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Two Guys Lose Weight: The cheesiness of nutrition labels

Day 15: Tony discovers that serving size can vary widely

By Tony Pierce, Los Angeles Times

3:48 AM EST, January 24, 2011

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NOTE: This is a blog about two guys attempting to lose weight over a six-week period.  They kicked off their weight loss "strategies" on Jan. 10.

Two weeks into all of this and starting the third, there is a lot I have learned: Fruit juices may be natural, but they're loaded with sugars and calories, the late-night snacks are my doom, not all slices of bread are created equal, my delicious Wheat Thins and granola bars aren't helping me shed weight, and simply walking up and down beautiful stairs can provide a cheap and useful workout.

Those lessons just scratch the surface of wisdom I've garnered, and in my quest to learn more about what's in the food I'm eating, I am starting to read nutrition labels more closely -- and cynically.

RELATED: Nutrisystem and "South Park"

Take, for example, my beloved Wheat Thins. According to the label, a "serving" is 150 calories and 6 grams of fat. But how many crackers are in a serving? The label says 16. That's not a huge portion, especially if you're downing four or five in a mouthful. But OK, that's fine.

However, while strolling the aisle looking for a new flavor of Wheat Thins, my eye spied Wheat Thins Artisan White Cheddar Crackers? The label said it was 140 calories. Score! My new treat. But on closer inspection, that was for seven crackers.

Now, yes, Artisan White Cheddar Crackers are a bigger than regular Wheat Thins, but not twice as big. The cynical part of me says, "They must make the crackers look a little different and slightly larger to hide all the calories you get from that cheese."

Ranch-flavored Wheat Thins are the same size as original Wheat Thins, but for some reason the serving size is nine crackers. Now how does that make any practical sense other than to allow the label to proclaim 140 calories? Are they suggesting that people eat fewer Ranch-flavored Wheat Thins than the original?

This practice is cheesy and should be stopped. Just tell us how many calories in the box. The box we are buying. We'll do the division.

But the serving-size trickery I hate the most is when they sell you something that is clearly meant for one person and try to pretend otherwise on the nutrition label. While at the store, I pushed my cart into the soup aisle. There I saw a can of soup shaped like a bowl. Once home you take off the plastic top, pull the metal lid off, put the plastic top back on, and pop it in the microwave.

Clearly it's an average bowl of soup for an average person. But looking at the label, it claims to be for "about 2" people. In what family? You'd have to be the smallest of children to have to share a bowl of soup with another. Or very poor.

I would bet that most people who buy that soup are not splitting it among two poor little kids. If ever there were a bowl of soup perfectly made for a single adult, it's one that has you rip off the lid and shove the soup into the nuker.

That's one bowl of soup, and it is not 140 calories (see a trend?); it's "about" 280.

Michelle Obama, where are you?

Weigh-in: 167 (3.5 lbs lost so far)

Diet: Friday: Granola bar for breakfast. Chicken salad, Diet Dr. Pepper for lunch. Half chicken at Zankou, small serving of hummus, small garlic paste, Diet Pepsi for dinner. Fourteen peanuts for dessert. Saturday: Two packets of oatmeal, glass of grape juice for breakfast. Bowl of 100-calorie vegetable soup for lunch and 14 Wheat Thins. Turkey sandwich for dinner. There was drinking: two Amstel Lights. Sunday: Two packs of oatmeal for breakfast, small glass of grape juice. Bowl of vegetable soup for lunch with a Coke. Pigged out at sushi dinner: sauteed eggplant and mushrooms, asparagus, about eight pieces of sashimi sushi, four scallops, one albacore sushi, and a lobster hand roll. About 1 1/2 medium-sized bottles of hot sake. Scoop of strawberry ice cream and half a slice of chocolate cake (it was the birthday of a nice old woman sitting next to us, and she sent over a plate -- had to eat it!)

Exercise: One hour of cardio, basketball, and weights on Friday. Five times up and down the Santa Monica stairs on Sunday (about half an hour).

Related:
Two guys lose weight: The journey

The nighttime is the wrong time to snack
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