13 Things You Won’t Find on a Food Label

Food labels have been regulated since Congress passed the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act in 1990, but they are constantly updated to be more “user friendly”. Despite these efforts and the numerous articles written on how to read a food label, consumers still report being misled and confused. With all the fervor over putting “natural” on a label (or more and more frequently “artificial – free”), it’s a good idea to take a look at what is NOT reported on the food label.

13 Things You Won’t Find on a Food Label

1.       The vitamin content on the label is not accurate once you’ve cooked the food. Steamed vegetables retain more of their vitamins than boiled vegetables.[i]

2.       With temperature abuse, a safe product may become unsafe before it hits your grocer’s shelves. When a food is overexposed to warm temperatures, bacteria multiply and produce gas; this is why lunch meat packages and juice containers become puffy when left out too long.[ii]

3.        There is such a thing as too much protein, so don’t overdo that protein shake. The FAO/WHO recommends no more than 1.4 grams protein per kilogram of body-weight for the most rigorous athlete. For everyone else it’s 0.83 grams protein per kilogram body weight.[iii]

4.       Not all fiber is created equal. The added fiber in Pop-tarts and breakfast pastries is not as beneficial to the digestive system as the fiber in celery and other vegetables. Some fiber, like inulin, actually creates gastrointestinal distress in some people. Glucomannan or konjac gum has to be used carefully because it absorbs so much water it can become a choking hazard.

5.       Some beverages should not be consumed in less than 20 minutes. Energy drinks and other caffeine-beverages should be consumed slowly over 20 minutes because that’s the minimum time for caffeine to be absorbed and go into effect. Meal-replacement shakes can take up to 30 minutes to trigger satiety signals, so sip slowly for the most benefit.

6.       Some protein bars look like cake, but can be tough as leather to chew. Before buying any protein bar, try pinching it in the package to gauge hardness.

7.       Calorie content is not included on fresh produce or on alcoholic beverages, but alcohol has 7 calories per gram, almost as much as fat, which has 9 calories per gram. (NOTE – SOME ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES ARE NOW INCLUDING NUTRITION FACTS PANELS WITH CALORIE COUNTS)

8.       Most products have an expiration date, but that date may change once the product is opened. Some “raw” juices will turn rancid, moldy or spoiled within 48 hours because the bacteria normally killed by pasteurization can overpopulate the product once it’s opened.

9.       Most food labels have Total, Saturated, and Trans Fats, but don’t always indicate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are found naturally in salmon, but they’re also sometimes fortified into other products like bread or egg-whites. Foods with a good source of omega-3s usually advertise it somewhere on the package, but this is not required.

10.    Most food labels are required to have the address where the food was manufactured, but this does not indicate where the manufacturer got the ingredients from. When it comes to food-borne outbreaks and contamination scares, it is up to the manufacture to back-track or “trace” the finished product back to the source.

11.    The label may give directions for how to prepare the food, but no indication how long it took to manufacture the food. For example, a jelly bean takes 7 days to make.

12.    Serving size is no indication of how much you should eat in one sitting. Several studies have shown people eat more food when it comes from a bigger container, but overeating past the point of satiety leads to significant weight gain over the years. Save calories and money by paying more attention to satiety cues than to whether the package is empty yet.

13.     Working conditions where the food was made affect the quality and safety of the food. If your basket of fresh berries was picked by someone who had to meet a quota and wasn’t allowed a bathroom break, there could be some contamination on the berries. NOTE – this is a hypothetical based on an urban legend, and NOT INDICATIVE OF LABOR CONDITIONS OF ALL BERRY FARMS

BOTTOM LINE

Yes, it’s important to be an educated food-label-reader, and there are plenty of great resources on how to master this skill (like this book, from Bonnie Taub-Dix), but in my opinion it’s just as important to think about the information that is NOT on the label.

