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Jan 16, 2012 09:31 PM

"Nutrition Facts" on Trader Joe's Items

Has anyone else wondered how accurate the nutritional information on the packages at TJ's is? I'm specifically referring to calories but maybe other things like fiber. I've wondered this in the past (they used to carry plastic containers of what I think they called antipasto with a lot of sundried tomatoes and olives swimming in olive oil, which was supposedly fairly low calorie). Now I have a package of Sesame Sticks where, even though the 2nd listed ingredient after wheat flour is soybean oil and when I put them down on a piece of paper, the paper was left with grease spots, the listed calories is 170 for 28 pieces, or about 6 calories each. This seems impossible.

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  1. I've wondered that about the calorie and carb amounts listed, too. There's often so much sugar in even their savory prepared foods...

    4 Replies
    1. re: ninrn

      I wonder who comes up with those numbers, an independent agency or the companies themselves...

      1. re: nandrew

        the company provides a list of ingredients and amounts, and the agency (not sure if it is federal or private) does some arithmetic to come up with the nutrition facts. i don't really understand it -- i used to work in a cheese dairy, and i have no idea how they would have used the recipe information to determine how much fat remained after draining the whey. i have been skeptical of nutrition labels ever since.

        1. re: yellowstone

          They use a consulting laboratory to run tests and provide detailed labeling such as this one:

          1. re: ferret

            the dairy i worked at told me there was no testing of the product, just a list of ingredients used (100 gallons milk, 2 tbsp rennet, etc) and then arithmetic was done based on the accepted industry values (an odd concept in itself) of the ingredients.

            as far as i can tell the laboratory above doesn't test products, it just takes ingredient and process information:

            the process i guess works in theory if you are using strictly commodity food ingredients (which in this case we were not) -- still seems like pretty broad estimates to me.

    2. According to, average/generic sesame sticks have 153 calories per ounce. 170 calories for 28 pieces seems reasonable to me. Systematic falsification of nutrition information would be deadly for company like TJ's, with a national presence and heavy use of store-branded products.

      1. the listed calories is 170 for 28 pieces, or about 6 calories each. This seems impossible.
        don't go by number of pieces to determine a serving, because there's variation in size & weight from one piece to another. weight & volume are more accurate measurements than size or number of units, so if you really do want to ensure that your portion sizes are correct, invest in a digital scale. it's an extremely useful tool, and there are several decent inexpensive models out there.

        as for TJ's, they really do try to provide accurate information. many years ago i stumbled across their tubs of crumbled goat cheese, and as i was analyzing the label i realized it just didn't add up - it was mathematically impossible for the number of grams of protein, fat & carbs listed on the label to equal the number of calories they claimed. i brought it to the attention of my store's manager, they passed the information along to corporate, and maybe 2 or 3 months later i noticed that the containers had new labels...with accurate numbers on them.

        12 Replies
        1. re: goodhealthgourmet

          Good suggestion on the scale--I do have one, so I'll try it. Also, I used to know the calories for grams of protein, fat and carbs--I'll look online and try adding things up too. Thanks!

          1. re: nandrew

            protein = 4 cal/gram
            carbohydrate = 4 cal/gram
            fat = 9 cal/gram

            and don't forget to adjust for fiber...some manufacturers subtract 4 cal/gram, others subtract about 2 cal/gram.

            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

              I actually did a double take when I saw what you posted about fibre. Then I googled it, and you are right that in some countries they don't count is as having calories! Man that's news to me. In the UK fibre calories are not subtracted from the total carbohydrate calories.

              ETA: Ah, ok, so I looked some more and I think it's just that in the UK the carbohydrates are displayed slightly differently or something. Basically they've already done the fibre calculation or something which is why we never bothered covering it when we briefly skated over what a calorie was in class. By the way that brief skating over basically consisted of looking at some food labels and proving they added up right. How fun! And sciencey right?! Well, we had a substitute teacher that day so I'll let it slide.

