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Nutritional Label Accuracy

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Old 02-20-2010, 07:11 PM   #1
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Default Nutritional Label Accuracy

I don't really have a specific question but I thought maybe we could talk about nutrition labels and their accuracy. I saw two packages of similar rice mix in the grocery store the other day and their calories varied so much it got me thinking. They were both types of spicy jasmine rice. Their ingredients were the same and their portion size was the same at 1 cup prepared. One brand listed the calories at 240 and the other was 390! I started wondering if we can really trust the labels on our food. I wonder how they are tested and just how accurate they are.
I know labels can be deceiving sometimes. I gave an example on another thread how products can be listed as "calorie free" if they have less than 5 calories per serving. I used the example of the Becel Butter spray they talked about on the Tyra show. Each serving size is one fast spray and it is listed as calorie free. The product actually has four calories per spray and once you start thoroughly coating your low calorie popcorn, you may have added 40 or more calories from a "calorie free" product.

What are your thoughts about nutrition labels on food products as well as calorie counts on restaurant food? Can we trust that these items are prepared the same was every time and we are actually getting what they say we are? Should we always round up calories on our products? Do you think more information should be provided than what is currently required, like a complete nutritional analysis on every item?
I am not trying to be obsessive about calorie counting, I am just wondering how everyone feels about the information we are given about what we are eating. Can we trust it?
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Old 02-20-2010, 09:23 PM   #2
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I've wondered the same thing. Unfortunately I don't have an answer but it's a question in my mind. I recently read that the calorie counts on restaurant menus are often underestimated by as much as 20%. Kinda stinks for those of us who are trying to accurately count calories.
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Old 02-20-2010, 09:41 PM   #3
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Well, I definitely understand your frustration. I work in a bakery where our nutrition facts are accurate for a 4 ounce muffin, but I weighed our muffins and they're 6 ounces or more! It's made me more paranoid but then I look at other people and say, hey, they've lost weight! So obviously, calories are accurate. Restaurant nutrition facts are supposed to be averages, so you may be getting a little more or less. The simple solution is to just not eat out as much and round up when you do.

As for the rice, perhaps one's "prepared" content included the calories from the oil/butter/milk/etc that you're supposed to add. Pancakes are a really good example of this - the pancakes that are "just add water" often have fewer calories than the pancakes that you have to add eggs and milk to. Not always, of course, but oftentimes this is the case. Maybe one package of that rice had some type of fat already in the seasoning or something. Whatever the case, I think that's a lot of calories for one serving, could you make your own spicy jasmine rice by just buying the rice and adding your own spices?

Generally speaking, if you're worried about the accuracy of nutrition labels, don't buy so many processed products. Buy things that are more natural and don't change much from brand to brand, like fresh/frozen fruits & veggies, plain dairy products, lean cuts of meat, plain grains.
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Old 02-21-2010, 12:50 AM   #4
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It's ok if calorie counts are off, as long as they are off consistently. This is exactly why I think it's a waste of effort to spend a lot of time figuring out your theoretical calorie allowance, screwing around with basal metabolism estimators and trying to figure out how many calories you burn chewing gum. Even if you manage to figure that out with perfect accuracy, it doesn't mean you are counting the calories you eat properly. Scientific precision just isn't possible here.

I really think it's better to pick a number more or less out of a hat and eat what you count as that many calories for 2-3 weeks and then adjust--lower if you aren't losing enough, higher if you are losing too much or are hungry all the time. Even if you are counting incorrectly because of bad labels or because of bad estimating, your adjustments should move you in the right direction--you are responding to your body, not to data.
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Old 02-21-2010, 09:44 AM   #5
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I try not to get too worked up about the calorie differences, since it is not an exactly science anyways, there is just way too many variables. For foods that expand in water (rice, pasta, etc) I use the dry measure calculation. For combined foods, if I can guess the individual ingredients because I can see it clearly or I have prepared it myself, then I calc that way. But if I cannot tell (soups, stews, etc) then I look up a 2 or 3 calcs for the food and average it, enter it into my program as a permanent calc for the portion size.

I pretty much eat the same things everyday, and when I come across a new food, I enter a value and use it, whether it is accurate or not. The diet program I use has a huge data base and I can usually find something similiar enough to help me find a number and stick with it.

Restaurants are the hard ones for me. I will only choose single item type foods so that I can at least eyeball the size and amount. So instead of say an omlette, I will order 2 eggs. Pancakes are too hard to calc, but toast is easier. For dinner, I would rather have a steak and a salad than a mixed food meal like pasta, many menus list the oz of the steak so it is easy to count.

When I don't mix a drink myself, I stick to simple drinks like scotch on the rocks. I don't want to have to worry about hidden calories, so I keep it as simple as I can. But yes, nutritional labels often lie and the can be deceiving with the portion size. All foods and drinks have calories except water. All the ones that list 0 are just because they are under the wire for the count in the portion size listed.
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Old 02-21-2010, 08:21 PM   #6
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Generally speaking, if you're worried about the accuracy of nutrition labels, don't buy so many processed products. Buy things that are more natural and don't change much from brand to brand, like fresh/frozen fruits & veggies, plain dairy products, lean cuts of meat, plain grains.[/quote]

This is exactly how I feel. I personally try to make heathier food choices overall. Fruits and veggies no eating out and processed foods. I try not to even eat rice that much because its such a weakness for me lol.
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Old 02-21-2010, 09:24 PM   #7
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I do A LOT of home cooking, and have calculated the calories in my most frequent dishes. Even with these, I usually try to find several listings for the ingredients, and use the average of what I find, rounding up. You wouldn't believe the different values posted for something as simple as a cucumber.

As for labels on packages, like everyone else said, avoid the processed stuff, unless it is a frozen dinner, or something else that is made exactly the same way every time. (two oreos will always be two oreos)

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Old 02-22-2010, 09:33 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by eratosthanes View Post
I do A LOT of home cooking, and have calculated the calories in my most frequent dishes. Even with these, I usually try to find several listings for the ingredients, and use the average of what I find, rounding up. You wouldn't believe the different values posted for something as simple as a cucumber.
So true. And with produce, for example, you have to keep in mind that things like how big the fruit/vegetable is, how ripe it is (riper/sweeter fruits will have more sugar), how big it is (2 small tomatoes may not be the same as 1 large tomato, even if they are the same weight), how thick the skin is, etc etc., will all affect the calorie count.. That's why I think of it all as an estimation.
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Old 02-22-2010, 09:44 AM   #9
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I always use the restaurant calorie counts as more of a guide, rather than a concrete number. Normally what I'll do is take the amount I find, and add a couple of ounces or more in calories to it.

IMO, it's nearly impossible for any restaurant to KNOW exactly the amount of calories in a dish from location to location. A lot of it goes into who's putting the meals together, how big a hurry they're in, how well they measure, etc. I appreciate those that make an effort to give a ballpark figure, though...
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Old 02-22-2010, 06:05 PM   #10
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Thanks gals, wise advice as always I actually don't buy very many processed items anymore. I still like my healthy choice steamers and the odd wheat cracker but I don't buy nearly as much as I used to. We actually only eat out once a month or less so its a non issue, I was just curious how everyone else feels about nutrition label. Thanks for your posts
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