 

REFERENCES:

[i] Effect of Different Cooking Methods on Color, Phytochemical Concentration, and Antioxidant Capacity of Raw and Frozen Brassica Vegetables. J. Agric. Food Chem., 2010, 58 (7), pp 4310–4321. http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf904306r
[ii] FOOD AND INDUSTRIAL MICROBIOLOGY: Food spoilage, food infections and intoxications caused by microorganisms and methods for their detection http://www.scribd.com/doc/60035022/6/Spoilage-of-fresh-and-ready-to-eat-meat-products
[iii] Protein and Amino Acid Requirements in Human Nutrition – Report of a Joint WHO/FAO/UNU Expert Consultation. http://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/nutrientrequirements/WHO_TRS_935/en/index.html

 

 

Energy Drink of the Month — May 2015 Celsius

Based on recalls, litigation, adverse event reports, and consumer complaints, some of the riskiest product categories are energy drinks, weight-loss supplements and sexual health products. If you thought energy drinks got a lot of scrutiny in the press and by politicians, just image the pressure for a product that is both an energy drink and a weight loss supplement.  For those on quests to become more informed consumers, examining such a product is a wonderful, often enlightening exercise.  Moreover, May is the perfect month to examine such a product for two reasons: students are more likely to try new caffeinated products as they try to cram for finals; and figure-conscious individuals may be more likely to try a product they believe will help them reclaim their beach-ready body for summer. A product that is both an energy drink and a weight-loss product fulfills both types of curiosity.

The Energy Drink of the Month for May 2015 is Celsius Raspberry Acai Green Tea.

THREE-SIXTY DEGREES CELSIUS — Honest Product Review from Food Scientist, Gym Rat, Caffeine Aficionado

FIVE POINTS OF PRAISE

  1. One whole can is one whole serving. That makes it easier to understand EXACTLY what you’re getting and how much of it. No Portion-Distortion here.
  2. Though caffeine is part of the “Meta-Plus Proprietary Blend”, the amount of total caffeine IS stated on the can. One serving is one can, which offers 200 mg caffeine. This amount of caffeine is the maximum amount recognized safe as a single dose, according to European Food Safety Authority’s Scientific Opinion on Caffeine Safety. According to this study, 200mg doses don’t raise safety concerns even when consumed less than two hours before intense exercise.
    ***Note that healthy adults can have up to 400mg caffeine per day, and also please note it is never recommended to “chug” your energy drink [See Duh-Alert: AHA says chugging caffeine is bad for the heart]
  3. The amounts of vitamins aren’t crazy. I roll my eyes when I see mega-doses of Vitamin B12 (which doesn’t actually do anything unless you’re deficient), or any fortification with Vitamin B5 (which is in almost every food group imaginable so there’s no need to fortify). Some supplements go a little overboard with Vitamin B3, but over 35mg of this can make some people flush and itchy. The B-vitamins are water-soluble, but that doesn’t mean that more is better.

    Celsius Raspberry Acai Green Tea GreenEyedGuide
    Product Claims
  4. The product claims highlight the ways this product is different from the energy drink stereotype. Even their Warning Statement is grammatically correct: “Not recommended for people who are caffeine sensitive, children under 12, or women pregnant or nursing.” I can’t help but chuckle when I read a Warning Statement that says, “Consult with a healthcare professional if you are pregnant.” Gee, thanks for the tip, but I was going to ride these 9 months doctor-free and deliver in a bathtub. In contrast to the warning statement which offers general health advice and cannot be read literally, Celsius’s statement actually refers to the product.
  5.  The label makes it very obvious this product does not magically make your fat disappear. Celsius is your workout buddy, your “Ultimate Fitness Partner”, and it’s made clear in the side-panel Marketing blurb the product doesn’t work if you’re not exercising.

