Fuzzy Fattening Food Math


A number of smart folks have been “burned” lately through no fault of their own–it’s fuzzy math on food labels.

If you are counting calories, be aware that although 0 means 0 in the real world, the FDA allows food labels to round to the closest 5 or 10 calories (for foods under and over 50 calories, respectively.)

It’s hardly ever a big deal, but here are some cases where I’ve seen it wreak havoc with results:

  • Spray Butter Substitutes:

Many list 0 calories per serving, and about 1000 servings per bottle. There are actually about .8 calories per serving–which you’d only learn by calling the company and asking!–putting about 800 calories in the bottle.

…which means that taking off the spray top and pouring the entire thing on your broccoli isn’t the calorie bargain implied by the label.

Every year I talk to dozens of people who do this, thinking it’s the loophole of the century. Other products where this can happen include:

  • Spray Salad Dressings
  • Spray Cooking Oils
  • Calorie-free sauces and toppings with small serving sizes
  • Sugar-free gums and candies

These are still low-calorie foods if you stick anywhere close to the intended serving sizes. It’s probably good to have one more reason not to think of these processed foods as “free”.

Have a good week!


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