Is this normal American food labelling/marketing?

I bought some imported American mustard yesterday. The front label includes the following blurb: “100% natural, gluten free, zero calories”. Zero calories? Bullshit I think. So I look at the nutrition information on the back. This is in the form of a white sticker that has presumably been added to comply with Australian labelling regulations. It says there are 300 calories per 100 g. That sounds a bit more realistic and seems to indicate the original label is a lie.

So my question is this: Is it legal/normal for American food labels to contain outright lies about the nutritional content of their food? I assume it must be legal, but is it normal?

Calorie count refers to individual serving, not the entire jar. Who eats 100 g. in one sitting? 5 grams, or 15 calories, might be more accurate.

I’ll let someone with a bit more knowledge confirm this (also I’m posting on a phone so I cannot post a link).

American nutritional labels provide information by serving size. One serving of mustard might have a little more than zero calories…but in the US caloric values are rounded off to the nearest multiple of five. Which, if it’s less than 2.5, rounds down to zero.

I just grabbed our mustard jar out of the fridge. It’s a mainstream US brand.

It says a serving is 1 teaspoon = 5 grams. And that has zero calories per serving.

That’s definitely a result of rounding. But it’s also the case that 1 tsp = 5g is a reasonable serving size for mustard.

As a point of comparison I got out my name brand mayonnaise. Mustard and mayo are the two main US condiments for sandwiches. The mayo label says a service is 1 tablespoon = 13 grams and has 90 calories, with 60 calories from fat. That also seems to be a realistic serving size.
There definitely is a certain amount of wishful thinking on serving sizes on some products, especially snack foods. Such as individual sized packages which claim 95 calories per serving and that the package contains “about 2 servings”. Liar liar pants on fire. Reality is one serving of 190 calories.

Although the details on all this are regulated, that agency had it’s budget gutted a couple presidents ago and hasn’t really recovered since.
The “gluten free” part is required to be true. Right now the US gripped in gluten avoidance mania. You see “gluten free” plastered on drinking water, meat, booze, etc. Lots of foodstuffs that cannot possibly contain gluten. It’s moronic. But at least the labeling is truthful.

As noted, the calories are given per “serving” - and obviously nobody eats an entire jar of mustard at a time, so in this case that makes sense - however you do see junk food items like small bags of potato chips or cookies, bottles of soda, candy bars, etc. that the majority of people would consume in one sitting listed as something like “2.5 servings”, with correspondingly undervalued calorie counts.

EDIT: simulposted with LSLGuy

I think the idea is to set a standard serving size for the snack foods. So whatever the package size is, the serving size is consistent.

Well that’s sort of the idea. It’s also to set that serving size unrealistically small so that

A) Larger packages seem to hold more servings than they really do. The customer says “$3.75 for 10 servings. Great bargain!” When it’s really $3.75 for more like 3 realistic servings for a snack food addict.

B) Make the calorie counts look better.

Given the long slow slide of oddball quantity packaging as a stealth price rise (or way to hold a price point, e.g. 99 cents each, in the face of inflation) we’re not too far from seeing individual packages being labeled as one half of a serving.

Color me skeptical there’s anything but criminality and trickery at the core of all this. With only the softest of barely enforced regulation to whisper “slow down” to the crooks.

Feel free to find conspiracies and trickery at every turn; I prefer to think that the serving size has remained unchanged as people consume more food.

Recently I made about 3 dozen gingersnap men and purchased a tube of white squeeze on icing to make faces and all. The tube was labeled “serving size: 2 tablespoons. Servings per container: 3”

It made me laugh all through decorating the cookies. The expectation that the consumer will just open the tube, squirt a third into his mouth, and then pass it to his two friends. 1, 2, 3 all servings gone. :slight_smile:

Some serving sizes have been increased over the years in response to public pressure.

It’s easy to find cases in which the serving size is ridiculous, though.

The Australian sticker on the back gives 13 calories for a serving and 266 calories for 100g.

Underneath the Aus sticker is the original American sticker, it gives 0 calories per serving, 0 fat, 0 cholesterol etc. So I wonder if the American serving is super small, or is the rounding extreme?

As for who eats 100 g in one sitting? Well if you like the flavour and you’ve been told it is literally zero calories then you just might eat 100g in one sitting. Also on the back of the pack there is a recipe for a chicken dish where you use 2/3 of a cup of the mustard.

Anyway, I don’t care, I was just curious about advertising something as zero calories when it isn’t.

I’m in the US and I have two brands of mustard in my refrigerator. Both say the serving size is 5 grams and the calories per serving is 0. I presume that the correct information is around 2 calories per 5 grams and they rounded it down to zero.

The latest revision of FDA’s food labeling policy (2014) specifically has addressed the issue of unrealistic serving sizes:

For the brand that I have, a 5 gram serve would be 13 calories (agrees with the Aus label), how can that be rounded down to 0? Do they just round down to the nearest 100 calories? Can’t be the nearest 10.

How do people who are “counting calories” do this when the calories aren’t accurately displayed?

I see from guizot’s link that it seems to be being addressed, though these rules weren’t reflected in the label on my mustard.

Edit: Presumably because mustard isn’t expected to be consumed in one sitting.


The fast-and-loose playing with serving sizes, calorie counts, strange round-off errors, etc., also happens with other nutritional data.

In particular, you will see a lot of products showing ZERO trans-fat on the label. In fact, the last I heard about the rule, any amount of trans-fat less than 0.5g per serving is allowed to be shown as zero. So if you eat a lot of those kinds of things, you could actually be getting a lot of trans-fat.

I think the “logic” of that rule is that certain foods that should contain no trans-fat (like milk) might actually have some minute amount naturally occurring, and the manufacturers wanted to be able to list that as zero.


Do food manufacturers in Australia use the same method of estimating the calorie count?

Maybe not.

I have no idea how calories are counted in the US and Australia but allowing calories to be rounded down seems like a very bad idea to me. People see the “zero calories per serving” and think they can smother it on with no problems but if its something they eat often it adds up.

In Australia we’ve had dual column labelling for a number of years now showing both the calories per serving and the calories per package as mandatory.

I agree that the term is very over-used and often moronic, however, in the context of mustard, it’s perhaps not entirely inappropriate. It’s not inconcievable for spreadable condiments to contain wheat flour as a thickener or stabiliser.

Who the hell put 1 tsp of mustard on their hot dog? :rolleyes: