A few days ago, I saw an article [link no longer functional] by AP writer Candice Choi that was picked up in our local paper titled:
Serving size a pitfall for label-readers. Americans often miscalculate, eating too much.
The article focused on a study done at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, TN that looked into how well people can understand nutritional labels on products, a question for which, as it turns out, the answer is ‘not very well.’
Having been in the weight loss/diet/nutrition clinical trenches for twenty years or so, I could have saved them the money and told them in advance what the study ultimately proved: in the great majority, people don’t read labels on foods and even those who do read them often miss the part about serving number and serving size and even those who do recognize that a serving of beans as listed on the can is 1/2 cup will have the devil of a time correctly estimating the volume of 1/2 cup unless they measure.
Certainly all the blame can’t be laid on the consumer–although much of it must rest there–but also on the food manufacturers, who, in their desperation to make their products conform to the needs of target groups–low fat, low sodium, no trans fats, or low carb, to name a few–contort the serving size to suit their marketing need of the moment. I mean, a bottle of soda pop is a serving in the eyes of most consumers, not the multiple plus a fraction number of servings that lets the manufacturer slip under some pre-determined limit, adhering to the letter of the labelling laws, but not the spirit.
It’s all quite confusing to the av-er-age bear, as Yogi would say.
Veteran low carb dieters tend to be more conscious of the trickery employed by manufacturers than most consumers, I think, because experience has taught them to beware, but most of us have been hoodwinked at one time or another by a crafty labelers’ subterfuge.
That’s why, we always encouraged, urged, cajoled, and reminded our patients to:
1) read nutritional labels carefully for portion size, for carbs per portion, and for the presence of unhealthy additives, such as partially hydrogenated fats and oils, aspartame, MSG, nitrates, etc. in the ingredients listing.
2) measure portions carefully on carb rich foods, if they elected to eat them, so that the intended 1/8 cup of corn kernals doesn’t become 3/4 cup and with it the 5 grams of carb become 30.
3) keep a diet diary of all food consumed, at least when trying to correct a health issue or lose weight.
Yes, keeping a diet record is a pain in the keester, but like all worthwhile habits, it comes with rewards. Studies have shown that people trying to make a life change, in this case a dietary one, will be 4 times more likely to succeed if they record their intake and output honestly. We distributed a crisp new single sheet food and exercise diary each week to every one of our patients and expected them to do their part by entering everything that passed their lips each day–every bite, sip, prescription pill, or supplement–as well as all extra physical output. We, for our part, collected them and personally looked over every single entry every week, made comments, and returned them the following week.
If you’ve never undertaken the exercise of keeping a dietary record, I highly recommend it; if you’re like us and most of our patients over the years, it will prove to be an eye-opening experience if you do it with complete honesty.
These sorts of basic common knowledge tools or methods for success too often get shunted aside in the press to argue over the finer points of exercise or nutrition, but that doesn’t make them any less valid. Mike and I thought them so important for long term success that we included a 365 Day food/exercise journal (tailored, obviously, for a low carb diet) in our book Staying Power: Maintaining Your Low Carb Weight Loss for Good, published in 2005.
If when dieting, you hit a plateau in weight loss or in control of health measures, such as cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, or blood sugar, going back to these basics can often provide the kick that gets things going again.
As is so often the case, it is doing the little things well that matters the most.