Updated: 2019, Aug 3

Manipulating Food Labels: How Companies Are Misleading Users

Manipulating Food Labels: How Companies Are Misleading Users

The human body needs a certain supply of essential nutrients every day to function properly. Vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fatty acids are only some examples of the nutrients we need. While the body is able to produce certain compounds on its own, we still need to consume the majority of these nutrients either through diet or by taking a multivitamin that caters for the body’s needs. There are also certain compounds that are considered unhealthy for the human body, especially in large amounts, such as saturated fats and refined sugars. There has always only been one way to determine what we consume every day – by consulting the labels that are printed on the food products we buy. These labels contain vital information that shows us what compounds and how much of each compound the food contains.

How Companies are Manipulating Food Labels?

While there are different ways in which companies are manipulating the labels they print on the containers of the food they produce, it seems like the most popular way for companies to manipulate these labels – and, of course, manipulate the customer – is by adjusting the portion size that they report values for. When you look at a product’s label, you’ll notice that the specific values expressed for every compound found in the food are related to a certain serving size. Many companies have started to reduce the portion size they report values for so that they are able to reduce the values of some harmful substances, such as sugars, fat, and calories. Unfortunately, the sizes they adjust the portions to is unrealistic and does not represent actual serving sizes that people consume.

One excellent example of such manipulation can be seen with Snickers. The company has numerous products available, but we would like to focus our attention on the Snickers 2-To-Go bar. This package includes two Snicker bars, but the nutritional information they provide on the label only accounts for one bar – they have manipulated the label in such a way that it only represents one of the two bars found in the package. The truth is, the package contains two bars and each bar is a little smaller than the original Snicker bar that comes in a single package. Thus, the person would be included to consume both of these bars – especially when they do not want the other bar to go to waste.

Another way that companies are manipulating food labels is by including the “%DV” values instead of the actual values of each compound. These values are percentages that provides an overview of how much fats, cholesterol, sodium, and other compounds the bar contains, compared to the total amount the human body needs per day. The problem here is, not every person follows the same diet. While a woman that wants to stay slim might be on a diet that only allows one or two thousand calories per day, a man might be interested in building lean muscle mass and has to consume a larger amount of calories per day. Thus, the information provided here would not accurately relate to the diet of the buyer. Back to the example above – the percentages that are listed on the Snicker bar are all related to a 2,000 calorie per day diet.

Manipulating Food Labels Info

How to Look Past These Manipulation Techniques

If you find yourself falling victim to these strategies that companies use to lure in buyers, then know that you are not alone. Millions of people buy such products. The problem is, the majority of people do not know how to look past these techniques and how to calculate the correct values for the ingredients, based on the actual serving size and not the unrealistic suggested serving size that is contained on the product’s label.

Fortunately, making this calculation is actually quite simple. You could even do it while standing in the aisle at your local grocery store in some cases – such as with the Snicker bar. In case a product contains multiple products, but only lists the nutritional values for a single one of the products, then you should first determine how many of the included products you would consume as a “serving”. For example, in the case of the Snicker bar, you would most likely consume both of the bars. In that case, simply multiply the nutritional values with the number of products you would consume – in case of the Snicker bar, again, you would simply multiply each value by two.

Sometimes it may be more complicated. A package might contain a lot of items inside, such as with a packet of potato chips. The package may weigh 130 grams, but the suggested serving size is 30 grams. Now, if you’re grabbing a packet of potato chips for lunch and you skipped breakfast, then you’re surely not going to eat 30 grams, but rather 60 grams or maybe even 100 grams. In this case, you should pick out the amount of the food item that you will be consuming and then weigh it. After you have determined the weight, you need to calculate how many times the “suggested serving size” goes into the “actual serving size”, and then multiply every nutritional value reported on the product’s label with this figure. This will give you a more accurate idea of what you are consuming.

Manipulation Techniques


Even though consulting food labels are the only method for determining the contents of the food, caution should be exercised while assessing these labels. It seems like numerous companies have started to manipulate food labels in various ways to help the company attract more buyers. The tips we have gathered in this article should always be used to determine the real value of components in the food you buy to ensure you do not consume too many harmful compounds, while also ensuring you gain an adequate supply of healthy nutrients.



Sam Kramer is a Registered Dietitian, Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist, Six Sigma Green Belt Certified, and Certified Sports Nutritionis

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