Are Nutrition Labels Reliable?
Health and fitness have always been an integral part of our daily lives.
The first popular diet was started way back in 1863 when William Banting came out with the "Banting" diet.
The Banting diet was a low carb, low-calorie diet that William himself used for dramatic weight loss.
Just to put that into perspective, that's about 20 years before cars, or even light bulbs were invented.
We've been dieting longer than we've been driving or using light bulbs.
And for good reason.
A healthy diet can not only extend our lives, but make the time we're here more fulfilling.
Eating the right foods makes us healthier and even helps fight and prevent disease.
So choosing the right foods to eat every day is critical in achieving our health and nutrition goals.
Luckily, the food labels printed on the foods we buy and at restaurants are accurate and can be trusted.
They can be trusted, right?
Don't be so sure.
In the article below we will discuss how accurate nutrition labels are, and whether or not you should trust them.
Even if you don't follow a specific diet, if you're interested in health and fitness, at the very least you have some idea of how many calories you take in every day.
The basics of weight loss are simple; burn more calories than you take in.
If you're looking to bulk up, then eat more calories than you lose.
It's a fairly simple concept, but some nutrition experts argue that the way we assess the number of calories in food is extremely problematic.
In other words, the food labels we inspect every time we visit the grocery might not be worth the paper they're printed on.
The system we use to count calories is based on a method created in the 19th century.
It is most accurate when it's applied to foods that digest quickly, such as most carbohydrates.
However, it doesn't account for the foods that are harder for our bodies to break down, such as nuts.
Our bodies use more energy digesting those foods, and they may not be digested in their entirety.
For example, almonds have about 120 calories per serving, but they're often reported as having about 160 calories per serving.
To add to that, the calories we extract from our food are dependent on a number of factors.
These factors can include:
- species we eat
- how we prepare the food
- the bacteria that is in our gut
Digestion is such a complicated and intricate process that even if an effort is made to improve calorie counts, we'll likely never be 100% accurate.
Why Bother Counting Calories Then?
After reading this, you are probably left wondering why we count calories at all.
When counting calories and planning your diet, there are three things you should keep in mind.
1. Counting calories is a guide. Although we've found out nutrition labels aren't as accurate as we'd hoped, they can still be useful.
Use them to get a rough estimate of the calorie count and the nutritional content of your food, not an exact measurement.
You can also use them to compare foods to see which ones are better even if they aren't 100% accurate.
2. Don't ignore your other cues. There are many other methods you can use to estimate portion sizes and calorie counts.
Does the portion look too big for the calorie count?
Does it seem too heavy or rich for what the calorie count would indicate?
Ae you full before you finish?
Use your eyes, brain, experience, and your appetite to guide your decisions along with the nutrition labels.
3. Your body is the best calorie counter. No matter what the nutrition label says, your body will tell you whether or not you're getting the right amount of calories.
If you're having trouble losing or gaining weight, adjust the calories as necessary.
Treat calorie counting as an art form that can be adjusted and interpreted as needed, not as an exact science.
Calorie counts aren't the only things listed on nutrition labels, so can we trust everything else?
Most people will scan ingredient lists to make sure there's nothing in the food that we shouldn't be eating.
A good rule of thumb is that if a food has numerous ingredients in it that you can't pronounce, you should leave it alone.
However, if we've figured this out, you can guarantee the food manufacturers have as well.
Instead of using the long, hard to pronounce scientific names, they are using less intimidating, more natural sounding names.
There are dozens of harmless-sounding ingredients that aren't what they appear to be.
One of them is carrot concentrate.
Seems harmless, right? It's actually an ultra-processed, factory-made substance used to color foods like butter.
Rosemary extract is another deceiving ingredient.
By the time it has emerged from the complex extraction process, it barely resembles the fresh herb it once was.
The only reason it's there is to extend the foods shelf life.
Because of nutrition labels, we should be able to see at a glance how much fat, saturated fat, sugars, and salt each product has, but that's not always the case.
Some brands choose to use misleading packaging to convince consumers they're getting a better nutritional deal than they actually are.
A study in 2003 by the Consumers Association found that some foods branded as "light food" actually contained seven times more fat than food labeled as "low fat."
Another common tactic is the halo effect, which is where a single health claim on the packaging causes consumers to overlook things such as high sugar or salt content.
So that high fiber cereal might be loaded with sugar, and not good for you at all.
Use Nutrition Labels As A Guide, Not A Guarantee
As you can see, you should be careful when looking at nutrition labels.
Although useful, they aren't 100% accurate.
There's no way to calculate calorie counts accurately, and the FDA even allows a margin of error when manufacturers report their calories.
Smart marketing is also used to influence our buying decisions and make us believe we're buying some that's healthy when in reality it's not.
We've been "dieting" going on two centuries now.
It's a necessary evil, we just need to be sure we're making informed decisions.
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