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  Edition # 102  
San Francisco, 07-14-2013

Figure [1]: A pot of cucumber yogurt dip. How many calories total is this?

Michael Every shrink-wrapped food item for sale in the U.S., ranging from a box of serial to a candy bar, from a can of beans to a packed sliced salami, prominently displays its "Nutrition Facts" (Figure 2). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been requiring this information since 1990, and it lists in detail, how many calories, how much fat, sugar, salt or vitamins are contained in a product. This way, the consumer can make an informed choice before buying or eating a product and knows if it will be contributing to their waistline or raise their cholesterol.

Figure [2]: According to the label, this spread only has 30 calories.

But take a look at the pack of yoghurt-cucumber spread in Figure 1: Doesn't the 30 calories count (20 from fat) sound suspiciously low? Indeed, because it doesn't refer to the complete package content, but only to an amount defined by the manufacturer as "serving size", as explained further down on the label. This is the tiny amount the customer is supposed to consume from the package. If you eat the entire thing, much more than 30 calories will go straight to your bulgy problem areas, because according to the label, the package contains no less than 31 serving sizes. I presume that if the label said "this cucumber yoghurt contains 900 calories", the yoghurt would collect dust on the supermarket shelves. For this reason, the manufacturers manipulate the serving sizes, until the calorie count drops to a reasonable amount, although hardly anyone will just take a teaspon of yoghurt, apply it on a cracker and then return the entire package to the refrigerator.

Figure [3]: A delicious, low-calorie spread. Or is it?

What other information is printed on the label? It says that the serving size of 20 grams of yoghurt (less than one ounce) contains 2 grams of fat, which consists of 1 gram saturated fat and 0 trans-fat, which has been pretty much banned from restaurants in San Francisco anyway. The missing gram to arrive at a total of 2 grams of fat apparently got lost in a rounding error. The serving size also includes 5 milligrams of cholesterol (a completely useless measure as it's unrelated to the body's cholesterol level) and 95 milligrams of sodium which is mostly contained in table salt and covers about 4% of the daily intake, according to the label. If you can't help but eat the entire pack, that would be 120% of your recommended daily salt intake, so pace yourself!

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Latest update: 13-Jun-2014