August 22, 2007

Labels that Lie: "Zero" Integrity

Since the Associated Press just reminded us again that you can't trust a food label to be accurate, Crabby thought she'd use their article as an excuse for a little rant. She's tired of swearing at her computer, and now that it's fixed, she thought it might be time to get back to her more usual swearing about Health and Fitness annoyances!

And Crabby doesn't mean those obviously Scammy Miracle Weight Loss Products marketed by skeezy fly-by-night companies you've never heard of. This is mainstream, government sanctioned lying by big Fortune 500 companies. No doubt they all have the usual corporate mission statements about "delighting customers" and "exceeding expectations" and offering "extraordinary quality and value!" They never seem to include "Lying our Pants Off to Make People Think Crap that Will Eventually Kill them is Actually Good for Them" into those mission statements.

Anyway, what the AP article is talking about is labels that say "zero trans fats."

You've seen these. Say you're at the grocery store and you pick up a package of Tempting Junk Food that you know probably isn't good from you. But, at least it has finally switched away from Evil Trans-fats. It's packaging shouts out "Now with Zero Transfats!" Good news!

But then you look further on down at the ingredients, and one of them is "partially hydrogenated something-or-other oil." Hey, what gives? Isn't that a Trans Fat?

Yep, of course it is! Even though the package has quite a few transfats in it, they've declared an arbitrary, teeny tiny portion is "a serving." And because our always-helpful government agencies allow them to declare that .5 grams of something is really "zero"--all the trans-fats in the package simply disappear!

Why is it a hardship to put the actual amount of transfats on the label? Crabby speculates that the extra ink it takes to print .5 instead of 0 must be really expensive. Or something.

This doesn't mean there's necessarily a lot of transfats in the product. There may not be. But half a gram is not zero! It's a lie! And you can't even figure out for yourself how much is in the whole package, because apparently they don't have to tell you.

This drives Crabby crazy. Because unlike you Smart Readers, average consumers don't necessarily know about the cheaty rounding rules, or to look for partially hydrogenated oils on the label. They think if it there's a big banner saying there's Zero Transfats in a product, that means there aren't actually any transfats, no matter how much you eat. Which is wrong, but actually quite logical.

It's not just transfats either. Splenda is very low-cal, but it doesn't actually have "zero" calories in it. And have you ever bought a can of Pam "Fat Free" Olive Oil and wondered what the hell is supposed to be in there if there's no fat? How can there be no fat or calories in a can full of Oil? (Crabby doesn't buy it anymore anyway, since it smells more like paint thinner than olive oil, and she's no longer afraid of Good Fats). But still. They use a microsecond spray as a serving until they find one less than .5, then round down. And again, by magic, all the fat and calories in a can of Olive Oil simply cease to exist.

There are only about 37 million more examples of deceptive advertising like this (and don't let Crabby Go Off on "Now Made With Whole Wheat" yet again) but she thought she'd share another new twist she discovered.

Crabby herself is now Virtually Fat Free!

At least that must be the explanation. Because here's what happened:

Crabby hates to shop for clothes and has not done much of it in the past few years. But she went off to Macy's over the weekend and braved a One Day Sale. She actually bought things! Including shorts.

And Crabby is pleased to announce she has dropped two sizes! All her hard work has paid off. She now wears a size that is so small it barely exists. It might as well be a Zero! (Which is now, apparently, an actual size). Crabby had to keep going back for more clothes because she couldn't quite believe how much she had accomplished over these last years.

The interesting thing is that it was so easy! She's just doing the same cardio, the same weights, eating the same mostly healthy but sometimes Abominable diet, yet the labels prove she is so much thinner than she used to be.

The strange thing, though, is that all her old clothes with the much bigger number on the label still fit her just fine. They should be hanging off her! Obviously, the dryer must have shrunk them. Also, her bathroom scale must be out of order because it still has the same old range of numbers it always did.

Because to arbitrarily declare that a pair of shorts that has not changed dimensions is nonetheless now a "smaller" size? That would be dishonest and misleading, wouldn't it?

