As a college student, you’ve probably found many ways to maximize the efficiency of your purchases—food included. Besides subsisting entirely on instant ramen noodles, an inferior food if there ever was one, you might also take advantage of the school’s easily-accessible To-Go Line, which at least offers a greater variety.
If you’re like me (having become diet conscious after losing 40 pounds over the course of my first semester) you may often factor in the nutritional value of the items into your meal arrangements. These can be found on the nutritional labels provided with each item. After taking the truth of this information for granted for a year, I decided to test its accuracy myself.
I’ve since brought a multitude of these items to my room to be measured on a scale designed for portioning food. This yielded ‘mixed’ results.
The inaccuracies in the provided information didn’t surprise me; the consistency and degree of the inaccuracy did.
Many items routinely weighed in anywhere from 1.5 to twice the labeled serving size. On items like the fruit cups, this is relatively harmless: an extra 25 to 50 calories should have little to no effect on one’s diet. It’s when this level of inaccuracy is found in the higher calorie foods such as sandwiches, wraps and parfaits, that it becomes a problem.
For example, the blueberry granola parfait, an old favorite of mine, is listed as being a serving of 5oz.
In reality, the provided serving can often weigh up to 9oz. This means the actual calorie value of the food is 565 calories, rather than the listed 315. This difference of 250 calories can seem minimal, but for the average college male, whose recommended caloric intake is 2500 calories daily, this means an excess 10 percent.
Consider that these errors are recurrent, and likely amount to anything from 20-40 percent in excess calories in a day for any one individual. For those who count calories, whether to maintain or gradually lose weight, this can be detrimental to the efficacy of the practice.
These nutritional mistakes are found in much more than the labels on our to-go meals, but they’re usually so minimal as to be totally negligible (an extra slice of ham on a Subway sandwich or a little too much cheese on an Einstein’s Bagel are everyday occurrences). These are the product of spontaneous human error; by no account can they be predicted by the corporations which print and distribute the information.
No, my attention is now turned to the stickers whose placement in the campus’ vending machines is meant to identify healthier, ‘lighter’ options. I purchased one of these items and compared it to the qualifications it was supposed to have met. It was immediately disqualified, containing 100 more calories than the number specified, a much higher sodium count and finally higher trans fat. Each of these lends themselves kindly to my growing skepticism regarding the caf’s posted dietary information.
I’d like to specify that I don’t believe there’s any kind of conspiracy occurring within or intentional deception by our campus’ food provider, Sodexo. In a brief online interview with Mike Neals, a representative of the company, I didn’t even get the impression any of the news I told him would be surprising, except for the fact that I or anybody else cared.
Honestly, none of his information surprised me too much either. Sodexo’s individual plants each follow the same standardized portion sizes, are regulated by the FDA (despite having their headquarters in Paris) and are not responsible for the information provided with name-brand product like Lays’ chips.
This is where my frustration rises. I recognize that it would be a challenging process if the campus’ food services were to make a stronger move towards legitimately healthy or at least precisely portioned items.
This is why, for now, we should be encouraging small changes, like having low-fat granola available as often as sugar loaded cereals like Krave or Fruit Loops. Or ensuring that the to-go meals’ nutritional information is accurate. Or at least updating the stickers in the vending machines, supposed symbols of health-conscious choices, so they don’t recommend the Three Musketeers Bars.