              1. re: Muchlove

                well i have a graduate degree in Nutritional Science and i make my living as a nutrition professional, so i'm kind of expected to know these things ;)

                it makes me so angry that nutrition education isn't a more important part of the curriculum in primary & secondary schools around the globe - many people would be a heck of a lot healthier if it was. (but that's a rant for a different thread...)

                1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                  For full disclosure I will reveal that the class in question was a science class and we were just briefly touching on the concept of a calorie when discussing energy.

                  Whilst I'm all for educating people about basic nutrition, I have to say I'm jolly glad that kids aren't having huge classes on calories in food in school. I can't think of anything more depressing than young kids being taught the fine art of weighing food and working out how many calories are in it. God I hate the thought of any human being, of any age, having to do that. You can eat perfectly healthy without analysing gram by gram like that.

                  ETA: This isn't any particular dig at you btw ghg, just a private shiver of horror.

                  1. re: Muchlove

                    i didn't take it personally, and i happen to agree with you. for what it's worth, the study of nutrition has very little to do with counting calories. and in fact, the better your grasp on the bigger picture, the less you'll feel the need to focus on crunching numbers.

                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                      I'm glad we are on the same wavelength. :) I am very interested in food and health, it's just that I'm not interested in the calorie-counting type version of "healthy eating"!

                    2. re: Muchlove

                      One way of determining calories in a sample is to burn it in a sealed chamber and measure the temperature change in a reference material such as water. That's a measure of chemical energy. I'm not sure if common food calorie count is based on that type of measure or not.

                      But that is not necessarily an accurate measure of the energy available when eaten. Some anthropologists claim that the invention of cooking increased the available energy in the human diet. They question whether conventional calorie counts accurately account for the differences between raw and cooked foods.


                      1. re: paulj

                        That is an interesting article, and it does touch upon one of the reasons I don't see the point of counting calories anyway. It also comes quite close to something which is very important to the kind of nutrition I am interested in - if you don't digest food properly, you don't get all the benefits of it, both in terms of calories and also in terms of vitamins and minerals. Hence why raw food, though it logically may seem to be "healthier" by some people's reckoning, is not necessarily so.

                        1. re: paulj

                          We burned food to measure chemical energy/calories in my middle school physical science class. That was almost 20 years ago, and I still remember it clearly. Definitely made an impact to see that little peanut burning away.

                      2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                        I've thought about starting a thread regarding Nutrition graduate programs and other courses of food/health study, but wondered if it would be taken down for not being "deliciousness-oriented" enough. What do you think, GHG and everybody else? Is that Chowhound material?

                        1. re: ninrn

                          it certainly is CH material if it's in the right context, and on the appropriate board (mostly NAF). here are some random examples of threads about everything from specific programs to reference books:

                          to be honest, there's not a very recent or really comprehensive thread about university programs, so if that's what you were thinking, i say go for it. i'll be happy to contribute what i can regarding my own experience, as well as any information i have about the other programs with which i'm familiar.

              2. So, on those Sesame Sticks, I did check on my scale and for the 30gm that was supposed to be one serving size there were only 22 varied sized pieces, not the 28 that it said on the bag. That would still only be between 7-8 calories per piece and they seem pretty greasy to me. I *hope* that's accurate...

                2 Replies
                1. re: nandrew

                  sounds about right. i looked up the complete nutrition info for them - if you add up the 3 macronutrients (protein, fat & carbohydrates), you end up with 29 total grams per serving. fat accounts for 12 of those grams, and the remaining 17 come from protein & carbs combined. so by weight, the product is about 58% fat, and 42% carbs + protein. hence, each stick gets about 4.5 of its 7.7 calories from fat (equivalent to one-half gram of fat), and about 3.2 calories from carbs & protein.

                  does that make sense, or did i just confuse you completely?

                  (oh, and just my two cents, but 12 grams of fat for a measly one-ounce serving of snack sticks? they'd better be awfully tasty!!)

                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                    Yep, that makes sense. And no, they're not tasty enough for that much fat (I had never had them before so figured I'd give them a shot). Thanks, ghg!