Oh how I love to read nutrition labels. They are as much of an art form as say a fine sculpture or a well-crafted painting. But it's not because they are beautiful on the outside, but because they are so crafty made to deceive and gain sales at the same time.
My favorite parts of the FDA nutrition label are the Serving Size, Servings per Container, Total Fat, and the Asterisk. Please, let me explain.
Serving Size: Whenever you pour yourself a bowl of cereal, do you consider it 1 serving? I know I do. It's about how much 1 person eats when they sit down for breakfast, so NATURALLY that seems like a logical serving amount. Until you turn the box of cheerios around and read the label. Hm... 1/2 cup of cereal is 1 serving. Before you pour that milk in your bowl, go grab a measuring cup (you know the kind that made of glass, and have a handle on the side) and pour the bowl you just poured in there. $20 says your 1-serving is actually 3 according to cheerios' suggested size. So all this time you thought you were eating 110 calories, you were actually eating 330 calories (or even more). Cereal has another downfall... it puts that column of w/1/2cup skim-milk. I actually use skim milk... but most people don't. Also, most people (myself included) don't use 1/2 cup. They use again, about 1 to 1&1/2 cups. Meaning anything you thought was moderately portioned... was not.
Servings per container: I love factoid for an entirely different reason. This is a number the manufacturer can manipulate in order to display or not display something legally on their label. By law, any food containing over 0.49g of saturated or trans fat MUST BE DISPLAYED ON THE NUTRITION LABEL... anything less, is optional. So a company which might have normally suggested 5 servings per container (but be forced to show 0.8g trans fats 100calories, might decided to double their servings per container to 10. And have the label show 50calories but 0TRANS FAT! At this point they can even put "Fat Free" on the label (assuming there are no other fats). How dastardly food companies are.
Another one of my favorites is Vitamin Water. Only 50 calories per serving. Oh wait... there are 2.5 servings in a 20oz container! Who stops at 2/5ths the way finished of a vitamin water?! NOBODY! So why put 2.5 servings? Because 50 calories looks healthy, when you're really about to drink 125calories.
Total Fats: Most people don't realize that there are lots of good fats. I believe fat is an essential food, because our body has a difficult time producing certain length fatty-acids (don't quote me on that). But either way, it's wise to stay away from saturated and trans fats due to their high calories and artery clogging capabilities... but mono saturated fats are "healthy" and they aren't even ON THE LABEL! So what we (as consumers) have to do is add up the saturated + trans fats and subtract them from the "total fat" to determine the monosaturated fat content. I almost think it would be better if they just had the three columns and omitted Total fat. But put Monosaturated fat in a good column, like protein or vitamin section.
Then we have the all mighty asterisk! "*" If you haven't seen this little bad boy on a food product, you haven't been looking hard enough. I don't think there is a single FDA food label on the planet that doesn't have this. Typically it's followed by *Based on a 2000 calorie diet. But not everyone should be eating a 2000 calorie diet...Body builders need more and little kids need less. Dieters also.
Its not only the label that bothers me. Some of these less-fat and fat free foods get me too. Fat free (like I mentioned above) just means the serving size is small enough that the grams of fat per serving is less than 0.5g. But tells you nothing about the TOTAL FAT in the container. Doritos are notorious for this. 6 chips per serving, but fat free! Hey hey! lets eat them all then.. Oh wait, there are 15 servings per container? 6x15 = 90chips... if the fat is hovering around 0.4g x 15 = 6g of fat. But because it's below 0.5g we don't even know what type of fat we're eating. And I doubt there's a person on this earth that eats 6 Doritos and stops.
Then we have the all mighty reduced fat. All this means is that the product in question has 25% less fat than the previous product. Which may or may not even make it healthy.
So next time you're shopping in the store and you think something is healthy... take a step back. Does it come in a bag? Does it come in a box? Chances are it's not that healthy for you. It's not to say healthy food can't come from a package... it's just that a lot of manufacturers pay people LOTS AND LOTS of money to out smart you, the consumer and you know what - they do a damn good job.
Watch what you eat people. And be good!