“Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among the people.” – John Adams

Introduction

Check out the front label for this box of Nature Valley chewy bars. Looks delicious! Peanut butter, dark chocolate, and 10 grams of protein; can’t beat that!

ABEARS-HP - food label 1

Now, check out this label which should list the macronutrient content as well as all of the ingredients used to make the bars. Looks like they do a pretty good job of it at first glance, but, go ahead and look again. The last time I checked, 7+1+3.5 did not equal 12. For some reason, the grams of fat in 1 bar is off by 0.5 grams. I’m sure General Mills made a simple mistake in their calculation, right?

Deceptive Labeling Strategies

Upon a little research, it turns out that General Mills likely made an intentional error; that is, they did not label the amount of trans-fat in 1 serving. It is not required by law to label the trans-fat content of 1 serving of any food unless it is above 0.5 grams, even though consumption of excessive trans-fat has been linked to a host of medical challenges from decreased cognition to heart-disease (1).

Why Does Food Labeling Matter?

If the average consumer has a busy schedule and wants to consume a healthy, cost-effective snack between full meals, they take a trip to the grocery store and look for a product like a health bar or granola bar. They see that this bar has 10 grams of protein and is made by a company which promotes health and wellness through outdoor activities. The logical conclusion is that these protein-packed health bars are a good choice. But, in reality, consuming one box will provide 5 grams of dietary trans-fat, therefore negating any benefit of consuming the bars.

Additional Food Labeling Deception

In addition, the last ingredient is listed as a “Natural Flavor.” Natural flavors sound pleasant and harmless, but in reality, this natural flavor may be a genetically engineered chemical designed to enhance the taste of the bars; furthermore, many of these “natural flavors” may not have been independently tested to be safe for human consumption, which means we really are not sure if they can contribute to health defects or not (2).

Conclusion

So, basically, I went to the store after a long week of work with little time to spare in the search of a cost efficient and relatively healthy granola bar that I could eat as a snack. I bought a Nature Valley health bar box, which included a box full of trans-fats and potential chemical derivatives of human embryonic kidney cells specifically designed to trick my taste buds into believing I am eating something satisfying. Thanks General Mills!

It is disheartening, but I have concluded that the only way to really know what is in your food is to grow or make it yourself, or to obtain it from a trusting, local source. There are food companies which exist that truly care about what they put into their products, but the purpose of business will always be to sell products to consumers. If there is a cheaper way to produce something, the route can be taken, and so long as the consumer is unaware of these minor food labeling and food production details, the status quo will remain the same.

References

1) http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/trans-fat/art-20046114

2) http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/03/17/senomyx-flavor-enhancers.aspx

Further Reading
Am I Eating Mutants