Monday, March 4, 2013

Sneaky advertising and does it matter?

So, I got this low carb, wheat free baking book and I started analyzing the recipes, as I've mentioned. One of the disappointments I had with the book was the lack of nutritional information. Since I do try to keep track on caloric intake as well as keeping it low carb, this information is important. And since this isn't standard fare, I can't just look up something similar to get an idea of the calories. Thus, I have been painstakingly figuring the recipes out. Fortunately, the cookbook author is working on the nutritional information for the website, but for now, it's doing it the hard way.

While I was looking things up, I discovered something a bit puzzling. I started talking about it with my husband and we did some more investigation to figure it out.

See, here's the deal. You see this product (and not just this product, but all similar products) say that it is zero calorie per serving.

My thoughs on it were, "Well one of these little packets contain less than one calorie, so calling it a zero calorie food is not 'lying' as it's less than one, right?"

Well, if you delve a little deeper, you will find that one cup of this sweetener is 96 calories. Me, totally unscientifically, was like, well, that's because it's more than one serving, so "OK, it adds up." My husband, totally scientifically minded said, "Wait a minute this doesn't add up. Are you sure you saw that right? 96 calories in 24 grams? That would mean 2 calories per serving/teaspoon./half a gram."  Well, that's not zero calories!

Then a quick search on the internet gets us to this. Anything that is less than 5 calories per serving can be called zero calories on packaging in the US.

Energy (caloric) content Sucralose has no caloric content, and Splenda products have a lower caloric content than sugar. The actual caloric content of a single-serving (1-gram packet) of Splenda is 3.36 calories, 31% of the calories of a single-serving (2.8-gram packet) of granulated sugar (10.8 calories). In the United States, it is legally labelled "zero calories"; U.S. FDA regulations allow this "if the food contains less than 5 calories per reference amount customarily consumed and per labeled serving". Further, Splenda contains a relatively small amount of sucralose, little of which is metabolized; virtually all of Splenda's caloric content derives from the dextrose or highly fluffed maltodextrin "bulking agents" that give Splenda its volume. Like other carbohydrates, dextrose and maltodextrin have 3.75 calories per gram.

And here's the legal code. Read number 4 a i.

The worst part is, there is no mention of this anywhere on the Splenda site. Nowhere. Even on their big bags of Splenda (or the generic variations). The bag says, even with it's obviously used for baking, "serving size 1 teaspoon." But.... to be fair, it also states on a bag of sugar  one teaspoon as a serving size. In this case, a teaspoon of sugar is 15 to 16 calories (it's in between - some bags say 15. Some say 16).

The difference is here: I can fairly accurately compute what a cup of sugar has for calories. I can find the calories by weight or I can find it by volume.

If I do weight, 1 teaspoon of sugar is approximately 4 grams (4.2 to be more precise). 4 grams of sugar in a teaspoon. 200 grams in a cup. So with some simple math of 50 times either 15 or 16 I can find that there are between 750-800 calories per cup. Nutritional calorie counters will give you 774 - almost precisely in the middle of those two numbers.

If I compute volume, then there are 48 teaspoons in a cup. So, 15 or 16 times 48 gives me 720 to 768 calories. Not quite as accurate as by using weight (and we all should know volume measurements are always less precise than using weights), since the actually number is 774, but it gives me a close number.

Now lets do the same with Splenda.  0 calories in .5 grams or one teaspoon. Packets that are one gram or 2 teaspoons also state 0 calories. There are 24 grams in a cup of splenda (had to do some digging around the internet for that info). Let's compute the calories then, shall we?

.5 grams to 24 grams. That's approximately 50 times the weight, so 50 times 0 equals zero. Now let's do  volume. 1 teaspoon is 0 calories. so 48 teaspoons times zero calories equals 0 calories.

I could use 5 cups of splenda and by the nutritional information on the bag/box, that would still equal 0 calories. When in reality it equal 96 calories for one cup and 480 calories for 5 cups.

Now, to give Splenda a break. The calories are significantly less than using sugar. I made low carb thumbprint cookies on Saturday. It called for 1.5 cups of Splenda, which I now know is 144 calories. The recipe made 24 cookies. So, there were 6 calories of sweetener per cookie and 1 added gram of carbs from the Splenda. If I were using sugar, that would have been 48 calories of sugar for each cookie and 8 grams of carbs.

But it's the principle of the thing that bugs me. Totally bugs me.

Are other sweeteners off the hook? Well, the only other sweetener I can readily get and I don't object to the taste is Stevia (also known as Truvia) Let's see.

Stevia: I have no idea. There is not a single site that lists it as having calories, but do they have to? It hasn't been around long enough in the US to get as scrutinized. I think I might email them and see their response as my guess is that the answer will not be zero calories for a cup of stevia! (and I did just send off an email. Let's see if I ever get a response.)

It states zero calories on the box, but what does that really mean, especially since it has 3 grams of carbs from Erythritol per serving? Know what erythritol is? Sugar alcohols. There's a lot of debate about sugar alcohols too, but erythritol is not one of the culprits that can cause stomach upset in some.

A quick additional look and I see that you can by erythritol plain (not also with stevia) and honestly, that looks even more appealing. But again, is it really zero calories?

Or am I asking the wrong questions? Does it really matter if something is low calorie versus no calorie? If' I'm using it to replace sugar in a recipe to stop the insulin response, does it matter if it has 6 calories and 1 gram of carbs per serving in those cookies I made on Saturday? When the alternative of sugar would have been 48 calories and 8 grams of carbs per cookie?

Will buying something truly no calorie (if it is no calorie) make much of a difference?

But can I still be buggered that they can state something has zero calories when it can have up to 5 per serving?

1 comment:

  1. There is so, so, so much fudging and skewing and straight out lying in food marketing. It annoys me and even disgusts me. I am happiest when I choose not to eat anything that comes in a package and accepting there are calories in everything (and I guess there should be calories in it if its real food, because we eat food to live and calories are fuel for living!).

    Anyway, I could rant about packaging and labels forever, but I won't and will just end in saying I agree with you and am glad someone is paying attention out there!