Crabby is so very, very proud of herself!


  1. I hear your rant on the labeling. Most people don't know what they're getting. I thing it's General Mills cereals now claim they have whole grain in each box - a whole 5%! Wow!

    I still use pam. I like aerosol. But I still haven't figured out exactly what a serving is.....

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Good on ya for dropping two sizes. I'm sure you've earned a reward and I strongly recommend dark chocolate. Solely for its health benefits, of course.
    Ah, misleading labels. It's there or it ain't. Lying does not change that simple fact.
    Food labels are commonly written in secret code.
    For example, "natural flavor." If we see that on say, strawberry ice cream, we would naturally conclude that the strawberry flavor is from strawberries. We are probably wrong. It simply means that the strawberry flavor in question came from a natural source as opposed to a chemical concoction in a lab.
    "Natural" can also mean it's MSG.

    So, uhm "fat-free" olive oil? That's some fancy footwork.
    Humblest apologies, Crabby. The second post, now deleted, was mine. I accidentally hit publish when I mean to hit edit. Corrections were in order so I killed it and tried again.

  4. Fat-free olive oil?

    That's the most retarded thing I've seen in the world of (non-)nutrition so far. Kudos on whoever came up with that stunt, though, because at the same time, it's brilliant.

  5. yup, it's hard to teach and preach reading labels if we can't understand them or if they don't make sense.

    Congrats on the new clothes. :-)

  6. This sort of food mislabeling has been a peeve of mine for years We should be able to read down the nutritional facts without necessarily having to examine the ingredient list. When the former proudly states 0% Trans Fats the latter does indeed often deceive us by containing the dreaded H word. Thanks for the reminder to read beyond the Nutritional breakdown.

  7. Crabby, first of all, congrats on the re-sizing! That's awesome news!
    Now, this 'trans-fat' free nonsense--what devastating deception! In an effort to control calories and carbohydrate intake when it comes to my holy, sacred morning cup of coffee, I've been using 'Sugar-free Coffee Mate French Vanilla' religiously for the last few months. Delicious stuff. But shame on me, I should know better--despite the label saying 'trans-fat free', I did indeed notice the first or second ingredient to be 'partially hydrogenated palm oil'. So I felt deceived by the manufacturer and our government. I can't afford to even have .5% of that crap in my diet--my arteries won't take it. So thank the Lord, I found 'International Delight's French Vanilla' coffee creamer--also advertised as 'trans-fat free' and lo and behold, the first ingredient is just 'palm oil'--nothing partially or fully hydrogenated. Small victory? Who knows--I'm probably just better off finding another way (I'm in the process of doing that now) of flavoring my beloved coffee whilst adding non-homogenized pure cream to it.
    But I agree with your sentiments 100%.

  8. This drives Crabby crazy. Because unlike you Smart Readers, average consumers don't necessarily know about the cheaty rounding rules, or to look for partially hydrogenated oils on the label. They think if it there's a big banner saying there's Zero Transfats in a product, that means there aren't actually any transfats, no matter how much you eat. Which is wrong, but actually quite logical.

    Exactly. And if you eat 4 or 5 things a day that have "zero trans fat..." well, what if each one had only 0.5g of trans fat? Four or five * 0.5 = 2 to 2.5g trans!

    Staying away from processed foods as much as possible seems to be the best solution.

  9. But doesn't it feel better to by a dress, just because the tag says something you wish for? I definitely prefer 40 to 42, and I know I would be easily fooled into buying more by "nice" size tags.

    Now for your American "servings". Who came up with something so ridiculous? By ONE can of coke, and get, euh, two and a half servings? Wouldn't you think one coke is one serving? Often I admire Americans, but somethings are just backwards. Why don't you just say "contents in 100 g of product". Then it would be easy to compare between products, and easy to bring out a scale to check how much you've really taken. Then there could be serving size info on the side, but not as only information!

