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Do you trust nutrition facts?

Are they reviewed or monitored at all, or done on a faith basis by the manufacturer? I have a jar of Trader Joe's Queso Dip in the pantry that I bought on a lark (it does indeed have that wonderful taste of stabilizers that stadium nacho cheese has); but it cites only 15 calories per 2 tbsp - the main ingredient is still cheese (well, frankencheese). I really want to believe it and eat the whole jar with a spoon, but something tells me that someone made a mistake along the line (it also sites less than 0.5% DV fat and 0.0% saturated fat on the label).

I see potential mistakes like this on imported ethnic food a lot (my favorite was a delicious shelf stable saag paneer who's second ingredient was salt, yet cited 0 mg salt).

So yeah, should I be skeptical?

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  1. I'm skeptical by nature, but I can't accurately assess the nutritional information on food labels since I don't have a home lab, and I wouldn't know what to do with one if I did. So I try to eat mostly un-messed-with foods and hope for the best. It's hard to conceal fat and sodium inside a head of broccoli (but maybe not impossible - I'm watching you, broccoli!).

    It's likely that your Queso Dip has so few calories because it's mostly water. If you drop a pat of butter in a glass of water, you get a product that is 98% fat free. Dieters take note.

    1. An important thing to keep in mind with packaging information is creative math. Manufacturers will make serving sizes very small, then round the decimals down. Therefore, a .25-second spray of Pam, which is simply oil, emulsifiers and propellant, can be rounded down to 0 grams of fat, and advertised as "fat free." I have never been able to cover any size pan in .25 seconds, so I'm using several servings at a time. I've never really thought about enforcement issues with the nutrition facts... I just assumed since it's printed right there on the label, someone must be checking these things.

      1. As a former wholesale food producer, I can defiantly speak from a place of experience on this topic, and my business was canadian based so these facts may be different than those in the US, but for the most part you should be skeptical of the nutritional facts yes, and even the ingredient lists!

        Unfortunately there really is no overseeing body which regulates what a company puts on their packaging UNLESS a complaint is made. There are guidelines, yes which must be followed, and a proof of packaging must be approved by the national organization in my case it was the CFIA... BUT they do not assess if your nutritional panels are even logical compared to your ingredient listing, nor do they enforce lab testing for accurate nutritional information. Many many producers use software programs to determine nutritional contents (and having done so myself) I can tell you this job is incredibly subjective to many factors. including relying on nutritional facts from many other producers created in a similar fashion, in the case of my products which were bakery items.

        Above and beyond all this, the framework of the nutritional panel and reporting is a bit of a game too, in that an item for example can be called transfat free or fat free if it contains less than .5g of transfat or fat per serving. As mentioned above the serving size is so often ridiculously small it isn't really a serving at all.

        Basically it's a bit of a crap shoot. Having come from the industry, I can only say that I find it appalling that our governments don't enforce safe food, and transparent food labelling.
        After all.. you are what you eat! but what the heck are you eating???

        2 Replies
        1. re: CookieGal

          CookieGal - I'd be very interested to get your thoughts as an ex-industry insider on this thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/688317

          1. re: BobB

            good thread Bob,

            I wish more people were talikng about these things, and questioning who is overseeing the foods we eat.

        2. Where I am, food labelling is an inherent part of the contract between producer, seller and consumer. As such it would generally be regulated by consumer law and, as such, I would generally trust it.

          9 Replies
          1. re: Harters

            where is that?

            1. re: CookieGal

              I'm in the UK.

              1. re: Harters

                Really? Buying any inexpensive pinot noir lately?

                1. re: FrankD

                  Eh?

                  1. re: Harters

                    This, I think:

                    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...

                    1. re: small h

                      That was a French company scamming a buyer in the US, what does that have to do with buying wine in the UK?

                      1. re: BobB

                        Assuming that this is what FrankD is referring to, then I agree. Not only does it have nothing to do with wine buying in the UK, it doesnt have anything to do with how we deal with nutrition facts on food labels here (which is the subject of this topic).

                        It seems a most amazing story though - thanks for the link. That a bunch of French criminals can scam the obviously incompetent buyers of a major US company such as Gallo. And that the scam is discovered not by any quality control that the company might have had, nor from complaints from customers, but as a result of investigations by the French police.

                        1. re: BobB

                          <That was a French company scamming a buyer in the US, what does that have to do with buying wine in the UK?>

                          Not a damn thing. But Harters wondered what FrankD was talking about, and I knew what FrankD was talking about. So I provided the link.

                          1. re: small h

                            I know - my question was really addressed to FrankD.

            2. Would someone in the know please address the "one size fits all" DV? I cannot understand how iron or Vitamin C or choose any other nutrient can be identical for all categories of humans, i.e. infants VS pregnant women VS geriatric males, etc. The old RDA used to break out categories for differing groups but this was deemed to difficult for Joe Sixpack to understand so it has been dumbed down. Who/how was this new data decided? Have nutritional the totals been added together and divided by the total number of former categories to find a DV which suits all pregnant geriatric male infants?

              From time to time, I do see a breakout for a special category, but this is very much the exception and not the norm.

              Since there is no DV/RDA for sodium, how are the percentage figures calculated? ESSA (estimated safe and adequate) ought to be identified as such if that is what's used for sodium.

              I bought some rice crackers at Trader Joes a while back and was astounded at the nutritional information on the side of the package. I telephoned their headquarters and was told, "Yes it is am error. Those numbers are for a different size cracker. When we use up all the packaging bags we have now, we'll correct it". With that candor in mind, I pay little attention to the very few packaged products that I buy assuming the information to be flawed in some manner.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Sherri

                The % DV on the label is based on a 2,000 kcal diet for a person with no special dietary needs. The "special" RDA's/DV/calorie needs still exist (e.g. for pregnant women, teenagers, etc), they're just not expanded out on the standard nutrition facts label. Sodium for most adult Americans is supposed to be no more than 2,400 mg, which is what is used to calculate %DV.

                If you haven't seen this FDA in-depth look at the food label before, you might find it useful to read: http://www.fda.gov/Food/LabelingNutri...

              2. First of all I believe they're allowed like a 20% margin of error in the U.S. That could be wrong, but it's something like that. Then, too, as others have pointed out, they can tinker til the cows come home with serving size in order to come up with the magical "fat free" or whatever designation.

                I look at the ingredients, see a fat listed, and can tell the product is not fat-free.... but hey, if I only eat 27 grams or whatever I can be pretty much guaranteed it has less then .5 grams of fat x a 20% margin or error, or... what? That's just one of the many reasons I prefer to cook my own food instead of buying packaged stuff-a-ma-food.

                1 Reply
                1. re: visciole

                  bravo!