Nutrition information in the form of a nutrition information panel has been a requirement on the packaging of retail products for over 10 years now and while it is not a requirement for restaurant foods it is beginning to be seen as a consumer expectation especially for chain restaurants.
There are many ways to generate nutrition information, from analysis by a laboratory to nutrition analysis software and the online nutrition panel calculator from Food Standards Australia New Zealand. All of these have their pros and cons and can produce accurate nutrition information when applied and used correctly. The key to accurate nutrition information is understanding what it is you are calculating and how to accurately report it. Five areas that are easy to miss:
1. Recipes yields or product weight changes
How a food is cooked or manufactured can impact its final weight. This can have a significant impact on the per 100g nutrient values (outside of the fact that heat, light and exposure to air can impact the level of some nutrients such as certain vitamins). The change in recipe weight is often termed the yield. The yield is most commonly a result of changes to the water, or moisture content. Water can be lost or gained during cooking or processing.
- Forget to account for lost moisture (e.g. from grilling, toasting, or roasting) and the per 100g values will be lower than expected.
- Forget to account for moisture gain (e.g. boiling) and the per 100g values will be higher than expected
- In both cases the serve weight may not align with the per serve nutrition values.
If you’re calculating your nutrition information, make sure you’re are taking into account any water changes by including a yield information in your calculation.
The yield or weight of recipes can also be impacted by fat loss or fat gain (e.g. deep frying). This can be a little harder to calculate as they are both also accompanied by water loss. In these cases, it might be best to analyse your product to ensure accurate data.
It is also important to note that how you prepare, sample and transport your product to the lab can also impact water and fat losses so it’s important to get advice on the best way to do this.
It might seem like a surprise to see carbohydrate on this list. So, what’s special about carbohydrate? The term carbohydrate can be defined and calculated in a number of ways. These definitions determine what is included in the final value for carbohydrates. Some clear distinctions to be aware of:
Available carbohydrate vs. total carbohydrate.
Available carbohydrate is most commonly used in Australia and the EU and does not include dietary fibre.
Total carbohydrate is most commonly used in the US and unlike Australia and the EU this value does include dietary fibre.
Total carbohydrate should not be confused with carbohydrate, total that can be listed on Australian nutrition information panels.
Be aware of any overseas information you’re using and make sure to check what their definition of carbohydrate includes. This is also an important consideration if you’re using nutrition calculation software not designed to consider Australian nutrition labelling requirements.
Carbohydrate by difference
Carbohydrate is most commonly calculated by difference (note, I said calculated). It is not directly analysed rather it is calculated using a formula like this:
- Carbohydrate by difference = 100 minus the percentage protein, total fat, moisture, ash and dietary fibre
Food foods or beverage with alcohol, or added unavailable carbohydrates or sugar alcohols these also need to be taken into consideration
What this means is that the carbohydrate value is influenced by any variations or errors in the values for protein, total fat, moisture and ash (and dietary fibre).
This is important not only to ensure the accuracy of the declared carbohydrate value but also the resulting energy calculation. If fibre has been included in the value for carbohydrate, the energy value for that food will be over declared, as 17kJ per gram would have been assigned to the fibre rather than 8kJ per gram.
Another commonly overlooked nutrition information requirement is rounding.
So you’ve calculated your nutrition data and are ready to publish it. Depending on how you’ve generated it and the tools you’ve used the data could include values with to up to six or more decimal places (it still baffles me why some software does this but that’s not the point).
The Food Standards Code permits values to be declared to no more than three significant figures. For those of us who don’t recall our childhood maths lessons, a significant figure is basically any number in your value that is not a zero, unless the zero is in between two other numbers.
Another important requirement consideration is the accuracy you are suggesting by declaring data to with multiple decimal places. For example, 0.001g is suggesting a really high level of accuracy which I would argue is both unnecessary, as nutrition data is supposed to represent average quantities and likely inaccurate given the natural variation in the nutrient content of food.
4. Average quantities
Speaking of average quantities – this is also something I see left off nutrition information. The Food Standards Code requires that the values in a nutrition information panel are average quantities and that the nutrition information panel must clearly indicate this. Often this is done in the per serving and per 100g column headings.
It’s important to note that there are some cases where minimum or maximum quantities are permitted. These relate to claims around the type of fat.
As with rounding, the Food Standards Code also prescribes how to indicate if your product contains a low level of certain nutrients.
- Protein, fats, carbohydrate, sugars or fibre values less than 1g can be declared as ‘less than 1g’
- Energy values less than 40kJ can be declared as ‘less than 40kJ’
- Sodium values less than 5mg can be declared as ‘less than 5mg’
It is important to note that the word ‘trace’ to describe nutrient levels is not listed as an option in the FSC nor is use of the mathematical symbol “<” for less than.
Regardless of how you calculate your nutrition information it’s important to understand the regulatory requirements and the considerations required to meet these. There is enough confusion around nutrition and distrust of food companies without adding inaccurate or misleading nutrition information to the mix.
If you’d like help with planning, reviewing or generating your nutrition data we’d love to help. Contact us on the link below.