FIVE BURNS of Celsius – The NEGATIVE POINTS

  1. The words “clinically proven” makes me raise my eyebrows as a scientist. It’s actually rather difficult to clinically prove anything related to weight-loss because there’s always confounding factors. In this case, the increased metabolism, reduced body fat, and improved endurance are typical results of studies that make people exercise, especially if any type of caffeine is involved. It’s common knowledge caffeine improves athletic performance, but the magnitude of those improvements depend on whether the person is an athlete or a gym rat; an occasional coffee drinker or a coffee/tea-holic.
  2. The front of the can says, “Your Calorie-Reducing drink” and yet there is a supplement facts panel. A product is not allowed to have a supplement facts panel if it is referred to as a “drink” or beverage. If it is truly a drink, it must have a “Nutrition Facts” panel, while supplements need a “Supplement Facts” panel and have different regulations for the fact panel layout and content. This may not seem like a big deal, but there are countless FDA Warning letters to companies that demonstrate this product-category confusion.
  3. This product always dries my mouth out. This astringent effect is common with certain tannins in tea and Premium Brewed Green Tea is a predominant ingredient. Ginger root extract may also affect some people this way.
  4. While the amount of caffeine is stated, there are other components of the “Meta-Plus Proprietary Blend” that I would prefer to see itemized. For instance, how much taurine and green tea leaf extract? How much ginger root? The missing amounts don’t concern me as a consumer, but knowing those amounts would fascinate me as a scientist.
  5. Again, the diction grammar bothers me. The side panel of this product says “Celsius burns up to 100 extra calories and more.” How can you burn UP TO 100 calories AND MORE? Which one is it? Also, the expression “calorie reducing” isn’t exactly the same thing as burning calories, but Celsius, the “calorie reducing drink” is supposed to help one burn more calories. Add in the fact that a calorie is a unit measuring energy and the “calorie reducing drink” that gives one “lasting energy”, and we’ve got QUITE THE PARADOX!

BOTTOM LINE

Overall this is not my favorite product, but it’s one that I do enjoy from time to time. Since it’s not carbonated, it’s less likely to upset my stomach if I drink it en route to my morning workout. There is a decent kick from the caffeine, but as a science-nerd I get just as big a kick out of reading the label. There’s nothing wrong with the ingredients but the caffeine may be strong for some people. If this product and its calorie-reducing promises help you commit to going to the gym instead of going home or sleeping in, then it can be a great product to try at least once!

— GreenEyedGuide

Related Reading and Other Links

For more caffeine and energy drink information, don’t forget to find your copy of

ARE YOU A MONSTER OR A ROCK STAR? A Guide to Energy Drinks – How They Work, Why They Work, How to Use Them Safely

Energy drinks explained: ingredients, safety tips and consumption tricks. 

Chemophobia Case Study: Swish4Energy Review

An energy drink you’re not supposed to swallow? I had to check this out for myself. This was an opportunity to experiment with something novel, and yet, this experience was something many consumers encounter at one point or another — suspicion of unfamiliar chemicals and ingredients.

Supplement Savvy Step ONE: Understanding the Product’s Purpose

Swish Energy is a unique product — it’s not exactly an energy drink because you’re not supposed to swallow it. It’s more of an energy mouthwash. This is a brilliant concept; it’s an untapped market. It’s true that some caffeine is absorbed sublingually (beneath the tongue), and this delivery system is less susceptible to the complaints the FDA had with the “caffeine inhaler” idea (read the FDA’s warning letter), or caffeinated gum (GEG rant here).

Step TWO: What to Ask BEFORE you buy

There are three questions you need answers to before you buy a new supplement. You may not always get the truth to these three questions, but asking them may eliminate some of the most shady products from your cart. First, figure out where the product is manufactured. Something “Made in the USA” might still be coming from someone’s basement, but at least that manufacturing location will be subject to FDA regulations. Yes, there are regulations for supplements, too.

Second, figure out who’s selling the product to you. If it’s a sales-person with no science background just reading a script, buyer-beware. If the product’s founders have a background in pharmaceuticals, chemistry or food science, that is better than someone who is just an entrepreneur with a Scientific Advisory Board. When the CEO is a scientist and not just a business-person, it’s more likely they’re going to make decisions based on food science.

Third, find a picture of the actual label — facts panel and ingredient statement. This is often the most important part, and will tell you more than any of the claims on the front of the label. Once you’ve got a picture of the facts panel and ingredient statement, you’re ready for Supplement Savvy Step THREE!

Step THREE: How to Research Unfamiliar Ingredients and/or Chemicals

As John Coupland once said, “I tried avoiding ingredients I can’t pronounce, but sadly I can pronounce them all.” Like Dr. Coupland, I understand the point behind the “pronounceable ingredients only” strategy, but I can’t take such advice seriously when I know so many people who can’t properly pronounce “acai” and “quinoa”.

