A screenshot of the nutrition facts of a can of Gatorade powder was posted on my Facebook feed:

enter image description here

The label reads "Per 32 g (about 3 tbsp)", but if you read through the ingredients, the amount of carbohydrates listed exceed that of the serving size (33 g).

My question is, how can this possibly be? Is there a chemical process as some people have suggested that is changing the 32 g of powder into 33 g of carbs once water is added?

Re-asking it here for a chemistry perspective as some users have suggested on skeptics.SE.


1 Answer 1


Is there a chemical process as some people have suggested that is changing the 32g of powder into 33g of carbs once water is added?

No. Even if there was, it's not relevant in this case: the numbers on the label are an assay of the pure contents of the product before it's mixed with anything, or prepared or altered in any way. Nutrition labels refer to the product as-is.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration is in charge of labeling the quantities you're interested in. The relevant document is the Food Labeling Guide, one of many documents which are linked from a more comprehensive list called Labeling and Nutrition Guidance Documents and Regulatory Information. As per the comments (below), I'm noting that it appears as if the product pictured in your post is from the Canadian market and thus subject to nutritional labeling dictated by agencies in Canada. That said, the methodologies used by both the US and Canada are similar.

There are at least 2 regulations detailed in the labeling guidelines that we need to examine here to explain what's going on:

(1) The numbers reported on the container have simply been rounded up or down as per the Food and Drug Administration's Appendix H in the Food Labeling Guide. For instance, they show that for Total carbohydrate and Sugars, anything less than 0.5 g is expressed as 0 g, and quantities greater than or equal to 1 g are to be expressed in the nearest 1-gram increment. This is why of the 33 g of total carbohydrate, only 31 g appears to be accounted for as sugars;


(2) Total carbohydrate is calculated in a way that propagates rounding errors introduced as detailed in (1):

Total carbohydrate is calculated by subtracting the weight of crude protein, total fat, moisture, and ash from the total weight of the sample of food.

In summary: The numbers don't add up because quantifying the components of a food to conform to the rules and regulations for reporting them on a Nutrition Facts label allows for the accumulation of rounding and measurement error.

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    $\begingroup$ I think you'll find that the controlling agency in this case is the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, not the FDA. The remarks concerning assay and rounding are more-or-less correct, however. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 1:29
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    $\begingroup$ I don't see how this explains the discrepancy. If total carbs is calculated by subtracting a nonnegative quantity from the original total mass, total carbs can't be greater than that original total mass. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 9:26
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    $\begingroup$ @CeesTimmerman But the answer says that the 33g total carbs is a difference of rounded terms (see the last quoted section of the answer). A difference of nonnegative values cannot be larger than the largest of those values, whatever rounding scheme is used. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 11:54
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    $\begingroup$ So in effect this is just slightly dirty sugar ... $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 12:17
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    $\begingroup$ @ToddMinehardt No, because that explanation also says that total carbohydrates is calculated by subtraction and, however you round it, subtraction of non-negative quantities cannot possibly lead to a larger value than the one you started with. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 15:17

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