The nutritional information on a label is essentially a list of the amount of nutrients contained in that product. Provided by the manufacturer, and displayed on the back of the product, it is usually presented as a table rather than in linear form.
Since December 2016, it has been mandatory to display such information on pre-packed foods sold in France, though this is not the case for food sold in markets or by artisan butchers or bakers.
This listing of nutritional information is in force in the EU and North America (the United States and Canada), but does not necessarily apply in all countries.
At the very least, it specifies, per 100g or 100ml of the product,:
In addition, it sometimes shows the amount of mono or polyunsaturated fatty acids, polyols, starch and fibre. Vitamins and minerals present at significant levels may also be included.
These tables are designed to provide you, the consumer, with clear, legible information on what you’re eating. But you still need to be able to interpret it correctly!
Macronutrients are the only substances that fulfilll the body’s calorie needs: proteins, carbohydrates and fats.
Providing 4 kcal per gram, proteins can be described as the building blocks of our cells. They help to maintain muscle mass and healthy bones(1-2), and are primarily found in animal-source products, soya and pulses. To boost your intake, you could also consider taking a protein supplement (such as whey.
Carbohydrates are usually divided into two groups:
Both types provide 4 kcal per gram. Providing fuel for the brain, they help maintain normal cerebral function (3). In nutrient tables, both types are amalgamated under the ‘carbohydrate’ listing. To isolate a product’s simple carbohydrate content, you need to look at the listing for ‘sugars’.
Long demonised, with 9kcal per gram, fats are nonetheless essential for physical integrity. They not only form energy stores in the body’s fatty tissues, but also give structure to our cellular membranes (4). But his doesn’t mean we should fill up on croissants and cooked meats! Better to go easy on the saturated fatty acids (keeping to less than 20g a day) and includemonounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids in your menu instead (5-6).
Fibre occupies a special place. A type of carbohydrate, it has the particular feature of being non-digestible and is thus calorie-free. But this certainly doesn’t mean it’s unnecessary! Fibre ‘sits’ in the gut, positively influencing a number of biological processes (7). Fruit, vegetables and whole grains are excellent sources, but fibre supplements can also increase your intake (such as Organic Acacia or Fructo-oligosaccharides).
Unlike macronutrients, we only need small amounts of micronutrients. They have no energy value, but support numerous biochemical reactions essential for good health.
They include, of course, the famous vitamins which, between them, fulfilll many roles: A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B8, B9, B12, C, D, E and K. Vitamin C, for example, (of which Liposomal Vitamin C is composed) supports normal immune system function (8). Vitamin B1 or thiamine (found in a highly-bioavailable form in the supplement Benfotiamine), supports normal energy metabolism, as well as healthy heart and nervous system function(9).
Also playing their part are the minerals and trace-elements: calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron ... (10-12) Of these, it is only the amount of sodium (or its equivalent salt, which you can find by multiplying the sodium figure by 2.5) that has to be included in the nutritional information on labels.
To gain maximum benefit from your mineral-vitamin intake, you can definitely take advantage of multivitamin supplements (such as the formulation Daily 3, which contains 12 vitamins and 8 minerals, along with numerous phytonutrients).
Sometimes, manufacturers also indicate the nutritional value per serving. In this way, the product’s contribution to a daily nutrient intake can be expressed as a percentage of the recommended daily amount (RDA), now renamed Reference Intake (RI) or Dietary Reference Value (DRV). These values are applied consistently throughout Europe.
For example, 30g of Emmental contains approximately 8.5g of protein, equivalent to 17% of the daily reference intake for protein of 50g.
Note, however, that RIs are based on adults with energy needs of 2000 kcal/day. While these values make it easier for the consumer to understand, they do not reflect particular needs related to sex, age or level of physical activity.
To identify a Dietary Reference Value) more specific to your particular profile, you can use the EFSA’s interactive tool (available in multiple languages).
Nutri-Score is an optional device for manufacturers which offers a visual representation of the nutritional profile of a processed product. The product is given a letter from A to E, on a color-coded background ranging from green to red.
It is used in France, Belgium and Spain, but not, so far, in Italy or the United States.
There are also mobile apps that can help you to make healthy choices in the supermarket. When you scan a product’s barcode or type its name, you get an overall rating of its nutritional quality. What’s interesting is that inputting unhealthy products sometimes prompts alternative suggestions. The best-known of these apps include Yuka launched in France in 2017 (available at present in French, English and Spanish).
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