Before you shell out your hard-earned cash on a new supplement, it’s worth your time to do a Google-search on the ingredients in the product you’re considering. BEWARE – there is a LOT of awful misinformation on the internet, so always look at multiple sources (the product’s own site and Wikipedia don’t count).  The more you populate your Favorites list with sites and sources you know are credible, the quicker and more reliable your search is going to be.

Review of Swish Energy, Ingredient by Ingredient

FINALLY! Caffeine Regulations I can SUPPORT!

According to an article by Nutritional Outlook, six senators are urging the FDA to immediately ban the marketing and retail sale of pure caffeine. This is the FIRST caffeine regulation I can really get behind, and here’s why:

This proposal addresses a legitimate safety issue; unlike some of the proposed energy drink bans, regulations to ban the sale of pure caffeine are a necessary step toward ensuring safe caffeine consumption.

Now, before you jump up and down with all the reasons you think energy drink bans are good, let me just say this: V8 V-Fusion has 80 mg of caffeine from green tea. This is an energy drink, but would you have a problem letting a 12 year old drink it? V8’s energy drink has the same amount of caffeine as an 8 ounce Red Bull, but they both that LESS CAFFEINE (and potentially less sugar) than a tall mocha from Starbucks.

The rest of my arguments against energy drink regulations can be found here (“Why You Could Get Carded for Buying a V8“), here (“NY Bans Marketing of Red Bull but Misses the Bull’s Eye“),  and here (“Save Lives by Focusing on the Source of the Problem“).

Senator Blumenthal (D-CT) is one of the six senators proposing this pure caffeine ban, and I have NOT been a fan of his other caffeine regulation proposals (see “Which comes first: supplement safety laws or the power to enforce them? The Durbin-Blumenthal Dietary Supplement Labeling Act“).

But for this one time, I will stand with the Senator and support this pure caffeine ban.

Perhaps the best argument FOR this proposed ban on pure caffeine sales is the following stat:

A single teaspoon of pure caffeine is roughly the same amount of caffeine as 25 cups of coffee, according to FDA.

-Source: http://www.nutritionaloutlook.com/150129/caffeine

No consumer needs pure caffeine. If you’re buying pure caffeine to make your own energy drinks in your basement so you can sell them online, I am not okay with that. As a food scientist quality assurance professional, and caffeine consumer, everything about that situation scares me.

Dear FDA, I know you’re under-staffed, under-appreciated and over-worked, and I know you’ve got your hands full with the necessary FSMA regulations. But can you do us all a favor and please, please, do something (swift) about this request. It’ll make Mr. Richard Blumenthal (and Mr. Sherrod Brown) very happy.

-GreenEyedGuide

Related Posts:

Putting Caffeine in Gum is a BAD IDEA, here’s why…

Friends with the Monster? Three Crucial Counterpoints to the Energy Drink Debate

Food Science in the News — John Oliver, Dr. Oz and the Unfortunate State of the Supplement Industry

Every organization has its angels and demons. The supplement industry is full of people with good intentions. It’s also fraught with people who see an opportunity to swindle consumers who seek a quick fix to complicated conditions like diabetes and obesity. Personally I believe the answer to the weak links has a little to do with “Regulatory Zeal” — watch and be amazed:

Watch Comedian John Oliver Blast Dr. Oz and Dietary Supplements Industry | Nutritional Outlook

Probably not a supplement I'd recommend...
Probably not a supplement I’d recommend…

Related Posts:

Which comes first: supplement safety laws or the power to enforce them?

Consumer Warnings and the Oz Effect

5-in-1 weight loss supplement combo IS effective, but…

Other Handy Resources:

Google HELPOUTS: “Energy Drink 101: how to sort the good from the bad” – enjoy a face-to-face (via webcam) conversation with yours truly and learn how to avoid red flags and questionable products (First session is free; spend 5 minutes talking or 30 minutes, I’m here to help – D. Robertson)

Follow @GreenEyedGuide on Twitter and stay updated on all”Food Science in the News” and consumer-awareness related posts.