Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Nutritional Information

I was at a local coop recently and saw a new brand of tortillas. They had only a few ingredients, mostly corn, so I looked at the nutritional information. It said they had only 1 gram of carbohydrate.

At first I was ecstatic. True, the tortillas were small, but if there was only 1 g of carbohydrate, it would be wonderful. Then I looked at the fiber content. It was 2 g. Huh? Fiber is indigestible carbohydrate, so how can you have more fiber than carbs?

If the product is made in Europe, this is possible. This is because the European system lists only digestible carbs as carbohydrate, so to get what we consider total carbs, you add the carbs to the fiber. In the American system, carbohydrate means total carbs, and to get digestible carbs you subtract the fiber.

This dual system can cause problems. The GG brand crispbread used to promote their product as having zero carbs because it was made in Europe and when you subtracted the listed fiber content from the listed carb content, you got zero. After many people complained, they fixed their label.

But these tortillas were made locally. That couldn't be the answer.

Back to the coop. I found someone in charge and asked about the label. I said regular tortillas that are about twice the size of the new ones have about 20 grams of carb, so I suspected this label was a typo and it should be 10. They went into the back room and stayed there for ages and then came out and gave some kind of an answer that made no sense, so I didn't buy the tortillas. When I got home, I emailed the company.

They replied that there was an error on the label, and the total carbs should be 11, not 1. They said they'd correct it, but the next week I found the same misinformation and no sign by the coop warning people that the label was wrong. In the meantime, were people on insulin injecting the wrong amount of insulin on the basis of incorrect information?

The tortillas I usually buy contain a mixture of grains and seeds, gluten (a protein), soy flour, and cornstarch. I get them because I think they have the best taste. The package used to claim 11 grams of carb and 6 grams of fiber, for 5 grams of digestible, or net, carbs. When I eat them (which isn't often), I eat only a half, which would be about 2.5 grams of net carbs. I can deal with that.

But when I recently bought a package, I noticed that they're now advertising 8 grams of net carbs, 12 grams of carbs and 5 grams of fiber. Of course 12 minus 5 is 7, not 8, but the difference probably has to do with rounding. So if I eat half of a tortilla, I'd be getting 4 grams of net carbs. Still not enough to send me into the stratosphere, but definitely higher.

When I scrutinize the label with a magnifying glass, I see that the order of the ingredients has been changed.  Have they changed their recipe? Or do they periodically test the product with slightly differing results each time? Or were the results falsified?

After the Dreamfields, and Julian Bakery scandals, one has to be cautious. When we find a product we like and buy it regularly, most of us don't scrutinize the label every time. But it's probably a good idea to double-check from time to time.

I've tested the tortillas I usually buy (Joseph's), and in small amounts they seem to be OK for me. That doesn't mean they'd work for you. We are fortunate in having meters to do tests of new foods. I tend to be lazy, and once I've tested something I don't keep retesting. This label snafu has reminded me that perhaps I should.


  1. Probably they changed the recipe. Someone I knew who used to work in the foodlike substance manufacturing industry explained that when you see New!!! Snickers with EXTRA PEANUTS!!! (which I hope you don't eat) this meant that the cost of glucose syrup went up. When you later see NEW!!! With Added Nougat! That meant that the cost of peanuts went up too. And so on . . .

    chris c

  2. Chris, this is interesting. But in the case of the tortillas, the company told me it was a typo.