August 6, 2009

Not my cup of cocoa

This afternoon at work, I was lagging and in need of some type of pick-me-up (low blood sugar? Maybe, I had eaten a light lunch). I went into the break room to grab coffee, and found myself contemplating the hot cocoa packets next to the coffee cups. Normally, I don’t like to drink my calories (I drink my coffee with no sugar and just a touch of skim milk), but I wondered exactly how much I’d be splurging to have a cup of cocoa.

The nutrition facts were divided into two sections: one for just the cocoa, and one for the cocoa with 6 ounces of skim milk. I thought that made absolutely no sense whatsoever. I understand that most people wouldn’t have the cocoa mix on its own, so it could be a misleading to show the calories for just the mix. However, what I add to it is my prerogative. Sometimes I make my cocoa with water and sometimes with milk. Besides, the milk used can vary in nutrition content based on whether you pick whole or skim or somewhere in between.

It’s not just Swiss Miss that uses this practice of labeling for what you might put with their product. I’ve seen a lot of cereals do this, as well as things like macaroni and cheese. I would assume that since most of these are fairly nutritionally useless foods, they’re trying to make it look healthier by being able to add the protein and calcium and Vitamin D you get by adding milk. It reminds me of the practice where drink companies will indicate that one serving is 1/3 of a bottle, so they can make it seem like their soda is only 100 calories instead of 300; this one is just kind of in reverse.

But where does it end? Is WonderBread going to start including the stats for if you add 4 oz of roast turkey to their bread to make a sandwich? My thinking is, if I’m going to add something to a product and I’m concerned about nutrition content, I’ll look at that label separately and then make a holistic decision whether or not to make the cocoa or the sandwich or whatever. It doesn’t particularly bother me to have extra info on the package (hey, I’d rather have too much nutritional information than not enough), but it is a bit annoying and confusing when you first look at a package.

What do you think? Any other reasons I can’t come up with as far as why they do this? And which way do you prefer it – showing you what you’ll most likely be eating, or just showing what’s in that particular package?


1 thought on “Not my cup of cocoa”

  1. The two labels are called dual declaration. FDA permits foods that require additional prep with another food (common ones are those which add milk to a dry/powdered product, like the mac and cheese, cake mix, cereal, etc) to show the nutritional information in an additional panel.

    It can be helpful – like with cake, knowing the value of the dry mix isn’t going to help people if they aren’t going to look up the two eggs+oil+milk, etc that you add. Or it can be not that helpful – like your cocoa, in which case you can ignore it and just look at the regular panel that applies to you. I think the actual NLEA requirement is based on the change in the amount of product/use of additional ingredient.

    Personally, I don’t always prepare as they recommend – but the second panel can be a good eye opener, so I think it’s nice to have both as long as you know what you’re looking at.

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