A growing number of health-conscious consumers often read labels on the back of food products before making the decision to buy.
But it turns out they could be getting more saturated fat, sodium and calories than they bargained for.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based consumer advocacy group that also has a branch in Canada, is warning the public many food companies may use unrealistically small serving sizes to downplay the amount of fat, calories and sodium in their products.
The group recently sent a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration urging for new regulations that would require food companies to use serving sizes that better reflect the amount of food consumers are likely to eat.
The organization singled out canned soup, ice cream, coffee creamer and aerosol non-stick cooking sprays as some of the worst offenders when it comes to understating the calories, saturated fat and sodium consumers are likely to consume.
For instance, the group highlights the label on Campbell's Chunky Classic Chicken Noodle soup, which says there are 790 milligrams of sodium in a one-cup serving, which is just less than half of a can. But in a telephone survey commissioned by the CSPI, nearly two-thirds of consumers said they would eat the whole can in one sitting, which would amount to 1,840 milligrams of sodium - more than the recommended daily amount for adults, which is 1,500 milligrams.
"Given the prevalence of hypertension, heart disease, and stroke in America, we need accurate food labels that would ensure that consumers really know what they're likely to consume," CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson said in a statement. "The FDA should define serving sizes to reflect what consumers actually eat, as the law requires, not what the soup industry pretends that they eat."
The problem isn't only found in the U.S. and the problems aren't confined to items such as soup or ice cream. Take, for instance, the label on VH brand soya sauce, which says it has 1,160 milligrams of sodium per serving. The serving size the company uses is one tablespoon, even though most consumers are likely to use more than one tablespoon of sauce in one sitting, exposing them to very high amounts of sodium.
Many public health experts in Canada have complained for years that food labels are often misleading or very difficult for the average consumer to decipher.
One of the issues is that while companies are required to put nutrition labels on most food products, they don't have to use uniform serving sizes. Several experts have called for this to be rectified in order to give consumers better information.
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