Recently, yogurt, cola and other canned drinks labeled “Half-calorie,” “Calorie off” or “Zero calorie” have been selling well in supermarkets and convenience stores. The boom started early last year after a series of news reports on metabolic syndrome and other health problems related to obesity.
The health ministry reports on its website that 9.2 million people in Japan aged between 40 and 74 have metabolic syndrome, with fat pushing against internal organs seriously affecting their blood pressure and blood sugar level. Nutritionists say that in addition to exercise, the best preventive measure is to refrain from ingesting too many calories.
Easier said than done, right? Many of us lack the willpower to give up our favorite food or drink, so low-calorie options are always welcome. However, those items with labels claiming “XX% cut” don’t necessarily mean that. The health ministry standards criteria are very complicated. Soft drinks with less than 20 kilocalories per 100 milliliters can be labeled “Low calorie,” “Calorie off,” “Diet” or “Lite.” Two 500-milliliter bottles of such beverages have around the same number of calories as a bowl of rice, for example. A “Calorie zero” label does not mean that a drink contains zero calories. Drinks with less than 5 kilocalories per 100 milliliters are allowed to have “No,” “Non” or “Zero” on their labels.
NHK recently did a story on labeling and showed how ads can mislead people into thinking that they will not gain any weight if they drink certain beverages containing labels such as “No sugar used” or “Moderately sweet.” The NHK reporter interviewed health experts who warned consumers that these descriptions do not provide an accurate indication of the number of calories a drink contains. So what are we to do? Remember mom’s advice, of course, namely: “Balanced meals are important. Eat all your vegetables and make sure you exercise.”© Japan Today