Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The proliferation of calorie disclosures

In one of my recent posts, I mentioned that calorie declarations for restaurant items were beginning to show up on TV and in web based ads. It appears that the industry is gearing up for the calorie disclosure mandate that goes into effect this December (see the Final Rules for ACA sect 4205[1]).  I have noticed that up-front calorie disclosures are becoming more prevalent in grocery stores as well.

The grocery store calorie proliferation is likely due to several factors, including the Affordable Care Act’s wide reaching mandate. Food manufacturers began adding front of pack labels some years ago (with declarations THEY are comfortable with, i.e., not every manufacturer includes calories or sugar amounts on the front of every one of their products), but one voluntary version Facts Up Front does provide info on calories and select nutrients, and it has potential.  If you click on the link above, you can scroll through some of the examples. As an example, I have noticed that most sliced bread brands have Facts Up Front labels now - with the calories displayed - but BE CAREFUL sometimes its calories per 2 slices and sometimes per 1 slice. The Institute of Medicine has recommended a standardized, mandatory front of pack label with an interpretive design, for example, 3 stars vs 1 star (I wrote about this recommendation a few years ago).  I believe that the more customers see calorie disclosures, the more they will demand them - up-front.  (The new calorie disclosure law is about ready-to-eat foods at grocery stores, restaurants and similar establishments, not packaged foods. But again, people are now expecting to see calories more easily because of laws like this.)

One of the issues in labeling, especially for packaged or self-serving foods (e.g., ice cream), is a push to present easily, or commonly, understood serving sizes.  The serving sizes (usually) accompany the calorie counts on front labels, e.g., half a cup, 2 tablespoons. I think it would be a disservice to customers, however, not to also include the weight in grams or number of ounces of that particular ½-cup or tablespoon; a ½- cup of one item may not be commensurate with ½ a cup of another item.  Recently, I was choosing between cookie brands. For each brand, the calorie amount per 3-cookie serving was 130, but the serving for one brand had 20 grams and the other had 30 grams, so in essence, I would get to eat MORE food for the same calories if I chose the heavier product. I owe my ‘per unit’ calorie comparisons to lessons I have gleaned from using UPC shelf labels, price per ounce, as I’ve mentioned in the past. 

I think that emphasizing serving size can also be context specific.  One place it makes sense for the majority of people to see calories per serving ‘size’ instead of serving ‘weight’ is the vending machine.  I say this because, the usual serving size of a snack purchased from a vending machine, or the amount customarily consumed, is the whole package. The package is the serving size.  Most people intend to eat all the M&MS, Fritos, or Lays, so by scanning across all products and knowing how many cals per pack, a person can, if they choose, pick the lowest calorie package and be done with it.  (In time, I suspect, savvy customers will figure out that even here, they can get more or less calories per package based on weight/volume.)

So that is very cool.  Calories are showing up more (this is good for people who are trying to limit calories or who simply want to choose items with fewer calories - can’t do it if you don’t know the numbers!).  The national law (again see ACA section 4205) covers more than foods – restaurant chains under the laws jurisdiction will also have to display calories for their alcoholic beverages!  Not the gin and tonic you order at the bar, but the Bahama Mama or Margarita from places like Red Lobster and Chili’s.  This is one place that the restaurant industry in general, is not giving us a prelude with its on line menus.  I went to the websites of more than 10 restaurant chains while writing this blog, and only one, Red Lobster, had its alcoholic beverage calories posted. Some of these drinks have more calories than my meals; I expect many drinks will be reformulated when the law goes into effect.  If you want to get an idea, check out Red Lobster’s menu – see page 2. Else, stick with lighter beers and wine or traditional drinks, gin and tonic should have about 100 calories as does my favorite Dee Dee Sour (Seagram’s seven and Fresca).  BTW, the Red Lobster  Caramel appletini has 160 cals and the chocolate martini has 330 – how could anyone know this without a calorie disclosure on the menu, when you are ordering?  Unless of course, it’s that ONE day a year when none of this matters (smile face!)

