There are few things food companies put as much creativity into as the serving sizes you find on nutrition facts tables. Here is why how much you eat has little to do with what you read on the box.
Downsizing The Calories
If you get your caloric values from the “nutrition facts” tables found on most foods, you better take into account that in the food industry serving sizes are from a different dimension. One where people eat from tiny lplates and drink from miniscule glasses.
Searching the internet for examples people encountered on their shopping tours I found four that stood out. Note that two of these give themselves a rather healthy image:
Nabisco some time ago jumped on the organic bandwagon and started selling America’s favorite cookie in an organic version, no doubt sold at a premium price. Proudly the box states that its contents were “made with organic flour & sugar”:
In total the box contains 21 cookies. No mindless grabbing and munching there, because for Nabisco three cookies are all you get. Why not one, four or five? It of course makes no difference that these cookies are organic – they contain the same amount of calories as their regular brothers (or sisters, I’m not sure if cookies are male or female).
V8 Plus Cleanse
Here is an example from Australia, where the good old V8 juice got a sister product with the neat “cleansing” buzzword in the name:
1/4th of the bottle is about 1 cup, which could be your real serving size; personally I can’t get even half a cup of the stuff down. For me that’s just as well, as V8 only has limited nutritional benefits, yet contains about the same calories as Coke.
If you look closely, you’ll also notice that the cleansing must come from the 0.004% each of the green tea and wheat grass extract that aren’t found in regular V8. Campbell must have the green tea cleansing equivalent of thermonuclear Clorox, because 0.004% in a 1 L bottle is less than a really, really small rain drop.
While we are talking about Coca-Cola, here is a bottle that in total contains 20 fl oz, which is a nice, even number. The serving size, however, requires a fraction:
If you twice aim to drink the exact serving size as stated, you in the end are left with half a serving still in the bottle.
This drink I featured on ec.com before, but Monster Energy Corp. gets extra points for nutritional labeling creativity:
What are we supposed to do with the other half? Left sitting, it goes stale, and you certainly can’t reseal the can, can you (I now have visions of French women dancing can-can)?
Hone Your Math
So, who sits down to eat exactly three Oreos and wash them down with 2/5ths of a bottle of Coke? Or half a can of Monster Energy? It would be a cinch for these companies to present nutritional values you can easily understand. We are making some progress in that direction, but it’s a fight for every inch. Otherwise Coca-Cola would have dropped all the arbitrary serving sizes and marketing pros wouldn’t already start wondering how they can exploit fairer labels.
Until this is solved, you better watch out and have your math skills up to speed: if three Oreos have 160 kcal, how many do five have? Answers in the comments please, but use of calculators I will deduct from your final grade!