  10. My favorite new food gimick is the "Diet Pepsi Max" and "Diet Coke Plus". They say, look we added vitamins to it, its healthy now! Of course its the same old diet soda chemical concoction with a little bit of extra vitamins.

    I still drink Diet Coke everyday, but I don't bother with the plus.

  11. Why don't you just say "contents in 100 g of product".

    I think it's our government's way of trying to teach us the math we napped through in school! :-)


  12. Congrats on the new sizing, Crabby!

    I have a friend who's one of those genetically super-lucky people who's just really naturally thin, even if she eats all the time. She's a size 0. But because of all the resizing, none of the clothes fit her anymore, they're all too bad! "Ohh, boo hoo," you say? When I struggle to maintain my size 10? But it always seems like those at the extremes get the bad deal...

  13. Where did my blog go? I couldn't get in for a while, sorry! However, I could go other places, so I suspect Blogger was the problem, not my Unreliable HP laptop.

    And the sad thing about those whole grain claims is sometimes when I'm not paying attention I fall for them myself! And I think if you go to the Pam website you can get the actual info. My recollection is that it's something like 7 calories per 1 second spray.

    Leah--if it is possible for me to eat any more dark chocolate I will take you up on that suggestion! And yeah, that "natural flavor" thing is another really sneaky thing they do.

    Isn't that Evil? I think the cans actually say "for fat-free cooking." Which is still a big fat lie!

    And it's especially annoying that the labels are confusing On Purpose!

    Sounds like you're a careful label reader who doesn't get fooled, but it does rankle that we have to be so careful all the time because they won't just be honest about what's in there!

    Hi Adam,
    Yes, I'm so proud of my new clothing labels! And like you, I've always been perplexed as how any sort of "creamer" could be fat free. I tend to get some of my calcium by having my coffee with nonfat & 1% milk, which does pile on quite a few calories but at least has some nutritional benefits. Good luck on your Creamer Quest!

    Eh, Not So much,
    I totally agree with you that it's best to stay away from processed food. Yet... the idea of buying something already made is so compelling! And I love snacks and treats. So I keep being lured in by these falsely "healthy" snack food offerings. Someday maybe I'll grow up and just accept the fact they're all pretty much crap!

    Hi Pelikan,
    You are so right about the silly serving sizes! How can a can of Coke that can't be closed up again be more than one serving? But we Americans tend to love Appearance over Reality. People from other countries often seem much more sensible! Thanks so much for coming by and leaving a comment.

  14. If you reach a size 0, shouldn't you just disappear? Not that I wouldn't mind trying...
    Congrats on the weight loss!

  15. Hi Noah,
    I'm with you, I don't quite understand why you'd want to take a multi-vitamin pill in with a soft drink! Plus with all these different products "fortifiying" themselves it gets hard to track how much of which thing you're actually getting. (Though I still like drinking my broccoli tea!)

    Hi Dr. J,
    Oh, so that's what the government is up to? I'm so glad we have you to translate because I can sure never figure it out!

    Hiya Leth,
    I actually sympathize with your friend--not that I'm in danger of slipping off the sizing charts, but as someone who hates shopping, it would be really frustrating to have even more barriers to finding stuff that fits. If I were a bit bigger I'd just buy mens clothes--where you can find your size and it comes in different lengths and widths, and 29 inches is always 29 inches! I feel like I'd actually love to shop if I were a guy!

  16. Pam and Splenda?! Ack! I can feel the cancer spreading in my body just thinking about it. I really am freaky about stuff like that, but it's probably because my mom passed away from Cancer not too long ago (and she was quite young). I started shopping religiously at Whole Foods when she got sick. I know a lot of people are rolling their eyes right about now, but hey, we all handle death in our own special way. After reading _Fast Food Nation_ and watching the film "Super Size Me" I am not all that trusting. People lie to make money. It's a sad, sad truth.

  17. Hi Missicat!

    I'm with you--a size zero should be invisible! At least start the sizing at .001 or something.

    And while I'm very proud that my clothing label numbers have dropped dramatically, I'm still confused as to why neither my scale nor my old clothes are getting with the program! Perhaps they have new 'improved' scales now that will tell me what I want to hear.

