Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Nutrition ... Facts?

From the label above, can you tell how much vitamin C is in a 1 cup serving of Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice Cocktail?

100%, right? 100% of what? How much is that? Say you're an adult male who smokes. Say some pedantic nutritionist tells you it's a good idea to be getting at least 125 mg/day vitamin C.1 Are you satisfying your needs with 1 cup of Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice Cocktail?

Below is a label for Stonyfield Farm yogurt:

From this label, can you tell how much calcium is in this 6 oz. container?

30%, right? Argh! How much is that? Something about this stinks of contempt for the intelligence of the average person. Vitamin bottles list amounts, why can't food packages? Maybe they thought the average person would assume 3 servings of this yogurt, or any other food whose label advertises 30% calcium, would just about satisfy daily calcium needs, whether for a teenager, a postmenopausal woman, or a Starbuck's addicted computer programmer. (Of course, without actual amounts, the only thing a person could do is assume.)

I can understand the FDA's desire to simplify and standardize these labels. And, let it not go without saying that I'm Really Happy to have a label at all. But I miss the days when labels listed vitamins and minerals in amounts, not percentages. What if I was one of those fanatics who liked to get 500 mg/day vitamin C if I felt a cold coming on? How many glasses of Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice Cocktail would I need to consume?

Ok, enough of my silly suspense ...

That cup of cranberry juice has 60 mg of vitamin C. (Nowhere does it say that.) The fanatic who wants to get 500 mg would need to drink 8.3 cups, not 1, to get what she fashions as her needs, her 100%. The non-fanatical smoker would need to drink at least 2 cups, not 1, to get his 100%.

And that container of yogurt has 300 mg of calcium. (Nowhere does it say that.) A teenager should be getting at least 1300 mg/day, and older women should shoot for 1200-1500 mg/day. So that container only supplies 23%, not 30%, of the teenager's needs, and even less of the woman's needs.

That's why I miss when labels used to carry amounts.

(If you're interested in knowing the figures that label percentages are based on, go to Appendix A of the FDA's Food Labeling Guide. It lists the "Daily Values" that manufacturers use as a standard. Unfortunately, these values don't reflect the range of variation in recommended intake based on gender, age, lifestyle, fanaticism, etc.)

1 The Institute of Medicine, the people who develop RDAs and DRIs, confide that the DRI for vitamin C for an adult male (90 mg) is inadequate if that male smokes: "Because smokers suffer increased oxidative stress and metabolic turnover of vitamin C, their recommended intake is increased by 35 mg/day."

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