With any luck, you’ve decided to participate in the BGG2WL calorie counting challenge. You’re reading your nutrition labels. You’re measuring your portions. We’re not changing our habits, we’re just trying to get a good idea of what our current habits are doing for our goals.
This is awesome. But now, I have to address something a little less than awesome. The FDA.
For those of us who are calorie counting, this is of interest to us. I, really, have no words for this just yet. But trust me.. they’re coming.
For those of you who may not be able to watch the video, the transcript (provided by The Today Show website) is pasted below. Just… wowzers.
Matt Lauer: This morning on TODAY INVESTIGATES, exposing the truth behind diet food labels. Can you really believe those fat and calorie numbers? NBC’s Jeff Rossen went to find out. And I have a feeling this is bad news, Jeff. Good morning.
JEFF ROSSEN reporting: No. And we brought them out to show you.
LAUER: All right.
ROSSEN: You know, a lot of us are on diets, including one of us on the couch right now. We’ll let you guess which one. And that’s why we buy these frozen meals. They make the hard sell right on the front. I’m sure you’ve seen it, with the low-calorie and the low-fat numbers. So we took them to a lab and did some testing of our own. This morning, we separate the fat from the fiction. IN the battle of the bulge these companies say they have the secret weapon.
ROSSEN: They brag about low fat and calories, knowing consumers eat this stuff up. How important are these numbers to you?
Unidentified Woman #1: They’re important.
Unidentified Man: And that’s all I look at. First thing, even before price.
Unidentified Woman #2: People don’t buy it because it tastes good. They buy it because the calories are there. And that’s what they’re looking for. And they’re like…
ROSSEN: So if the calories and the fat are off?
Woman #2: Yeah, then it’s what’s the point?
ROSSEN: Exactly. So we bought meals from the top diet brands: Lean Cuisine, Weight Watchers’ Smart Ones and Healthy Choice. We took the meals out of the packaging and put them into specially marked baggies, then sent them here to ESL, a top food laboratory. Scientists tested each sample for fat and calories. Would the numbers really match the labels? We found it was all over the map. Some were actually lower. Healthy Choice Roasted Beef Merlot, 17 percent less fat compared to the label. Lean Cuisine’s Grilled Chicken Primavera, 19 percent fewer calories than the label. And the rosemary Chicken, 60 percent less fat. But don’t start binging yet. Our tests showed many meals were packaged with higher numbers. Smart Ones Shrimp Marinara had ten percent more calories than the label. Healthy Choice Lobster Cheese Ravioli, 17 percent more fat than the label. And that Lean Cuisine Chicken Primavera? Twenty percent more fat. But the biggest gut busted of all? Smart Ones Sweet and Sour Chicken. It advertises 210 calories and two grams of fat. We found it really had 11 percent more calories and the whopping 350 percent more fat. While the company was “skeptical” at our results, they’ve now launched an internal audit.
Ms. SUSAN ROBERTS, PHD (Tufts University): It’s enough to make you cry. I mean, these – this is disgraceful.
ROSSEN: Susan Roberts should know. As a leading food scientist, she did similar testing in her lab and, like us, found lying labels.
Ms. ROBERTS: We hear all the time that people are not losing weight. They’re plateauing. They can’t understand why they’re eating almost nothing and not losing weight. Here’s one explanation.
ROSSEN: You may be outraged by this, but the government isn’t. In many cases, under the law it’s perfectly OK. Believe it or not, FDA regulations allow food companies to be as much as 20 percent off on their labels.
Unidentified Woman #3: That’s unfortunate, and especially at the same time when they’re preaching to us about obesity.
ROSSEN: The government allows these companies to be 20 percent off on their label.
Unidentified Woman #3: Why?
ROSSEN: Good question. The FDA declined our request for an interview, so we went to the group representing the food companies. Isn’t this deceptive?
Mr. ROBERT BRACKETT (Grocery Manufacturers Association): No, it’s not at all deceptive. It may be something that the consumers don’t necessarily understand. And this is a great to explain them.
ROSSEN: He says these labels are merely an average. Companies come up with the numbers by testing a dozen or so meals then taking the average. Portions vary so they say no one meal can be exact. Why not be more transparent on the label and say this isn’t necessarily 230 calories, it’s an average? It’s 230-ish calories.
Mr. BRACKETT: Well, you could but it really wouldn’t help consumers. The idea here is that if you see 230 calories, that that’s a food that you normally eat, some are going to be more and some are going to be less.
ROSSEN: So you’re saying it’s OK for one particular sample to be three times higher than it says, another sample to be three times lower, as long as it averages out?
Mr. BRACKETT: Well, it’s — a better way to say this is not it’s OK, is that it’s a fact of nature. It’s a matter of being practical.
ROSSEN: Tell that to the poor customer who ends up with our Sweet and Sour Chicken, packed with three and a half times more fat than the label claims.
Woman #2: That’s scary, actually, because I eat those a lot, like very often, and now I’m wondering maybe that’s why I am — my weight hasn’t budged.
ROSSEN: No, she still looks good. In fact, scientists say these variations could cause you to gain weight over time. We shared our results with the food companies. They told us their labels and their testing procedures follow all FDA regulations. And, Matt, the big question is if these are made on a production line, why can’t they be more exact? The food companies say we’re dealing with real food here…