Friday, December 4, 2015

Brownie Mix Tricks

This is not about some fancy recipes to make or decorate brownies.  It’s about how the information on the box can easily be misleading or deceptive.

On the front of this box of brownie mix the label says, “110 calories.”  This looks very reasonable for a dessert.  It is less than two graham crackers, little more than a single chocolate chip cookie.  But let’s look at the fine print.

Trick number one:  the serving size is 1/20 of a package.  That seems like a very small brownie.  When I made them, I cut the finished brownies in an 8x8 pan first in half, then cut each of those slices in half.  Then I turned it and cut again in the same way.  I had 16 small, square brownies about 2 inches on a side.  Now 1/16 is not 1/20; it’s actually 25 percent larger.  So 110 calories becomes almost 140 calories.  But wait!

Trick number two:  the front of the package refers us to the nutrition facts label on the side of the package.  There it says again 110 calories (with 20 servings per package), but that is for the contents of the package only, the powdery stuff.  When you stir in the water, oil and eggs a serving size has 160 calories, which becomes 200 calories for the size brownie I cut, and the calories from fat have increased from 9% to 38%.

So we have a package that honestly and legally reads 110 calories, but the brownie I put in my mouth has 200 calories, nearly double that amount.  This seems a little bit tricky, at best.  We are expecting x and getting nearly 2x.

The government’s solution to this problem is to make the nutritional labels larger.  The behavioral model’s solution to this problem is to promote critical thinking.  The government’s solution is the same problem with a bigger font size, but we still have to figure it out for ourselves.  At least the behavioral model gives us a chance to be better consumers, as this somewhat trivial case shows.  And it also gives us a chance to be more successful in many of life’s more complex challenges (where the government can't solve it for us - we still have to figure it our for ourselves).

P.S.  The brownies were delicious!

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