Oh, Dear Lord!

Stopped by the local Goodwill this afternoon, and found, of all things, a bunch of Nutrisystem meals. Nutrisystem commercials have been all over television around here, boasting about how delicious their food is, how easy and effective their program is, how you never have to go hungry, etc, etc, etc. So I was understandably curious to take a look at the meals they were offering.

I don't know if these were typical, but there was something of a variety: Macaroni and Cheese with Beef, minestrone, apple cinnamon oatmeal, black beans and rice, cheesy mashed potatoes, cheese ravioli. I looked at the package sizes, I read the labels. I was appalled.

Nutrisystem makes much of having "unlocked the secret of the glycemic index." What nonsense. Most of the dishes rely on cheap, highly processed starch -- refined white flour, instant white rice, mashed potato flakes. Even their oatmeal is of the instant variety. None of this has a low glycemic index, and much of it is stratospheric. To make matters worse, the stuff is liberally laced with high fructose corn syrup and other sugars. To complete the bad nutrition trifecta, hydrogenated vegetable oil showed up in several dishes.

I saw not a single dish, even a dinner entree, that contained more than 16 grams of protein -- about as much as you'd find in three slices of deli turkey or ham. Breakfast and lunch were even more miserly.

The portion sizes were quite small. Many of them were the sort of thing you get in a small paper cup, and just add boiling water. I suppose that has the advantage of limiting the quantity of junk carbs they can cram in there, but combined with those carbs and so little protein it means that this girl, at any rate, would be ravenous by 90 minutes after lunch. I can think of few diet-busters more powerful than sheer biological hunger.

Finally, the stuff just looked nasty. Keep in mind that all of it has to be shipped to your door; nothing that will spoil allowed. Highly processed dried junk with tons of chemicals, reconstituted with water and eaten out of a paper cup, ain't my idea of food.

Oh, and the ads always like to boast about how you "can even eat chocolate!" Since I eat sugar-free dark chocolate every day on my low carb diet, this does not impress me. What impresses me even less is "Microwaveable chocolate cake." My skin crawls at the very thought.

Truly, there is nothing, I mean nothing special about this stuff, no magic formula, no scientific advantage. If what you wanted was portion-controlled low calorie meals, you could do far better in your grocer's freezer case, just buying Lean Cuisine, South Beach, and other frozen dinners. Not that I'm advocating that, either; I'm not. But it couldn't be worse and might well be better than this stuff.

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nutritional value

Why am I not surprised at reading this? Simple: these people are in it for MONEY, folks. And that spells BIG money. Low fat going out? Must switch to something else to get the money! And they do with a vengeance. I have yet to hear of a company where idealism made it to the boardroom. But fortunately we all learned to read at one point, didn't we and so we can read the list of ingredients. Since I started reading everything on the label I have not felt the need to watch a horror movie anymore...

"0" Trans Fats

Just took a gander at the FAQ on the Nutrisystem website. I particularly enjoyed this nugget:

Do the NutriSystem Advanced foods have trans fats?
No. All of the NutriSystem Advanced foods have "0" trans fats.

Ah, the dishonesty of federal labeling law. Notice those quotation marks around the zero? That's your tip-off. Nutrisystem products do, indeed, contain trans fats. Not a surprise, since "hydrogenated vegetable oil" shows up on ingredient lists.

But the federal government in their wisdom has decreed that any product with less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving can put "zero trans fats" on their label. This assures that all products that say they contain "0 trans fats" actually do contain trans fats. Product with no trans fats at all will say "Contains no trans fats" or something of the like.

Good to know that the same thing applies to carbs and calories: 0.5 grams of carb or less per serving can be labeled "0 gram," while foods with 5 calories or less per serving can be labeled "calorie-free."

Interesting this comes up in many forms

Well now you are actually getting to some extent into actual science. (See my other posts on the qualify of science today :-( ) I have been involved where this came up in a totally different context. Basically if the digit below the significant digit is less than 5 then you round down if it is 5 or over you round up. (I would wonder if the ".5 grams of carb or less" should not actually be "less than .5 grams of carbs." this would be the scientific version)

When you do this on purpose this can lead to some interesting discussions. A few years ago in my ham radio position I was working a scientific competition. Part of the competition included doing something where the longer the air foil the better your chances where and the air foil was to be a maximum of 25 cm. One of the competitors made hers 25.4 and argued, successfully, that this was within the rules. The resulting arguement between the parents is one of two times while assisting in this event that I have had to request a police response :-( :-( :-(

Some times a little up arrow can be used to specify significance. If someone wanted to be really scientific 49 would equal
000
^
;-)

Rounding down

Two points, though:

1) Any trans fat intake is potentially harmful, definitely including 0.49 grams per meal. So deciding that increments of a whole gram defines "significant" is misleading. (Okay, perhaps "any" wouldn't include 0.0001 grams of trans fats per serving. But almost a half a gram?)

2) Food processors quite deliberately use this rounding process by manipulating serving size to be able to put the words "ZERO TRANS FATS" on the label. I've seen it done repeatedly. This is one of the causes of the ridiculously small serving sizes listed on food packaging.

Its all in the zeros

Yeah I have to agree, but as you know from being an Ad Man's Daughter, or is that a Mad Man's daughter ;-) , its all in the legal definitions. This is hardly the only place this applies. The government didn't invent a new definition they just used an existing one.