Nutrition Facts label: how to understand it, how to use it


Nutrition Facts label: how to understand it, how to use it

19 Sep, 2023

“Rich in fibre”, “low-fat”, “low-calorie”, “no added sugar”. How many times when reading these nutritional claims have we preferred one product to another? How many times have we wondered what that food is really made of? Is a catchy claim enough to choose a food that is good for our health?

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When we go grocery shopping, slogans can very often quickly catch our attention, intrigue us and entice us to buy a specific product without us pausing to read the nutritional labels (usually found on the side or back of the package) which are a real identity card of the food. The problem can be related to a difficult interpretation of the labels themselves: they contain too much information, are too technical and have names that are difficult to pronounce and understand.

However, learning to read a label is essential to be aware of what we choose. Let us therefore discover together how to read them.

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Learn how to use the Nutrition Facts label

First of all, product labeling is mandatory by law and controlled to protect the consumer. In fact, the information it contains allows us to trace the food production chain all the way back to the raw materials, via the production batch and the CE mark of the production plant.

The ingredients on a product's food label represent all the substances contained in the food and are listed in decreasing order of quantity, so the first ingredient listed will be the one present in the highest percentage.

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This list allows comparing similar products and also discover the presence of substances that we may not like or to which we are intolerant or allergic. Food additives must also be added among the ingredients (often identified with a letter E followed by a number) and the possible presence of allergens must be indicated.

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Nutritional values

Regarding the nutritional values more closely, the nutritional table must include:

  • the energy value expressed in kcal or kjoule;
  • the amount of nutrients included in the composition: lipids, saturated fats, monounsaturated and/or polyunsaturated fats, proteins, carbohydrates and a specific wording for simple sugars and salt. There may also be values for other micronutrients such as vitamins (identified with a letter such as A, D, B12, shown in µg), minerals (Calcium, Iron, Sodium, Magnesium, Phosphorus) and dietary fiber.

These values are expressed per 100g or ml of product and sometimes per serving (specifying grams). Vitamin and mineral information should also be expressed as a percentage of the "recommended daily allowance" (RDA) or "nutritional reference values" (NRVs) for these micronutrients.

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The table displaying this valuable information allows you to know the nutritional content of foods and to guide your food choices based on your nutritional needs.

Learning to read labels and nutritional values therefore allows us to be more aware of what we put in the shopping cart and not stop at marketing ploys.

This is how we will ensure that our diet and the way we feed ourselves will make us healthier and healthier.

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  • ‘Do nutrition labels influence healthier food choices? Analysis of label viewing behaviour and subsequent food purchases in a labelling intervention trial.’ Appetite. 2018 Feb 1;121:360-365

Written by

Jessica Falcone
Jessica Falcone

Nutritionist biologist, she graduated in 2011 in Biology applied to Nutrition Sciences at the University of Milan. After a postgraduate internship in Vancouver, she studied clinical nutrition at the San Raffaele Turro Hospital, where she still deals with the prevention and treatment of Eating Disorders. She also develops food plans for pregnant women and new mothers, children and adolescents, athletes. During her meetings with patients, she likes to represent the 'diet' in an etymological sense as a lifestyle in which food is one of the important elements in learning to take care of yourself.

Visit the author's page

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