Math Fun with Nutrition Facts Labels

09 Jul

This is a guest blog post by Richard Perlmutter, MS

Beginning May 8, 1993 the American public has benefited from information about the composition of foods and beverages.  That date was the deadline for placing ‘Nutrition Facts’ on the side of food and beverage packaging.

Though Nutrition Facts provides a lot of information, it can be “picked apart” to provide even more.  To illustrate please refer to the nutrition labeling information, shown below, for a popular brand of white bread.

bread label

Almost all food is composed of just four broad categories of substances.

There are the three so-called macronutrients– fat, carbohydrate, and protein.  All of these have a place in Nutrition Facts.  The fourth, which does not, is water. It is more commonly referred to as the moisture content.

Referring to the labeling information for white bread, one slice weighs 43 grams, and it has 1.5g of fat, 22g of carbohydrate, and 3g of protein.  Together the three macronutrients account for 26.5g of the 43g weight of the slice.  The remaining amount, 16.5g, is the moisture content.

It may be more descriptive to express these values as percentages: the bread is composed of about 3.5 percent fat, 51 percent carbohydrate, 7 percent protein, and 38.5 percent moisture.

It is especially interesting to determine the moisture content of low fat and reduced sugar foods, and compare the results with the moisture content of the full fat and full sugar equivalent foods.  Do the math, and you will wonder “Why am I paying the same for additional water?”

A second omission in Nutrition Facts concerns the carbohydrates.

The slice of bread has 22g of carbohydrate, but only 4g are accounted for– 1g fiber and 3g sugars.  Over 75 percent of the carbs are missing.

Almost all natural foods, and foods made with natural ingredients, have their carbohydrate as sugars, fiber, and/or starch.  Starch is that missing carbohydrate.  There are 18g of starch in a slice of the bread.

As I hope you see, Nutrition Facts can be the gateway to additional nutrition information.  Determine the amount of water/moisture, and change all the values to percentages.  That’s the best way to make interesting comparisons among foods.

Richard Perlmutter, MSRichard Perlmutter is the owner of  Abington Nutrition Services LLC which prepares nutrition labeling for products manufactured by food and beverage companies. He also takes an interest in seeing that government nutrition policy is in line with nutritional science.



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3 responses to “Math Fun with Nutrition Facts Labels

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