This is a guest blog post by Richard Perlmutter, MS
I’d like to show you what food companies are doing to improve the nutrition labeling characteristics of their products. Having a special interest in dairy products, I’ll begin by using two brand name dairy products as examples.
1. ‘Removing’ Trans Fat
When Haagen-Dazs brand Vanilla Ice Cream was developed there was no requirement for labeling trans fat. Even though it has no partially hydrogenated vegetable oil which is the most common source of trans fat, the product does contain trans fat. It is a natural constituent of the butterfat in the ice cream. Approximately 3.5 percent of butterfat is trans fat.
Haagen-Dazs Vanilla has about 0.6g trans fat in a serving. In keeping with federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rounding rules, the amount is declared as 0.5g.
When the company developed its ‘Five’ brand collection of ice cream flavors it reduced the fat content, which also lowered the trans fat content.
‘Five’ Vanilla has about 0.4 g of trans fat per serving. With less than 0.5g, the amount of trans fat is shown as 0g. That’s another FDA rounding rule.
Perhaps not wanting to list trans fat was among the reasons Haagen-Dazs cut the fat in the vanilla and other ‘Five’ brand flavors.
2. Serving Up an Unusual Serving Size
Recently Stonyfield’s Oikos brand joined the ever growing ranks of Greek yogurt choices. For its single serving product the company chose the decidedly unusual serving size of 5.3 oz. Most other major brands are packaged in 6oz containers.
Why 5.3oz? The FDA sets the reference serving size for a large number of products. For yogurt, including Greek yogurt, it is 8 oz. For a single serving container the size may be as small as two-thirds of the reference size. In the case of yogurt that is 5.3 oz. It also equals one-third pound and 150g.
With less product in a container compared to its major competitors, Oikos has fewer calories and it can be offered at a lower price.
If a container size between 4 and 5.3 oz had been chosen, Stonyfield had the option of declaring either one or two containers as the serving size.
3. Slicing the Calories in Bread
The same guidelines that apply to yogurt also apply to sliced bread. If a slice weighs between a half and two-thirds of the reference serving size, either one or two slices may be declared as the serving size. But below a half, the serving size is two slices.
The reference serving size for bread is 50g. Bread companies appear to be very calorie conscious, and prefer to sell a lower, instead of a higher, calorie slice. The easiest way to lower calories is to cut skinnier slices. This has the secondary advantage of increasing the number of servings in a loaf.
It is hard to find pre-sliced bread with a serving size as heavy as the reference amount. Many have 25 to 30g per slice. If less than 25g, the serving size would be 2 slices. This is why bread slices are seldom less than 25g.
Unsliced bread is covered by a different rule. The number of servings is the number of 56g (2 oz) slices that can be cut from a loaf.
This makes for an interesting comparison. Consider two loaves of bread that are identical in size, shape and weight. One is sliced and the other is not sliced. If the slices are thin enough, the sliced bread could have almost twice the number of servings, each with half the calories, as its unsliced twin.
4. Avoiding a Disclosure Statement
Four hundred and eighty milligrams (480mg) per serving is not necessarily the most desirable level of sodium in soup. Yet for a surprising number of soups the Nutrition Facts panel has this value as the sodium content. The reason – to avoid having to include the disclosure statement ‘See nutrition information for sodium content’.
If a nutrition claim is made on the packaging of a food (‘Good Source of Fiber’ is an example), and that food exceeds the threshold level for any of four specific nutrients, a disclosure statement must appear next to the nutrition claim.
The four nutrients and their threshold levels (per serving) are: Fat–13g, Saturated Fat–4g, Cholesterol–60mg, and Sodium–480mg. The four are among the so called nutrients of concern that are included in Nutrition Facts. They are associated with disease, especially cardiovascular disease.
Disclosure statements alert consumers to high levels of ‘undesirable’ nutrients when the packaging proclaims the presence of desirable nutrients. In soup, sodium is typically the only nutrient of concern that is likely to exceed the threshold level.
Even if a serving of soup tastes better with more than 480mg sodium, the level may be reduced to 480mg to avoid needing a disclosure statement.
In summary: the Nutrition Facts panel was introduced to give consumers nutritional information about packaged foods and beverages. Along with its intended use as an educational aid, many food companies find ways to use Nutrition Facts as a marketing aid.
Richard Perlmutter is the owner of Abington Nutrition Services LLC which prepares nutrition labeling for products manufactured by food and beverage companies. He also takes an interest in seeing that government nutrition policy is in line with nutritional science.