Are you curious if something is truly “zero A unit commonly used to measure the amount of energy that is... More?” In this post we will be discussing the rules food and drink manufacturers use to round the Two categories: micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and m... More and calorie data, which is then used to make their claims.
For the raw answers, you can find a table here.
As you’ll see on the table, if a serving (not the entire bottle or package) has less than 5 calories, it can be rounded down for zero. This can be used to the manufacturer’s advantage.
Take Sobe Lifewater, a “zero-calorie” drink for example. When you read the label, aside from the confusing fact that there are carbs (see an in-depth explanation of sweeteners and their energy) it will say there are 0 calories per serving, and 2.5 servings per bottle. Using the table linked above, the bottle can actually have up to 12 calories! And Sobe Lifewater is no rare case. Any food you eat that has a nutrition label rounds its data to the aforementioned specifications.
Because of this, dieters constantly get into trouble when counting calories and nutrients. Crunching some numbers, I calculated that on an average day I my margin of error is 2 – 3%. On a 2,000 calorie diet, that’s around 50 calories a day! That’s 12 grams of protein, 12 grams of carbohydrates, or more than 4 grams of fat. And those numbers can add up. If you ate 50 calories less than you meant to every day, you would lose an extra 5 pounds a year, on the other hand, if you ate 50 calories too many every day, you would obviously gain an extra 5 pounds a year.
Now these are obviously extremes, but they are extremes for a 2,000 calorie diet. This could be all too realistic for athletes and bodybuilders (ironically the main chunk of people who watch what they eat and drink) that require far more calories per day.
See also: Get to Know Your Nutrients
What can you do about it? Unfortunately, not much. The only realistic solution would be to cut down on packaged foods. All fruits and vegetables have exact nutrition readouts online, measuring by weight or volume. For these foods at least, you won’t have to worry about the precision of data.
Even if you can’t do all too much about it, be aware that what your label tells you is almost never in perfectly unrounded and exact numbers. It is only a problem if you live by those numbers and believe them to be exact.
Keep in mind if a product has tiny serving sizes, and you eat several at a time, the quantity of calories and nutrients you could be accidentally eating multiplies. E.g., a king size chocolate bar that has 70 calories per serving and 8 servings per bar. There could in actuality be 65 to 74 calories per serving, so theoretically the entire bar could be anywhere from 520 to 592 calories. This goes for everything: sugar in your cereal, salt in your popcorn, fiber in your bar, fat in your butter, and protein in your cheese.
Thanks for reading!
Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. Title 21, Chapter I, Subchapter B, Part 101, February, 2016. http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=0811a061720528cac7d88e839b14cb5c&pitd=20160216&tpl=/ecfrbrowse/Title21/21cfr101_main_02.tpl. Accessed September 14, 2016.