Hello again, Feel Good Followers! Today’s subject is from a reader’s request. She was confused about the differences between her cereal’s nutrition label and her husband’s cereal label. It sounded pretty simple at first… until she sent me pictures of both of the labels that is. One label was incredibly long and detailed. The other, more simplified to a certain extent. However, it included information that you don’t normally see on most labels (it was an organic granola cereal). So, why all the confusion?

First of all, nutrition labels are required to contain certain information. These include:

  • Serving size and servings included in the package
  • Total calories and calories from fat
  • Total fat, saturated fat, and trans fats
  • Cholesterol
  • Sodium
  • Total Carbohydrate
  • Dietary fiber
  • Sugars
  • Protein
  • Vitamins A and C
  • Minerals calcium and iron

This is the bare minimum. If, for instance, you see a nutrition label include monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat (thought to be better for us), then that’s the manufacturer’s way of bragging about their product. This can get out of hand sometimes. With my friend’s example of the organic granola there is mention of the number of grams of ALA per serving. ALA is alpha linolenic acid. This is a type of omega-3 fatty acid found in the plant world. Our bodies can further turn it into EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids which have been shown to reduce inflammation and thus help prevent chronic disease among other things. So again, this company is marketing the hell out of this product. Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with that, but from a consumer’s perspective it can be really confusing. One final bit on this is that sometimes you’ll find the nutrient list a mile long and it includes every vitamin and mineral known to man along. Total cereal is a great example of this. Another example of “look at how awesome this product is for you!”.

Another thing I think a lot of people gravitate towards is the % DV, or the percent daily value. I tell most of my clients to completely ignore it. Nutrition is way to individualized to blanket this in my opinion. It is based on a 2,000 calorie diet for starters. Not everyone should have 2,000 kcals. I have clients who require less and others who require 4,000 kcals and up. It’s also based on fixed macronutrient values. On this 2,000 calorie diet, the percent daily values are for 65 grams of fat, 300 grams of carbohydrate, and 50 grams of protein. That comes out to 10% protein, 60% carbohydrate, and 30% fat. For a desk jockey (and damn near everyone else), this is a poor distribution! I’m a bit skewed on this due to working primarily with athletes and weekend warriors, but I still think it needs some serious reconsideration.

You may be thinking, “But Alec, why don’t all foods have a nutrition label?”. Glad you asked! Some foods are exempt from requiring a label. These include:

  • Foods manufactured by small businesses
  • Food served in restaurants
  • Bakery products bought from, say, a cupcake store
  • Foods that don’t provide any significant nutrition (coffee is a good example)
  • Fresh produce and seafood
  • Self-service bulk foods
  • Dietary supplements (I know, scary huh?)
  • Medical foods

There are a few others, but I think you’re starting to get the point. So there you have it! I hope that clears up some of the confusion around nutrition labels. I suppose I should note here that fixing the labels and helping consumers better understand them is in the works. I also hope this helps to show why meeting with a dietitian to dial in one’s specific macro and micronutrient needs based on his or her goals is a wise decision. #shamelessplug

Until next time…