Monday, May 11, 2015

Label Claims

In the past, I have cautioned that ingredients, serving sizes, and calorie content can change over time, making it a good idea to keep a watch on even your staple products. For me, Smuckers All Natural Peanut Butter has been a staple for years. I noticed when I got home from the grocery store today that both the Nutrition Facts Panel in the back and the Front of Pack (jar) declaration had changed. To be truthful, I did not notice the Front of Pack calorie declaration on the jar in my fridge before today, but it says 210 cals per 2 tablespoon serving - kudos for 1) disclosing calories up front and 2) including a serving size that we can understand. Also, on the standard NFP, the type of fats are broken down on the older jar. I have often pointed out that Smuckers All Natural peanut butter is a source of 'good' monounsaturated fat, but the tides and the (interpretation of) science have changed on fat - and no matter the kind of fat - the calories are the same. (BTW, this is one of those rare occasions where the term natural really means natural.)

The reason I started comparing my two jars of peanut butter was because on the front of the jar I bought today there was a declaration of 8 grams of protein per serving. Peanut butter is usually a good source of protein  - that is not new- declaring the grams on the front of the label is though. I guess there is a shift underway and protein is the macronutrient of the day. Because it was highlighted, I did think maybe the amount changed, but no, both jars have 8 g per serving. The older peanut butter does have more calories, just a few, but its weird that it went from 210 to 200 - same serving size. AND, other nutrition related fads (oh I mean concerns) are addressed on the new label, too. I'll let you pick them out below. BTW, the ingredients - peanuts and salt - are unchanged.
Here are the two jars and yes, I still LOVE this peanut butter.
This picture shows that the newer label doesn't break down the good fats.

Old calorie declaration

New calorie declaration plus 2 more declarations

Protein highlighted

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Calorie Stealth

Calories, calories, calories. That is all this girl talks about… well, mostly true. I also talk about making sure that you are as physically active as possible (that means sit less) and that you try to exercise every day. And a few other things, like not smoking or tanning… and, well by now, you can fill in the rest yourselves.

So YES, calories.  First, restaurant (and similar venue) menu labeling is coming and I have noticed an increasing number of commercials that include a calorie count within the TV (or internet) ad.  Here is the most recent:

Second, I want to pass along a ‘be on the lookout’ note:

Little Bites and mini donuts are not low calorie options, but calling something little bites sure makes you think so. Right? Actually, a serving of Little Bites muffins has 180 calories, a regular muffin 190 and a 'mini' cake 260.  All of these are made by Entenmann’s. TastyKake sells mini-donuts with over 200 cals per serving. Take home message: read the calorie AND serving size information regardless of the words, light, little, diet, mini, good for you, all natural, organic...etc.

And back to the lemonade: 240 calories for a beverage is a bit much… more than half those calories are from sugar - 39 grams or about 10 teaspoons. The rest is from protein and fat, which comes from the milk. Below is the ingredients list from ChickfilA. The ingredients in the “Icedream” read like a chemistry book.

Frosted Lemonade: Icedream (whole milk, sugar, nonfat dry milk, artificial flavor, corn starch, mono & diglycerides, microcrystalline cellulose, carrageenan, guar gum, Yellow 5 & 6), water, freshly-squeezed lemon juice, sugar.

Diet Frosted Lemonade: Icedream (whole milk, sugar, nonfat dry milk, artificial flavor, corn starch, mono & diglycerides, microcrystalline cellulose, carrageenan, guar gum, Yellow 5 & 6), water, freshly-squeezed lemon juice, Splenda® (dextrose, maltodextrin, sucralose).

SO – the picture above, with the 240 calories, that is the diet one…. the regular lemonade has 330 calories and 63g of sugar (16 teaspoons). Sigh…and by sigh, I mean that's crazy! (PS I didn't see the fine print in the picture at first, “starting at…. 240 cals.”)