Can Nutrition Facts Mislead Us?

The nutrition facts on food labels are approved by the FDA, so we are all confident in what the label shows. But can nutrition facts be misleading? The law allows for a margin of error of up to 20 percent, and the FDA has never established a system in which companies must comply with the law. This means that companies are expected to apply themselves. Faced with this difficult choice, all countries have chosen to ignore the effect of processing, and the result is that consumers are confused.

Labels provide a number that likely overestimates the calories available in unprocessed foods. Food labels ignore the costs of the digestive process: the losses caused by bacteria and the energy spent on digestion. The costs are lower for processed items, so the overestimation on their labels is lower. Can they lie? Of course, anyone can lie.

Manufacturers are often dishonest in the way they use these labels. They often use health claims that are misleading and, in some cases, totally false. According to some biologists and nutrition researchers, there are at least five reasons why calorie counting could be wrong. A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that 19% of the foods tested in restaurants contained an energy content of at least 100 calories more than the declared energy content, an amount that could cause five to seven kilograms of weight gain per year if consumed daily.

Malia Frey, a weight loss expert and certified health coach, weight management specialist, personal trainer and physical nutrition specialist, also found that commercially prepared foods have some variation in reported calorie counts. Understanding these factors can help you make better decisions about the most nutritious foods for your healthy eating plan.