The #1 Food Scam That Makes You Fat

Some seemingly healthy foods hide hundreds of calories. Find out how to avoid getting ripped off the next time you grab a quick meal

By: David Zinczenko 

Serving Size Rip-Offs


Photo Credit: Thomas MacDonald/Mitch Mandel
Imagine you sign a lease to rent an apartment, and as you’re moving in, you discover your rent money only covers the living room and the closet. To actually use the kitchen, the bedroom, and the bath, you’ll have to pay two or three times what you’d agreed to.

You’d be pretty ticked off, huh?

Well, something like that is happening right now in America’s restaurants and supermarkets, but instead of costing you money, these rip-offs are costing you your health and your waistline.

See, food manufacturers know that you want to eat healthy, so they’re doing everything they can to make their bad-for-you foods look good for you. (Search: Food scams) And their number-one trick is to play with serving size: listing foods as lower in calories than they really are by claiming they serve more people than they really do. In other words, you’ll buy a food, and then discover that if you want to eat everything you bought, you have to pay two, three, even four times the amount of calories you thought you were bargaining for.

Take a look below at some of the hidden fees the food industry is applying to your waistline, compliments of the new Eat This, Not That! 2012.

#9: SoBe Energize, Citrus Energy

Listed calories: 110
Servings per bottle: 2.5
Total calories: 275

Sure, this bottle will give you energy—it's called a sugar buzz. One SoBe Energize contains 67.5 grams of sweet stuff, or the equivalent of about 25 Hershey's Kisses. (Video: Foods That Pack a Secret Sugar High) That buzz will last about half an hour, and in the process, flood your body with sugar and insulin, setting into motion a metabolic reaction that will plump up the fat cells around your tummy. Truth is, individual-sized drink bottles are notorious for listing multiple servings on what everybody assumes to be a one-person drink. But have you ever grabbed a bottle from a vending machine and split it with a buddy? Or saved half for another day? Of course not.

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#8: Nissin Ramen Noodles

Listed calories: 190
Servings per package: 2
Total calories: 380

You don't eat Ramen because it's healthy; you eat it because it's cheap. Still, Nissin doesn't get a free pass for misleading consumers. Each individually wrapped package contains two servings. Imagine sawing one of these blocks down the middle, wrapping half in cellophane, and putting it back in the pantry for another day. Or better yet, imagine switching to whole wheat pasta and seasoning it with a little salt, pepper, and olive oil. Presto—another cheap meal, but this time with some nutritional merit.

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#7: Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts

Listed calories: 200
Servings per package: 2
Total calories: 400

What’s worse than eating 200 calories of enriched flour stuffed with sugary fruit goo? Eating twice that many calories without even realizing it. The nutritional information on a box of Pop-Tarts lists one tart as a serving, but these iconic morning pastries come wrapped in twos, forcing you to decide between eating two Pop-Tarts now or one stale Pop-Tart tomorrow. Here's a smarter option: Drop a piece of whole-wheat bread into your toaster, and then spread it with strawberry jam and be on your way. You'll take in fewer calories with more fiber and real fruit.

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#6: Campbell’s Chunky Microwaveable Soup

Listed calories: 200
Servings per cup: 2
Total calories: 400

Okay, clearly this is a single-serve cup. As if you'd ever microwave the cup, eat half, and then put the rest in the fridge to microwave another day. C'mon Campbell's—you're better than that.

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#5: Cedarlane Burrito Grande with Chili Verde Sauce

Listed calories: 230
Servings per box: 2
Total calories: 460

There's one burrito in the box. By listing half a burrito as one serving, Cedarlane is clearly trying to make a typical meal look like a low-calorie meal. It's a particularly offensive serving-size scam when you consider that Cedarlane is a “natural" food company that prides itself on making healthy food convenient.

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#4: King Size Butterfinger

Listed calories: 160
Servings per package: 3
Total calories: 480

No one would mistake a king-sized chocolate bar for a light snack, but it's often difficult to assess the damage. Take this version of Bart Simpson’s favorite indulgence. The nutrition label states that each serving contains only 160 calories, which sounds pretty good until you realize the package contains three servings. Since this candy is broken up into two bars, that means you’re supposed to eat two-thirds of one of the bars (huh?). Avoid this confusing confection and, if you must indulge, go for a regular-sized bar—at least you won’t need a specialized degree to decipher the label.

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#3: Boston Market Chicken Pot Pie

Listed calories: 560
Servings per pie: 2
Total calories: 1,120

Split a pot pie? That's like splitting a bowl of soup. It just doesn't happen. But despite the somewhat reasonable 560 calories listed on the label, if you eat all of Boston Market's Pot Pie, you're actually taking in 1,120 calories, or more than half your day's energy. The company Banquet makes an honest, single serving pie, and it contains only 370 calories for the entire thing.

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#2: P.F. Chang’s Fried Rice with Chicken

Listed calories: 303
Servings per dish: 4
Total calories: 1,212

Take a quick glance at the nutritional information on P.F. Chang’s website and everything looks healthy—hardly any item breaks the 500-calorie mark. But on closer inspection, you'll notice that nearly every dish contains at least two servings, and some contain as many as six! A serving of Fried Rice with Chicken lists a modest 303 calories and 9 grams of fat, but when the dish arrives, it actually has four times that. Chang's argues that this is because its meals are meant to be split, but American diners aren't used to eating that way. What's more, the typical table will still order one dish per person, so even if they do split the dishes, they're still taking in the collective sum of one whole plate per customer.

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#1: Uno Chicago Grill Classic Individual Pizza

Listed calories: 770
Servings per pizza: 3
Total calories: 2,310

Last time I checked, “individual” meant single, sole, lone—i.e. ONE. But apparently the folks at Uno Chicago Grill didn't get that memo. This “individual” pizza contains three servings, which translates to 2,310 calories, 165 grams of fat, and 4,650 milligrams of sodium! When it comes to dining at Uno's—or any pizza joint, for that matter—you’re typically better off having a few slices of a regular-sized thin-crust pie than going for the deceptively caloric “individual” offerings.

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