This is a guest blog post by Andrea Simon.
I’m a compulsive food label reader. I’m that girl you see standing in the aisle at Trader Joe’s with a jar of applesauce in each hand, analyzing one’s nutrition facts against the other. Sometimes I get stares—it doesn’t bother me. This is a habit I started when I first began losing weight, at the time, only concerned about the amount of calories in an item. Now, I look for other factors too like which product has more fiber, less total fat, more monounsaturated fat, higher vitamin content, etc., but I’m not gonna lie…the calories are still important! I have a rule that I’ve pretty much lived by for the past year: if the calories are too high, it doesn’t make it in the cart—it’s as simple as that. This way I make sure I don’t keep foods in my house that could be potential stumbling blocks for me. You wouldn’t believe the world of difference this simple concept can make. Because of my compulsive food label reading, I also notice right away when a sneaky food manufacturer tries to pull a fast one on me. Case in point:
Y’all know I love Special K, right? Especially the Blueberry kind…MMmmm…Well, ever since I’ve been eating Blueberry Special K it has always contained 100 calories per serving. (SN: A serving of Special K is 3/4 of a cup, which really isn’t a whole lot when you think about the average size of a bowl of cereal<—Another prime example why you should read your labels!) Recently, however, I picked up a box and noticed that the label now says 110 calories per serving.
I know it’s a measly 10 calories that I could probably burn off simply by typing this post, but I gotta be honest, I was a little ticked. Not so much because of the increase, but more so because if I hadn’t been as aware of the original nutrition facts as I was, I never would’ve noticed the difference…and I’m guessing the average consumer probably hasn’t. Plus, I’d always found it odd that Blueberry Special K had less calories than all of the other flavors (even though it tastes the best) and I couldn’t help but wonder if they were correcting a mistake they’d made all along. Hmm…food for thought.
Anyhoo, as you can see above, the majority of the changes made are positive like lower sodium and higher potassium and fiber, but on the contrary, the sugar content has increased. I will applaud Special K for one thing though; they put their information on the front of the box as well to make the consumer a little more aware, something I think is especially important for them since they specifically target dieters with their products.
Unfortunately, however, not every company is so forthcoming. Here’s another example:
I went to the store to purchase a can of diced tomatoes recently. I picked up two seemingly identical cans, with the only difference being one happens to be a larger can than the other.
But when I flipped them over, I noticed several differences in the nutrition facts.
Not only was one slightly higher in calories, but I noticed several vitamins had decreased, and as you can see Thiamine and Riboflavin are gone altogether on the larger can. Out of sheer confusion and curiosity (and because I think I’m just waaayyy too passionate about this stuff sometimes) I decided to purchase both cans and give the 1-800 number on the back a call to see what was up with the difference. I gotta be honest, the customer service rep I spoke with didn’t seem all that knowledgeable. I’m guessing she doesn’t get calls like this often. I could literally hear her shuffling papers, I assume for scripts, and she just kept averting my attention back to the fact that the company had been making efforts to lower sodium and make their product healthier, so the changes must be a result of this. She also looked up the labels and informed me that the smaller can was an older can and the larger reflects their reformulated tomatoes. Ok, fair enough. I applaud Con Agra for this change; lower sodium is always a good thing, but I’m definitely getting the impression from both of these experiences that as companies toot their horns for lowering sodium or other “frowned upon” contents, they’re leaving out the fact that they’re sacrificing some of the benefits as a result. I’m no food scientist, but if you’re eliminating one bad ingredient only to increase another to balance the taste of removing the first ingredient, is that really making your product healthier? Just sayin’…
I also feel pretty comfortable in saying that the majority of consumers don’t read their labels and just take what’s being advertised at face value. I’ve actually witnessed friends or coworkers, and even in the past I too have been scammed by products with big ads plastered across the front touting “Only 100 Calories!” then a tiny little “per serving” written underneath. Then when actually reviewing the serving size you see that one serving is equivalent to exactly one crumb of a cookie or cracker. Ok, I’m exaggerating—but you get the point I’m trying to make. Read your food labels. Not only will it help you make better choices by being aware of what you’re consuming AND the amount, but many food companies will only highlight the most positive information to present things in the best light, so it’s up to us consumers to stay informed for ourselves.
Happy label reading!
Andrea Simon is a former junk food junkie, turned health fanatic, who can effortlessly recite the nutrition facts of almost any food (thanks to her obsession with label reading and Google!). She is the author of Thin Thighs & Sweet Potato Fries, a blog about food, fitness, and healthy living in the South.
Do you spend time reading food labels at the grocery store?
Has simply reading the label ever saved you from totally derailing your healthy eating plan?
Have you ever had a similar situation where you noticed two identical products with differing nutrition facts?