Nutrition Action Healthletter
Center for Science in the Public InterestJuly/August 2001 — U.S. Edition 

And if shoppers in England were looking for lentil soup, a quick glance at the labels would tell them that Campbell’s is 35 percent lentils while Heinz’s is only 22 percent.

Neither country insists that labels disclose percentages for every single ingredient. Thailand requires them for “main” ingredients. The UK insists on them for important ingredients (ones that are in the name of the food or are emphasized on the package, for example).

U.S. consumers get a much fuzzier picture of what’s in their food. Here, labels list ingredients from most to least abundant. So shoppers can see, for example, that Wheatsworth crackers have more white than whole-wheat flour. But there’s no way for them to tell that the crackers are only 11 percent whole wheat.

Some labels dare you to read their ingredients by using brown-on-brown type or scrunched, all-capital letters, or other graphics that make shoppers hunt and squint to find out what they’re eating (see “Don’t Forget Your Magnifying Glass”).

Worse yet, some companies go out of their way to trick shoppers by emphasizing ingredients that are added in minuscule amounts or aren’t there at all. Your only clue: if you see the words “naturally flavored” or “artificial flavors,” that may be a sign that you’re getting little if any. Here are a handful of our favorite examples.
More is Less

“More Shrimp,” promises the label on Nissin Cup Noodles with Shrimp. More than what? The cups we measured had anywhere from zero to four eensy shrimp, which cooked up to no more than a twentieth of an ounce. Even the picture shows five shrimp. Of course, it also shows corn and scallions. Instead, we found anywhere from five to 11 peas.
Nissin Cup Noddles with Shrimp
Broccoli Makes it Big

Broccoli is big in the packaged pasta-and-sauce and rice-and- sauce-mix aisle. Well, at least the word “broccoli” is big.

    Pasta Roni adds only broccoli specks to this dish. True, the small print on the front says “Rigatoni with White Cheddar & Broccoli Sauce with other natural flavors.” So why would the government allow the big print to say “White Cheddar & Broccoli with Rigatoni”?

    Memo to shoppers: small print is usually more honest than large print.
Rice-A-Roni Pastroni White Cheddar and Broccoli with Rigatoni
Dyed Apple & Creaming Agent Oatmeal

Quaker Instant Oatmeal—Fruit & Cream Variety—is one sneaky cereal. The “Strawberries & Cream” oatmeal has dehydrated apples that are dyed red, but no strawberries. Likewise, the “Peaches & Cream” has dehydrated apples that are dyed peach-color, but no peaches.

Quaker Instant Oatmeal Fruit and Cream Variety Package
Love That Label

You gotta hand it to Fruit Works. The elegant hues of its labels are to die for. Even the color of the beverage is appealing. No harsh Hawaiian-Punch magenta here.

   And then there are the words. What would you expect from a “Strawberry Melon Non-Carbonated Real Fruit Beverage” with “100% Vitamin C” made by a company called Fruit Works? A bottle of strawberry and melon juice, perhaps?

Here’s a hint: Fruit Works is owned by Pepsi. The “Real Fruit Beverage” turns out to be 95 percent sugar and water. It’s five percent pear juice—the government requires the label to say so—spiked with vitamins, Red 40 and Blue 1 food dyes, and preservatives. The only strawberries or melons are in the lovely drawing on the label. Maybe that’s what the label means when it says “Naturally Flavored With Other Natural Flavors.”
Fruitworks Strawberry Melon
Sugar & Palm Oil Bars

“Filling Made With Real Milk!” exclaims the box of Chex Milk ‘n Cereal Bars. All that real milk must explain why the bars have “The NUTRITION of a bowl of cereal with Milk,” right? Wrong.

    The “nutrition” comes from the handful of vitamins and minerals General Mills adds to these glorified Rice Krispies Treats. The “milk filling” is made mostly of sugar plus nonfat milk, lactose, palm kernel oil, natural and artificial flavors, and other additives. And unlike a bowl of most Chex cereals—Wheat, Rice, or Corn—which have two to five grams of sugar, each Milk ‘n Cereal Bar has 13 grams. What’s more, a bowl of Wheat Chex has five grams of fiber. A bar has zip. Bottom line: if you want the real nutrition of a bowl of Chex with milk, you’ll have to eat one.
Genereal Foods Chex Milk 'n Cereal Bars
Stir’n Fake Mix
What makes a carrot cake different than any other cake? Carrots, you might assume. Not according to General Mills’ most famous baker.

    Betty Crocker’s Stir‘n Bake Carrot Cake Mix isn’t carrot- free. No siree. Carrots (well, carrot powder) is right there on the ingredient list...last. That means Betty adds less carrot powder than salt, cinnamon, powdered cellulose, red food dye, xanthan gum, or other additives. “Includes Everything,” says the box...everything except the carrots.
Betty Crocker Sitr 'n Bake Carrot Cake
No-Strawberry Squeeze
Strawberries adorn the box of Stonyfield Farm Strawberry Stratosphere YoSqueeze. You can freeze or refrigerate each tube of yogurt and eat it without a spoon. But you needn’t worry about strawberries getting stuck in the tube.

    Instead of fruit, Stonyfield adds beet juice concentrate and natural flavors. If you look closely, you can find the words “Naturally Flavored” in navy blue type that’s hard to distinguish from the fade-to- navy-blue background.

    “Never any artificial flavors,” boasts the box. Never any fruit, either.
Farm Strawberry Stratosphere YoSqueeze
As-Little-Chicken-As-Possible Soup
Campbell’s Healthy Request Chicken Noodle Soup has 30 percent less sodium than Campbell’s regular Chicken Noodle, and it’s 98 percent fat free. It’s also 98 percent chicken-free.

    You wouldn’t expect a whole serving of chicken in a bowl of chicken noodle soup. But you might expect more than 1 1 /2 teaspoon’s worth in the entire can, which makes two and a half servings. If you want a soup with more chicken, check the label. If it’s got only two grams of protein per serving, you’re getting at most a quarter of an ounce of chicken.
Campbell's Healthy Request Chicken
Noodle Soup
>> Don’t Forget Your Magnifying Glass
Nutrition Action Healthletter How Now, Mad Cow? by David Schardt and Stephen Schmidt Label Watch How much of Nabisco's Cheese Sandwiches is cheese? If you were shopping in Thailand, you'd know. The answer -- three percent -- is right on the label. Ingredient Secrets Subscribe Today! Customer Service