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Calorie Labeling Tricks Rant

Instant noodles are one of my guilty pleasures.

Today I purchased a few of Nong Shim's "Bowl Noodle Soup"s, thinking they were only 190 calories a package. Turns out, each package supposedly contains 2 servings! I should have known it was too good to be true. Nissin does the same thing with their "Chow Mein" instant noodles.
How (and why) would you ever divide up a bowl of instant noodles? It'd be like cutting a hamburger in half or sharing a fun-sized bag of chips...which is fine, but is certainly not the norm.

While I've encountered this ploy before, I never imagined that a company would have the nerve to claim that a self-contained cup of microwave noodles should (somehow) be split in two. It strikes me as an unsavory way of conducting business. In other words -- what a dick move.

I know I shouldn't expect junk food to be low in calories. But I'd rather someone wasn't trying to hustle me into thinking it was.

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  1. One of my pet peeves for a long time, and especially now.

    1. I don't see where there's a hustle. I am looking at the label and it says SERVING SIZE 1/2 bowl (43 grams).

      Pretty much every label on every food item is the same. It tells you calories per serving.

      I think this is actually in compliance with the FDA rules. It would be unrealistic to expect every company to re-package every company to make only one-serving-per-package products. And some foods don't have a "standard serving size." What is a standard serving of cookies for one person? For some, it is an entire bag! And what nutritionists say should be a standard serving of protein - 4 oz - or a half cup of pasta - most people would consider a starvation diet.

      1. Welcome to Chowhound.

        It is too bad you think that product labeling, which has been in effect since the 1970's, is now somehow deceptive.

        Other than calling the clear labeling "an unsavory way of conducting business" and "a dick move", what would you suggest the product manufacturers do?

        5 Replies
        1. re: Cathy

          Well, this is a topic that comes up pretty frequently on these boards, and the issue is generally (as it is here specifically) not labeling as such, but wildly unrealistic "serving sizes."

          It's a widespread problem, affecting almost every type of processed food. Every can of soup on the market, for example, says it contains two or more servings when it makes one bowlful. I've seen kielbasa labeled with a "serving size" of two ounces - sure, if you're using it as a condiment.

          Yes, if you read the fine print and have third-grade math skills you can figure out what the total value of an ACTUAL serving would be, but I agree with Chii that it is an inherently deceptive approach to providing nutritional information.

          1. re: BobB

            Depends on the size of the bowl and the size of your appetite. My husband and I often share one can of soup, especially if we are also eating salad. Brian Wansink (Mindless Eating) has demonstrated many times that we define a portion based on what is physically put in front of us. It is the concept that makes the "small plate trick" work.

            I still don't see how it is deceptive. You look at a box of cereal which is what - maybe 14 oz? Surely you know that most people are not going to eat that entire box of cereal at one sitting. You must realize that it is more than one serving. So having the calories-per-box would be totally pointless. They tell you calories per serving and they define what that serving size is.

            I am guessing that you find this to be deceptive, then, only for items that are sold in quantities that appear to be small enough to be eaten by one person at one sitting.

            So I wonder what you would have the manufacturers do? Make everything in "one serving" sizes whatever that might be? You want to buy everything in tiny quantities? What an enormous waste of packaging that would be (and that's not 3rd grade math, that is geometry).

            1. re: Just Visiting

              I have no problem with things like boxes of cereal having more than one serving. Actually, it's quite convenient.

              But there's a difference between this: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia...
              ...and this:
              http://www.oppictures.com/singleimage...

              My issue is with self-contained "meal" type of items that are clearly made for a single person, yet are labeled as containing 2 or more servings. Nong Shim's noodle soup, for example, is packaged in a small plastic bowl that is made to be microwaved and eaten directly out of. The idea of a person splitting it up is ridiculous (especially if they're on-the-go), which is why I argue that the packaging is deceptive. And yes, there is a convenience benefit to instant single-serving meals.

              Something like Top Ramen would be a little different, because it's meant to be cooked on the stove and can arguably be divvied up.

              1. re: Chiisanahime

                I also have no problem with packages that are meant to provide more than one serving. My objection, as I said, is to unrealistic "serving sizes." Two ounces of kielbasa is maybe a 2" - 3" piece of sausage, at most. No one but a semi-vegetarian would call that a full serving.

                1. re: BobB

                  What's the weight of one hot dog (wiener)? 2oz per dog = 8 per 16oz package. Is it fair to call one hot dog a serving? I have some brats, that are 4/12oz package, or 3 oz (85g) each.

                  For comparison purposes is it better to give nutritional data for similar weights, or per packaging unit?

