Tuesday, September 22, 2009

WHEN DOES 16 X 0.49 = ZERO?

In the past I put my trust in food labels to figure the nutrition counts for my recipes. Apparently, it was misplaced.

I know that sometimes they are just wrong. For example, I have 2 different brands of powdered erythritol that list the weight as being the same as that for granular erythritol. However, when I weigh it, it weighs twice as much. I assume that the manufacturer, who is required to provide the information, took the numbers from some approved chart that only listed the weight for one form, so that is what they used. I can relate; I’m having a similar problem finding accurate nutrition information when the numbers on the databases that I must use are rounded and generic. I know the rules and they are far from precise:

-Any food that contains less than 0.5 grams of carbohydrate can legally say it contains none.

-Any food that contains 0.50 grams or more will say “1 gram” or "less than one."

When the serving size is very small, such as it is for something like cream, what do you do? The labels for organic cream say, “zero carbs,” for a serving of one tablespoon, while the labels on non-organic cream, which usually include milk, thickeners, and stabilizers, say “1” or “less than one." http://carbwars.blogspot.com/2008/08/blog-fodder-fat-saves-world-and-other.html

Relying on the label numbers has probably been adequate for me in the past, but when I started to calculate the counts for the new book, I decided to see if I could track down more accurate information, especially since this book is targeted for those with diabetes as well as those who need to lose weight and improve their health.

I contacted the makers of Organic Valley, a widely available brand of organic cream, to ask if they could tell me what is really in their cartons. At least I got a straight answer, if not the one I had hoped for. Their cream has 0.37 grams of carbs per tablespoon. So that means 5.92 grams of carbs per cup. Less than milk, but far from zero. I plan to talk to some other companies to see if they all say the same thing.

Aged cheese is another product frequently labeled as having no carbohydrate, but most databases give the count as 1 gram per ounce. At least one ounce is a realistic serving size, but every carb counts when your target total is low. (The database that I am currently using puts Parmesan at a whopping 4 grams per ounce, when the nutrition panels on the actual packages all call it zero.)

I contacted the National Dairy Council to see if they could provide more detailed information. The first person I spoke to said she was formerly employed by a major cheese manufacturer, and that she knew personally that their aged or hard cheeses had no sugar. (The sugar is in the whey, she said, which has been removed from hard cheese.) She referred me to another person who provided lots of links to more info, but her advice was that to be safe, I should go with 1 carb per ounce. When I followed her link to the USDA’s database, this is some of what I found:

-1 tablespoon of grated Parmesan is listed as 0.1 grams of sugar and 0.2 grams of carbohydrate (what is the 0.1 grams that is not sugar? It doesn’t say.) So that’s 0.8 carbs per quarter cup.

-Processed American cheese is listed as having 0.4 grams of carbs, but only 0.1 of sugar. It doesn’t explain what the extra 0.3 grams of carbs are (fiber and starch are not given).

- ¼ cup of part-skim ricotta has 2.8 grams of carbs, but only 0.2 grams of sugar. Again, what is the 2.6 grams of carbs that are not sugar? It doesn’t say.

-It gets even more weird: 2% milk has 11 grams of total carbs, but 12.8 grams of sugar! So what are the 1.8 grams of sugar that are not carbohydrate? In fact, the 3 different listings for white milk on the chart all show more sugar than carbs. You can have more carbs than sugar because fiber, starch, and ash are carbs, but how could you have more sugar than carbs when sugar IS carbohydrate?
From the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Release 21 (2008): www.ars.usda.gov/nutrientdata:

I really want to get the nutrition counts right, but it is not going to be easy. I’ll keep looking for the facts, but I’m going to have to wait a while; this is making my head hurt.

© 2009, Judy Barnes Baker

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