Understanding Nutritional Information
In order to help the population make healthier choices in the food they eat, most food manufacturers now present nutritional information on the packaging of their food product, although this information is useful, to the untrained individual this information can be very confusing.
What information is provided on the label?
The nutritional information given on the label of the food or drink product will give the quantities of individual nutrients which make up the product; these are given as per 100g or 100ml of the product. Sometimes an amount per typical serving is also given.
Providing this nutritional information is voluntary, however if a manufacturer considers to provide it, legal requirements govern its presentation and how much of it is displayed.
There are two standard ways of listing nutritional information found on food products; they are the 'big 4' or the 'big 8'.
'The Big 4' group must contain; energy (calories); protein; carbohydrate and fat.
'The Big 8' group must contain; energy (calories); protein; carbohydrates, of which sugars; fat, of which saturates; fibre; and sodium.
Below is an example of a nutritional label:
Margarita Pizza: Nutritional Information Typical Values Per 100g Per half pizza
Energy- KJ 880kJ 1587kJ
Kcal 209kcal 378kJ
Protein 10.5g 19.0g
Carbohydrate 29.1g 49.1g
Of which sugars 2.7g 4g
Fat 7.7g 14.2g
Of which saturates 3.2g 5.8g
Fibre 4g 7.2g
Sodium 0.384g 0.691g
Equivalent as salt 0.975g 1.754g
What does the nutritional information mean?
It's all well and good that food manufacturers provide this information, but what relevance does it have if you don't know the amount of these nutrients you're meant to be consuming per day or what use they are to you. It is therefore useful to understand terms used in the nutritional listings and have some knowledge of their importance.
This is the amount of energy which you get from the food you eat. It is measured in calories (kcal) or joules (kJ). Guidance Daily Amounts; Male: 2500kcal, Female: 2000kcal.
The body requires protein for growth, development and repair. Foods high in protein include: meat, fish, dairy products (cheese, eggs, and milk), lentils, beans and nuts. Guidance Daily Amounts; Male: 55g, Female: 45g.
Carbohydrates are what the body turns into energy. They come in two forms, simple or complex. In the nutritional information they can be combined or separated.
- Simple carbohydrates on food labels are sometimes also referred to as carbohydrates of which sugars; these contain refined and natural sugars. Examples include: fruit, fruit juice, milk, yogurt, honey and sugar.
- Complex carbohydrates are starched based, take longer to be digested and often contain fibre, vitamins and mineral. Examples of complex carbohydrates include potatoes, breads, cereals, rice and pasta.
The majority of energy should come from complex carbohydrates NOT simple carbohydrates as simple carbohydrates contain low amounts of other important nutrients. 47% of energy should come from carbohydrates. Guidance Daily Amounts; Male: 300g, Female: 230g.
Dietary fat is sometimes divided into saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in the nutritional information. Saturated fats are the fats which are bad for you, whilst the unsaturated types are not; they provide fatty acids which the body needs. Guidance Daily Amounts; Male: 95g, Female: 70g.
Dietary fibre provides the bulk of the diet which fills you up, making you less likely to snack on fatty foods; it provides protection against constipation and other bowel problems as it passes through the body relatively undigested. Examples of foods high in dietary fibre include fruits and vegetables, pulses, beans and oats. Guidance Daily Amounts; Male: 18g, Female: 18g.
Sodium on food labels refers to the salt content of the food, however it is not actually salt, in order to work out the salt content from the sodium amount listed a calculation is required, as 2.5g of sodium equates to 6g of salt. Salt consumption should be limited, as the majority of salt comes from processed foods it is important to monitor the amount you are eating by looking at the nutritional information. Guidance Daily Amounts; Male: 6g, Female: 6g.
What are the basic Guideline Daily Amounts?
In order to get the correct amount of these nutrients per day for optimal health it is useful to have an idea of what has been recommended by health professionals (guideline daily amounts), this is shown in the table below.
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Unless this guideline daily amount (GDA) is also provided on the packaging and the likely serving you are going to eat of the product it is a hard job to work out. With efficient calculations however it does allow for you to consume a healthy diet and if it's your aim, aid you to lose weight.
Nutracheck takes the hassle out of working out these calculations and provides the relevant information you require, such as the appropriate serving size as opposed to per 100g as listed on many labels or even recommend appropriate alternatives which are healthier.