The Nutrition Information table is on the side of most packaged foods. It’s often found close to the ingredients list.
The purpose of it is to help consumers make better nutrition decisions. When people can see the number of calories, carbs, sodium, etc. in food, they should be able to eat better, right?
Whether you like the Nutrition Information table or not, let’s make sure you get the most out of it, since it’s here to stay!
Here’s my three-step crash course on reading the Nutrition Information table.
Step 1: Serving Size
The absolute most important part of the Nutrition Information table is to note the serving size. Manufacturers often strategically choose the serving size to make the rest of the table look good. Small serving = small calories/fat/carbs. So, it’s tricky.
All the information in the table rests on the amount chosen as the serving size. And, since every manufacturer chooses their own, it’s often difficult to compare two products.
Let’s use an example – Dark Chocolate from Lidl.
As you can see, next to the standard ‘per 100g’ section, it says ‘12.5g’. This is the serving size.
This means that all the numbers beneath are based on 12.5g of chocolate or just 1 square.
FUN EXPERIMENT: Try using a measuring cup to see exactly how much of a certain food equals one serving. You may be surprised at how small it is. Your breakfast cereal is always an interesting one to do. Many cereal packets list 30-40g as one serving. So pour out what you would usually have and then measure that; you’ll likely be having 2-3 times more than the recommended serving size (which means 2-3 times more sugar than you thought too!).
Step 2: % Recommended Intake
The % Recommended Intake (%RI) is based on the recommended daily amount of each nutrient the average adult needs. Ideally, you will get 100% RI for each nutrient every day. This is added up based on all of the foods and drinks you have throughout the day.
NOTE: Since children are smaller and have different nutritional needs if a type of food is intended solely for children under the age of 4, then those foods use a child’s average nutrition needs for the %RI.
The %RI is a guideline, not a rigid rule.
You don’t need to add all of your %RI up for everything you eat all day. Instead, think of anything 5% or less to be a little; and, anything 15% or more to be a lot.
Step 3: Middle of the table (e.g. Calories, fat, carbohydrates, and protein)
Here, 12.5g (1 square) of dark chocolate has 69 calories (kcal). Calories are pretty straightforward.
Related video: How to lose weight without counting calories
In the UK and EU, occasionally you might see a breakdown of the types of fat. Mostly however, you’ll just see total fat. It’s really important to remember that this could well be good fat!
The only type of fat we need to completely avoid is Trans fat and these are found in processed foods (think ready-meals, takeaways, biscuits, cakes, margarine etc).
Related article: Fat – a quick and simple guide.
Carbohydrates are made up of sugars, starches and fibres.
In the UK and EU, the powers that be have made it somewhat complicated.
The listed carbohydrates include starches and sugars, but not fibre. The sugars are also listed separately as ‘of which sugars’, which tells you how much of the carbohydrates are simple sugars.
In this example, there are 33.1g carbohydrates and 27.9 of sugar, therefore, we know that leaves 5.2g of starches (33.1 – 27.9= 5.2g).
NOTE: ‘of which sugars’ may be a combination of natural and added sugars. For example, fruit and milk with have natural sugars in the form of fructose and lactose, respectively.
If you are following a low-carb or ketogenic diet you’re aiming to limit both sugars and starches so you only really need to pay attention to the total carbohydrates (no maths required).
This is a useful setup as we want lots of fibre and limited carbohydrates (in the US, fibre is included in the total carbs so they have to do a little maths to work out net carbohydrates!).
Proteins, like calories, are pretty straightforward as well. Here, 12.5g (1 square) of dark chocolate contains 1g of protein.
Related article: How much protein should I eat?
I hope this crash course in the Nutrition Information table was helpful. While you can take it or leave it when it comes to making food decisions, it’s here to stay.
Do you have questions about it? If so, leave me a comment below.