attitude is consumer beware: below is's suggestion for using the label.

The first place to start when you look at the Nutrition Facts label is the serving size and the number of servings in the package. Serving sizes are standardized to make it easier to compare similar foods; they are provided in familiar units, such as cups or pieces, followed by the metric amount, e.g., the number of grams.
The size of the serving on the food package influences the number of calories and all the nutrient amounts listed on the top part of the label. Pay attention to the serving size, especially how many servings there are in the food package. Then ask yourself, "How many servings am I consuming"? (e.g., 1/2 serving, 1 serving, or more) In the sample label, one serving of macaroni and cheese equals one cup. If you ate the whole package, you would eat two cups. That doubles the calories and other nutrient numbers, including the %Daily Values as shown in the sample label.
If anyone wants the recipe after all this, message me or comment below and I'll input it. Or use the one I published here previously:  It doesn't take a cup of bacon crumbles.

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