        2. I doubt it has anything to do with the calories and everything to do with the sodium content. The label probably also indicates that 1 serving contains about 50% of the RDA of sodium. So when you eat the whole thing, you'll get a lot more sodium than you would expect.

          They all do it, and if you really have to count calories or watch your salt intake, you learn to read the labels with a fine eye.

          1. Looks like 43g is a typical 'serving size' for instant ramen (1/2 block)

            http://caloriecount.about.com/calorie...

            This bowl soup isn't labeled as low fat, low sodium, low calorie or anything like that, is it? This type of noodle is normally fried, not baked. So there is more fat than you might expect. Sodium is typically high, though I typically use only half of the flavoring packet.

            There is a legitimate complain about unrealistic 'serving sizes' on many products. But that is as much a concern to people seeking calories (e.g. freeze dried meals for backpackers) as those seeking to restrict their intake. And it isn't necessarily a matter of manufacturers trying to hide something.

            1. I keep a close eye on labels for this reason...it can be so tricky. The only time I was seriously annoyed was after having purchased & eaten a small frozen meal for lunch only to discover afterward it was 2 servings. I believe it was the Amy's brand enchilada meal.

              3 Replies
              1. re: UTgal

                You were annoyed that you ate too much? :)

                1. re: paulj

                  LOL. Yup...I was on Weight Watchers at the time and totally blew all of my points on lunch.

                  1. re: UTgal

                    Been there, done that, bought the stretchy elasticband pants...

              2. The serving size was determined by RACC, Reference Amount Commonly Consumed. More on it here. http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/text/...

                So when you read a serving of a can of soup is half a can, it's because back in the 70's when these numbers were created, people did not eat a whole can of soup. They would share it and have a sandwich or salad with it.

                Same with the noodles. You may use it as quick meal and not suppliment the ramen, but to others it maybe like eating a pack of rice-a-roni for lunch. That's some thing to add to a meal and not neccessarily the meal.

                Culture changes faster than government.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Crockett67

                  The reg was first written in 1993 and has been amended several times (scroll to the bottom) - 93, 94, 97, 98, 99, and 01. To figure out what each amendment covered, you would need to read each Federal Register notice listed at the bottom. Not me. No way. However, I find it quite interesting that they used metric measurements, when most food in this country is packaged by what I think is called the avoirdupois units of mass (pounds and ounces) although the package often will also give the metric equivalent.

                  Anyhoo, the point is that the reference sizes were not developed in the 70s but in the early 90s when, I think, we were already losing our grip on portion sizes.

                  The reference size for a portion of soup (all soup, so I think that means as prepared and eaten, so it covers dried soups, condensed soups) is 245 g or 8.6 oz. So I went back to look up the size of the Nong Shim Bowl Soup (the OP didn't say what kind) and they seem to be between 3.3 and 4.2 oz. What puzzles me, then, is why it says two serving portions per package. According to the FDA reg, it would be about 1/2 a serving size.

                  1. re: Just Visiting

                    It looks like the bowl ramen has the same amount of noodles as the simpler instant ramen package, where 1/2 a 'brick' is a serving.

                    http://ramenrater.wordpress.com/2011/...

                2. A lot of those noodle bowls have a packet of oil that you're suposed to add- I just toss them. There's more than enough oil in the noodles to make the dish feel like you're not settling, and you probably save 100 calories or so.. I usually add bonito flakes and wakame, and some shreeded tree ears (black fungus) for crunch.
                  You're right, the 'serves two' for a single serving unit-dose dish is shamelessly deceptive- after all, they're packaging them as single servings..

                  1. A few years ago I started to really look at the labels of prepackaged/processed food. It was amazing to see the amount of sodium and the per serving amounts. The other day I looked at a personal size frozen pizza. They were on sale on the end aisle and while we don't typically buy these kinds of items, I was curious. Yep, this little pizza was two servings. We stopped buying most processed foods then and rarely buy them now.

                    1. i think if the product comes in a bowl, to be prepared in that bowl, as a convenience item, the calorie count should be for the food in that bowl. Unless the packaging includes two bowls.

                      1. Here's my take, based on the education I received from a man who worked a full career for USDA:

                        Instant noodles are fundamentally a carbohydrate product. Carbohydrate "servings" were standardized to one slice of bread. Therefore...one sandwich = two servings of carbohydrates. I would think a bowl of instant noodles should come out about the same.

                        Seriously...check your Wonder bread...I bet it says serving size: one slice. Breakfast cereal "servings" are equally small.

                        He could be full of it, but this explanation makes a WHOLE LOT of nutrition labels make a lot more sense.