How the nutrition information of foodstuffs is calculated

The nutrition information of a foodstuff is determined through laboratory tests and calculations based on the composition of ingredients. The nutrition values are essential in the food industry as they guide consumers to make informed dietary and health choices.

The technological advances in recent years have transformed and improved the way that the nutrition data are calculated. New analysis techniques and the development of specialised software streamline this process; they allow manufacturers to comply with regulations and the demand for information from end consumers as well as from clients, especially in case of B2B relationships and/or private labelling, as this is one of the criteria to consider in choosing the manufacturer of your private label in the food sector.

So how is the nutrition information of foodstuffs actually determined? In this article we delve into the world of laboratories, calculations and regulations to unravel how nutrition values are calculated.


Laboratory analysis measures nutrient contents

The starting point for determining the nutrition values of a product is laboratory analysis. This process entails studying each ingredient in the product to measure their nutrition composition. Different methods such as chromatography and spectrometry are used to identify and quantify the fat, protein, carbohydrate, vitamin, mineral, fibre, salt and other content present in the foodstuff.

Let’s take an example: The product to undergo analysis is organic cooked chickpeas with vegetables. Chromatography is used to separate the mixture on the basis of the different interaction capacity of each component with another substance. And spectrometry measures how much light it absorbs in order to determine parameters such as quantitative and qualitative chemical composition, colour and thickness. As a result, we know that the product under analysis contains fats, carbohydrates, fibre, protein and salt.


Nutrition information is used to formulate the product’s ingredients list

This process involves using the data obtained in the laboratory analysis to develop the product’s ingredients list that specifies the quantity of each of its ingredients. This step is critical as it must be ensured that the nutrition values accurately reflect what the consumer will get when purchasing the product.

Let’s go back to our example: The laboratory analysis allows to produce the ingredients list for the organic boiled chickpeas with vegetables. Thus, we know that this product contains 62% chickpeas, 10% tomatoes, 4% green peppers, 4% red peppers, 4% carrots, 3% onions and the rest is water and salt.


How to calculate the nutrition information

Calculating the nutrition information of the end product entails adding up the nutrition value of each ingredient, taking into account any losses or gains during the manufacturing process. Based on the product’s ingredients list, precise calculations are made to determine the nutrition data of the end product. Each ingredient contributes differently to the nutrition formula, so special attention to detail is required to ensure the accuracy of the data provided.

Let’s go back to our example: Once we know the exact amount of each ingredient in the organic cooked chickpeas with vegetables and the nutrients they contain, said calculations are made according to the percentage in which each ingredient is present in the end product. The formula for each nutrient in each ingredient would be: grams of the nutrient x 100 / percentage of the ingredient.



Determining serving size with nutrition information

When establishing the nutrition values for a product, it is essential to determine the serving size for that product. The size should reflect typical consumption. Nutrition information is generally provided on a per serving basis, so defining clearly what constitutes a serving is essential. This aspect is vital to contextualise nutrition values and allow consumers to understand how these numbers apply to their everyday diet.

Let’s go back to our example: In order to determine the serving size that will provide the nutrition information of organic chickpeas with vegetables, the recommendations of national and international food, dietetics and nutrition organisations, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) or the Spanish Nutrition Foundation (FEN), are followed. These bodies recommend consuming 100 grams of pulses three to four times a week.


Rounding and labelling to comply with food labelling regulations

Nutrition values should be rounded to the nearest whole number according to the regulations of the country where the product is to be marketed. It is imperative to ensure compliance with local and international standards on food labelling. This may include specific regulations on how nutrition information should be presented, which nutrients should be declared and how values should be rounded. Each country has its own regulatory framework that must be complied with in order to successfully market the product. This is essential when it comes to formulating and following a business plan in the food industry.

Let’s go back to our example: Once all the above information has been compiled, we can determine that the organic boiled chickpeas with vegetables has an energy value of 322 Kj or 76 Kcal per 100 grams. Of those 100 grams: 1.2 are fats (of which 0.2 are saturated), 11.5 grams are carbohydrates (of which 0.9 are sugars), 2.9 grams are fibre, 3.4 grams are protein and 0.7 grams are salt.



Regular updating of nutrition information

Nutrition information should be updated regularly, especially if there are changes to the ingredients. This ensures that consumers always have access to accurate data and reflects the manufacturer’s commitment to transparency and quality, as is the case with other aspects such as certification in the food industry.


Determining the nutrition information of a product is a careful combination of science, formulation and regulations. Behind every figure on the label is a complex process whose ultimate purpose is to guarantee that consumers have access to clear and accurate information about the products they choose that allows them to make informed diet and wellbeing choices.

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