    Hi Soap Box Girl,
    So sorry to hear about your mother. And I don't think it's a silly reaction at all. But even Whole Foods has their own weird inconsistencies and junk food. They'll sell you a cake at their bakery that's all white flour and butter and sugar, as though just because some of the ingredients are organic, that the rest of it isn't really bad for you.

  18. Heya Crabby! I think I remember reading an explanation somewhere once that (in response to that popular "Marilyn Monroe wore a size 10!" defense of the average American woman's size) MM's size 10 is actually equivalent to our current size 6? And don't even let's get started on talking about the sizing disparities between different companies
    (Dear Old Navy,
    Why can I wear a size 8 pant from New York & Co., but your size 12 remains solidly unbuttonable?
    No love,

  19. Your ideas on clothing sizes intrigue me, Crabby, and I'd like to subscribe to your newsletter.

    Seriously, the labeling thing amazes and infuriates me. My mom is obsessed with Benecol, a "zero trans fat" margarine spread. I know damn well it's partially hydrogenated and that if you have enough rolls smeared with the stuff it'll give you an unwelcome dose of trans. But hey, at least it "raises good cholesterol!"

    Facepalm. Why does the government let this happen? Oh, right: piles and piles and PILES of money.

  20. Oh, definitely! Whole Foods is not a shining example; it's just the best option we have (at least in my city). There's tons of stuff that's misleading on their shelves. Products are advertised as being healthy, when in fact they aren't any better than a box of Oreos. OK, Crabby, so how do we fix all of this??? Who do we start yelling at? :)

    P.S. Yeah, it's proven women are more likely to buy a smaller size than a bigger size at the clothing store. Let's put everyone in a size zero--we'll make tons of money! (Not to take away from your hard work. You may in fact be a size zero!) :)

  21. Um, I'm going to have to be the Bad Guy and I'm very sorry.

    A few years ago it seems that many clothing manufacturers decided to switch around a lot of the sizes for women's clothes. In other words, label bigger clothes with smaller sizes. I suppose the reasoning was, "Hey! This will make women feel better about buying clothes so they'll buy MORE!"

    They fooled me. I gained 40 pounds in the 8 months after I had a staph infection and had no idea. I knew I had gained some weight, because I moved up into the next size bracket according to one particular store's clothes. When I went shopping at another store (a more pricey store) I found I had actually moved up THREE size brackets.

    It was a bad day, needless to say.

    I hope you don't hate me for telling you this. :(

  22. re: misleading clothing labels

    Once upon a time, several months ago, I thought I was going to go to the mall and buy some smaller pants. But the size I thought I fit into now was way too small. I ended up having to buy size 18 pants. The largest size they carried! Just a few pounds away from wearing a muumuu and washing myself with a rag on a stick!! I think people in the next state must have heard my wails of despair.


    (But, on a more pleasant note, the pants I wear to work are magic pants! I instantly drop a size whenever I put them on! Neat, huh??)

  23. Reminds me of the dolphin-friendly labels on tuna cans. The Gubbermint ruled that it was okay to put that label on cans if only a "certain number" of dolphins were killed in the tuna nets.
    I used to think we were living in an Orwellian society, now I think it's more accurate to call it an "Oh Well"-ian one. Sigh.

  24. "Because to arbitrarily declare that a pair of shorts that has not changed dimensions is nonetheless now a "smaller" size? That would be dishonest and misleading, wouldn't it?" a bearer of crap news, I too read a little while ago that clothing manufacturers are changing their sizing charts as of late to make their clothes labelled as smaller than they actually are - so consumers will feel better about themselves. NOt all of thankfully. Then there's the stores where you're magically 2 sizes bigger for no reason...I don't get it. Cuz that's the whole joy of shrinking abit - trying on something you used to fit and realising it's too big...How's about a standard size chart?

