Your Food Labels Have Been Lying to You

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Most nutritionists will tell you that you need to read your food labels in order to make good dietary choices. And many of us rely on them to know exactly how many calories we eat every day. But it turns out that these food labels aren’t as accurate as we’ve been led to believe.

New research says that there are a number of factors that aren’t accounted for on the label. Case in point: a study revealed that almonds have about 20 calories less than what is currently listed. These factors include all the ways we prepare our food and the process of eating it. There’s even a certain portion of calories that aren’t digested by the body at all and a portion that the bacteria in the gut “steals.”

Our current method of measuring calories dates back to over a hundred years and scientists are saying it’s about time to update it. “If we’re going to put the information out there on the food label, it would be nice that it’s accurate,” says US Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center research physicist David Baer.

While most calorie estimates are not off by very much, there are some foods that may actually have 50 percent fewer calories. This type of food also makes a difference. Starchy foods like potatoes tend to be less accurate more than meat, for example. The food’s preparation also plays a big role in determining the amount of calories it contains. For example, pureed carrots should have a higher calorie count than whole carrots because the pureed version requires less energy to process.

So what does this mean for our diets? Researchers say that for the most part our current system is good enough since most of us eat a variety of foods. “It would only be a problem for people who want to gain weight,” says University of Maine professor Mary Ellen Camire. But most researchers say that the system still needs to change so that we can make accurate, well-informed food choices. 

How much attention do you pay to nutrition labels?

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