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Are Calorie Counts on Packaged Foods Lying to You?

Image provided by the entura County and Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Offices showing calorie counts on Kroger Carbmaster bread
Image: The Ventura County and Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Offices

Local prosecutors in California recently filed a lawsuit against Kroger (which also owns the Ralphs and Food 4 Less supermarket chains) for allegedly mislabeling the calorie counts on store-name bread. The Kroger Carbmaster bread line listed just 30 calories per slice, when the bread was actually 50 calories or more per slice, according to prosecutors. And this kind of issue is way more common than you’d probably guess.

Ventura County and Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Offices allege that the advertised calorie counts on Carbmaster from about 2018 to 2022 included an undercount of the actual calories. And while the prosecutors say some of the packaging was eventually corrected, there were other places where the calories were incorrectly listed, like the supermarket websites, according to a recent press release.

The news, first reported by the Los Angeles Times, comes after dozens of lawsuits have been filed in recent years over calorie labels that were incorrect. Part of the problem, according to the L.A. Times, is that the FDA allows food companies to choose from various methods to count calories, some of which aren’t necessarily very accurate.

The L.A. Times talked with an expert at Dartmouth College’s School of Medicine, Susan B. Roberts, who has researched calorie count labeling for years.

“It’s almost impossible to actually police all of these,” Roberts told the Times. “To a large extent, we’re dependent on the honesty of the food companies.”

And it’s not just packaged foods. A study from 2020 found that calorie counts at fast food restaurants were often wrong. The study determined that 15% of the restaurant items had real calorie counts 20% more (or higher) than what was listed on the menu. Incredibly, some of the items had more than twice as much sodium as listed.

Both Kroger and the Ventura County Attorney’s Office didn’t immediately respond to questions email on Wednesday. Gizmodo will update this post if we hear back. But in the meantime, maybe take some of the calorie counts you read every day with just a pinch of salt—because that food might literally have more salt than it says on the package.

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