    And the whole "natural flavoring thing"...awful. My siste r in law is allergic to MSG - what a nightmare. Anything naturally flavoured could be MSG...I"d hate to play russion nausea roulette with foods. I'm glad I'm allergic to obvious things like orange juice and penicillin. The whole zero trans fats thing shouldn't even be allowed. I mean if you can just make your portion size small enough that the "portions" has less than 0.5g of saturated fats, what's the point. It's like the nutritional info on candy bars that lists the info for HALF a bar...who eats half a bar?
    There's a wholel lot of "natural" flavours that are awful and terrible for you...just derived from natural things...and are still absolutely awful for you. Like aspartame - naturally derived. A chemical weapon in larger doses...but sweet and "harmless" in tiny doses.
    Gah. And people wonder why I try and cook all my food from scratch now...

    I won't let them make me angry. They wouldn't like me when I'm angry.

  25. Since I found out about the all the truth stretching by the food industry, I started to do a lot at home baking on top of everyday home cooking. Cakes, cookies, stuff like that. This isn't a frequent thing, however. When I bake, I know EXACTLY what is in my food. Simple, natural, organic when possible, ingredients that don't need chemicals and man-made fats to prolong shelf life.

  26. honestly, I knew all that junk about rounding down to zero if less than 0.5 gramms... it's like the difference between "fat free" (less than 0.5g fat) and "low fat" (less than 3g fat).... but I STILL fall for all that stuff... the trans fat free banners on foods do make me feel slightly less guilty about eating them, but at the same time, I KNOW it's too good to be true so I *TRY* to stick to the indicated serving size. Except Pam and the like... how can you get a 0.3 second spray? how does that keep anything from sticking? my sprays are more like 3 seconds... :( oh well. It still gives me a nice even coat with less work than breaking out the butter and some paper towel when it comes to greasing baking dishes.

  27. ... Gubbermint. hahahahaha. I love it.

  28. I know; labels are so misleading. It's getting worse what with "natural" and "organic" some aren't either but are labeled as such. Plus all that "health" food; it seems like they're just trading fat for chemicals. We need to get back to a closer to the earth way of eating. If it spent a week in the science lab it just plain should not be on your dinner plate. That's how you eat healthy.

    And great job with the getting fit with clothing sizes ;)

  29. Hi Moon,
    Yeah, and the expensive brands are the worst, or best, depending on how you view this rather "optimistic" re-labeling. The section I wandered into was wildly marked-down stuff from DKNY, Calvin Klein, etc. They seem to have decided to grant me a drop of two full clothing sizes without any corresponding weight loss. Amazing!

    I believe you could have a successful career in blog comment spamming, just like whats-his-name! And I'd never heard facepalm before but that's such a great way to describe my reaction to so many things these days. And are you actually suggesting that our government might favor large corporations over the interests of regular people just because MONEY might be involved? I'm shocked!

    Soap box girl,
    You're right, sometimes Whole foods is the best of all the options. And nope, no size zero or hard work either, just wishful thinking on the part of the clothing manufacturers.

    Hi Lisa!
    Actually, I can see my attempt at humor missed the mark a bit. Yes, that was the point I was trying to make, fairly lamely I can see now! No, I have not lost any weight or changed anything about myself or my size--was just amused by the fact that by not shopping for a couple of years I'd "magically" lost two sizes the same way the transfats seem to have magically disappeared from the junk food packages. So don't worry, you didn't disillusion me!

    That was definitely not a nice thing to do! But I'm glad you have a pair of 'magic' pants too!

    Oh my god, Mary, that's awful! They can call tuna "dolphin friendly" as long as it doens't kill "too many" of them? Arrgh!

    Hi Geosomin!
    Yeah, I'm aware of the resizing--a joke that sort of misfired. But I'm with you, I REALLY don't understand the stores that make their sizes arbitrarily huge. And I never even thought of how awful the rounding down thing would be for people with allergies!

    That is SO the best answer to all this. Maybe you could make us all some nice home made cupcakes? :)

    Yeah, isn't that .3 second spray thing funny? I think you need to find a handy teenager who plays a lot of video games to press the button that fast. I've gone back to the paper-towel smearing method, and use good healthy oils, and figure a little extra won't kill me.

