If you look in the cupboard tomorrow morning and select a box with food in it, shake some into a bowl and set down to eat, don’t put the box away. Hang onto it for a minute or two, and as you eat, do a little reading. To understand what in the world the label is trying to tell you, will require just a little bit of math, but not hard math.
Labels in the US have to state lots of scientific facts about the food, but the law doesn’t say it has to be in a language that you understand, or that the claims on the label have to be unambiguous. For instance, all of the weights are in grams. If we were in any other country, grams would be acceptable, but in the US, just about the only place in the country you run into things measured in grams is in the grocery store, on these labels.
Health food in a box. Convenient, inexpensive and healthy. What is not to love, right? Well, first let’s do the math. Who knows how much sugar is contained in one of these granola bars? 14 grams of sugar doesn’t sound like much, a gram is a little bitty amount right? Turns out there are 4.2 grams of sugar in a teaspoon of sugar. 4.2 makes the math hard and it makes the number hard to remember. Forget the point 2 and just call it 4. So to put this number into something that means something to us Americans, there are three teaspoons of sugar in every one of these granola bars. Imagine making them yourself if you were wanting to eat healthy and counting those teaspoons into your food.
Health claims on a box are a legitimate reason to not purchase the box, in my honest opinion, but if you do make the purchase, read the claim with the eye of a criminal attorney. All too common is a label that makes health or nutrition claims that while technically true, are either irrelevant or deceptive. Also, there are plenty of times when a company lets you think something is still healthy after they have loaded it up with unhealthy additions. This contains yogurt. Yogurt is good for you, right?
Health claims all over this one, plus it has that “yogurt is healthy for you” reputation. Lets start by doing the math on the sugar. 26 divided by 4 is 6 and a half. Six and a half teaspoons of added sugar in your health food. If you make yogurt yourself would you add six or seven teaspoons of sugar to it? Bear in mind, this serving isn’t even a cup, but only 3/4 of a cup. See that it has no fat (practically) but also it has no protein, which means that with added sugar being the only useful ingredient, you may as well have a snickers bar. Let’s compare labels! Turns out that a regular size Snickers bar has 27 grams of sugar in it. Hey, this math is easy, we can just cut and paste. Your Yoplait yogurt has as much sugar in it as my snickers bar, but it also contains some fats and proteins, so all of the calories are not empty, and there is a little something nutritional for you in the candy bar. It’s actually healthier than the health food!!! See what I mean, if it has a health claim on the box, it’s probably not healthy.
Want to be surprised at some healthy sounding foods that are little more than candy in a health-claiming box? Go to this WebMD page and do the math, since all of the measurements are in that crazy French unit, the Gram…