We know that those in our FoodFacts.com community are vigilent about nutrition labels and ingredient lists for the foods they purchase. It’s the best way to be as educated as we can regarding what’s really in the products we’re taking home with us from the grocery store. Today, however, we came across some information we want to share with you about possible inaccuracies regarding the calorie counts on nutrition labels. Experts are now telling us the numbers listed might be incorrect.
Some recent studies have shown that it’s not just the ingredients that count for calorie counts. It’s also the amount of processing that is required to prepare the food. So whatever slicing, chopping, mashing might be necessary to get that food into its package can affect the number of calories you’re actually consuming. In fact, even chewing those foods might, in fact, release some calories during the digestion process when it comes to the ingredients that aren’t used by the body. None of these variables are accounted for in the current calorie calculations used on nutrition labels.
Science has understood for quite a while that calorie counts are actually estimates. But now, researchers are focusing on the issue and asking for a revamp of the system used. That way, consumers would have a more accurate depiction of the number of calories they are consuming from the products they purchase.
David Baer, a research physiologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Human Nutrition Research Center headed a study that showed that almonds have 20% fewer calories than previously thought. They are now looking into testing other food products. While the inaccuracies of nutrition label calorie counts are generally small, it is thought that for some foods, the count can differ from the estimate by up to 50%.
A device called a bomb calorimeter is one way that’s used to measure a food’s calorie count. There are many factors the bomb calorimeter cannot take into account. But old methods are still used today, because food manufacturers have simple ways to make their calorie calculations.
There are foods – for instance, those high in fiber – that are not digested as well as others. That would mean that we actually get less calories from them then we’re currently aware of. For other foods, however, we’re actually consuming a higher amount of calories than suggested by the listing on the nutrition label.
Further research coming out of Harvard University’s FAS Center for Systems Biology has shown that processing food changes its calorie count. So for example, pureed carrots would carry a different calorie count than whole carrots. That’s because the processing of the vegetable takes some of the work out of digesting the vegetable. The processed vegetable will contain more calories than the whole vegetable.
While some researchers are saying that the differences in actual calories versus those estimated by current calculation formulas on nutrition labels really wouldn’t affect us that much, others who are advocating for a calculation revision say that it would be best to give consumers the most accurate information possible. This would help people make the most informed choices possible about their food choices.
Changing the current system would not be an easy task. But researchers might be able to improve the biggest gaps in the system … like adjusting for food processing.
FoodFacts.com is pleased to see increased concern regarding the need for consumers to make the most educated and informed food choices possible. While we know changes to the calorie calculation system make take some time to reach us, we think it’s in every consumer’s best interest and will keep an eye out for whatever improvements are being considered.