  30. Jennifer,
    Aren't the faux organic ones the worst? And with the government actively conspiring to make "organic" meaningless, it's just infuriating.

    And hey maybe we could market a whole new diet plan: shop your way slim! Because every year your size just keeps shrinking if you go to the "right" retailers!

  31. Hi all!

    So I will definitely keep reading any comments that come in, but may not get back to responding individually until the next post. (Otherwise, there may not be a next post, because I need to get going and write it!)

  32. I just have to add that any government that is so fond of the phrase "acceptable levels" as in:
    acceptable levels of radiation
    acceptable levels of pesticides
    acceptable levels of toxins
    absolutley cannot be trusted caring for my food!

  33. Crabby, I gotta send you one of my early columns on Decontenting. I think you'll like it. :)

  34. Why don't they just label women's clothes in inches like they do men's? My wife is always complaining that a 6 at the gap is different than a 6 somewhere else. She's probably also not happy with me posting her size here but I don't even know if I'm correct with that, just guessing.

    Anyway if clothes were labeled in inches then they couldn't just cheat.

  35. I love the Clothes-Sizing-Hypocrites as much as I love the Food-Labeling-Morons. Thank god I only shop at the same 3 stores. At least I only need to remember my 6 different sizes.. snark, snark, snark.

  36. Sorry, Crabby - there needs to be a font strictly for snarking, so that any ambiguity can be avoided, hehe.

    Or maybe I shouldn't read blogs when I want a nap? Hmmm...

  37. Oh believe me, I know. I write plenty of articles on this very topic on my Suite 101 column!
    These things drive me insane.
    Just make it a rule to READ THE LABEL! Especially the ingredients!

  38. Transfats are bad for you? Shoot.

    Congratulations on your successful shopping outing. I hate shopping. And sizes irk me because you never know what size to grab so you grab a couple sizes of each thing you're trying on and then they stop you and say, "oh um, you can only have four items at a time."

  39. Hi Holly & Frank & Vanilla & SmartCookie & Samanatha & Norabarnacle!

    Thanks for your always amusing comments!

    And Lisa, you're right, I need a special font because plenty of other people read it just the way you did! The fault was mine for thinking my sarcastic tone of voice and imaginary air quotes would some how be transmitted along with my post. Sorry about that.

  40. Try dealing with labeling issues when you have multiple - and I mean multiple - food allergies. My pet peeve is when things are not spelled out, like "spices" and "natural flavoring".

    This is why I munch on carrots all day long.

  41. Hi Psychoative Toad,

    Oh man, that must be frustrating.

    "Spices." Yep, that's helpful.

    Great blog, by the way!

  42. I used to have a clothes blog, because for a while I was slightly obsessed with them.

    My advice to my readers then was to buy clothes that fit (what a novel idea) and then cut out the labels. If you obsess about being a size 4, you'll slowly go insane because no two stores treat a 4 the same way.

    It's a recipe for insanity.. and frankly we have enough reasons to be insane with all the conflicting studies on caffeine and high-impact aerobic exercise to obsess about the sizes of our clothes. And. Scene. = )

  43. (re: smaller size clothing)


    My tagline on our blog is a sham! lol!
    Although I only wear a couple of brands (there are only a couple of store's whose clothes fit me right), I haven't noticed a huge difference.

    ok, but actually I'm a little excited by this too. I'm half tempted to run off to Macy's tomorrow and see if I have the same luck.

  44. Smart Cookie,
    Cutting out the labels... what a great idea!

    Except for my new pairs of "magic" shorts that cause instant weight loss. Those labels are staying!

    Hi Katieo!
    The main culprits were Calvin Klein and DKNY--their sizes were quite amusing! But hell, they were way on sale. I didn't venture anywhere near those 28 29 type numbers on the teenager jeans. I think it's mainly the Designery brands that do the most wishful thinking.


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