Jack’s Magic Beanstalk: Can We Trust Food Labels?

Because I am a nerd, all I wanted for my birthday was to go to Rainbow Grocery for the first time and pick out weird foods. I ended up buying low-carb bread from Julian’s Bakery (tasted like portobello mushrooms, and not in a good way), sprouted 100% whole grain corn tortillas from the Ezekiel/Food for Life brand (very inconsistent in terms of size and texture – bad quality control?), and (supposedly) high-protein low-carb pasta from Explore Asian.

julian-bakery

No. Just no. Do not buy this “bread.”

While I liked that the only ingredients were 100% whole grain sprouted corn with a tiny bit of salt and lime, these seemed sloppily produced.

While I liked that the only ingredients were 100% whole grain sprouted corn with a tiny bit of salt and lime, these seemed sloppily produced.

single ingredient, high-protein and low-carb pasta? seems too good to be true...

single ingredient, high-protein and low-carb pasta? seems too good to be true…

As a vegetarian, it’s really important for me to get enough protein. A lot of vegetarians become “starchatarians,” subsisting mainly on grains and starchy vegetables. That’s why I was so interested in Explore Asian pasta – it claims to have only 5 g net carbs and 25 g protein. Wow!

black-bean-pasta-nutrition

Calories are approximately the same as in regular whole wheat pasta, maybe slightly lower. But look – only 17 g total – 12 g fiber = 5 g net carbs?! And 25 g protein??

I cooked the pasta and had it with some Francesco Rinaldi no-salt-added, high-potassium pasta sauce. It was actually very good and not noticeably different from normal whole-grain pasta in terms of texture. When eaten plain, there was a slight bean taste, but it was not very noticeable.

However, when I looked at the ingredient list, I was rather skeptical of the nutrition claims. The only two ingredients in each pasta were the legume (soy or black bean) and water. While it is great that the pasta has a short and simple ingredient list, it casts into doubt the supposed nutrition information.

I sent the company an email saying that “black beans have a fat:net carb (total carbs minus fiber):protein ratio of 1:47:21, but the black bean pasta has a fat:net carb:protein ratio of 2:5:25” and asking how this was possible given that the only source of macronutrients in the pasta was the legume.

This was Explore Asian’s response:

“There are many varieties of black beans and the protein and fiber content also differs from one variety to the other by the soil type, amount of sunlight vs darkness it receives and of course amount of organic compost and rainfall!! [sic] All these parameters contribute to different ratios of total carbs (carbs+fiber) to protein. The range is 1.1 to 1.5 for our product. The nutritional panel has been derived from 2 lab testing both and is accurate. [sic, sic, and sic] Enjoy the taste of pasta with the benefits of the beans!”

umm... whatever you say, bean wizards.

umm… whatever you say, bean wizards.

Um… where to start? Yes, it’s true that there are different varieties of black beans and that their nutrient contents can vary. But come on, there is no way they vary this much. A total carb to protein ratio of 1.1 to 1.5?! If the average total carb:protein ratio in black beans is about 3:1, how does this make sense? Are we still talking about black beans here?

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 8.28.29 PM

Nutrition info for 100 g of dried black beans – just Google “black beans” and you’ll see it on the side bar on the right.

Maybe Jack’s magic beanstalk can produce beans that have well over 300% more protein than they’re supposed to, but I doubt Explore Asian has access to those kinds of resources. A more plausible explanation would be that the nutrition panel is just wrong. If this is the case, what does it imply? Perhaps the ingredient list isn’t right either and the pasta actually contains wheat – how will be company react if someone with celiac disease eats their purportedly gluten-free pasta and experiences an adverse reaction?

I wish I had a laboratory to see what’s really going on here, but I don’t, so I’ll have to leave it at this: the nutrition panel and/or ingredient list is completely and totally… bollocks. Don’t let these food companies trick you! Honestly, I’m sure we’d all be shocked to find out how much information on our food labels is inaccurate or just made up.

3 thoughts on “Jack’s Magic Beanstalk: Can We Trust Food Labels?

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