On food labels you will often come across the term "reference nutrient intakes" (RIs). These are helpful guidelines based on the approximate levels of nutrients and energy required for a normal individual to achieve a healthy, balanced diet each day.
"Reference intakes" (RIs) should not be considered as rigid targets as both energy and nutrient requirements can vary significantly between people: they are dependent on many factors, including age, sex and differing life stages. However, "RIs" do provide a useful indication of how much energy an average person needs and a rough guide of the correct proportions of nutrients that should make up a balanced diet.
**It is important to bear in mind that the term "reference intakes" (or "RIs") has replaced the term “guideline daily amounts” (“GDAs”), which used to appear on food labels. However, the principle behind these two terms remains exactly the same**.
Did you know that adult reference intakes are based on an average-sized woman?
Unless otherwise stated, RI values are based on an average-sized woman doing an average amount of exercise. The reason that an average woman's nutritional requirements are used as a reference is to cut the risk of people with lower energy requirements overeating. In addition, food manufacturers want to ensure that they communicate clear and consistent information on their labels.
As part of a healthy balanced diet, an adult's RIs for a day equate to:
For the major macronutrients, this should roughly correspond to the following daily energy proportions:
** Please note that the RI for total sugars is particularly high as it includes: sugars from milk, sugars contained in fruit and also added sugar**.
Many nutrition labels on food packaging provide information on the amount of each nutrient present e.g. fat, sugars and salt. This information can be expressed as a percentage of the reference intake for that nutrient. Percentage reference intakes (%RIs) can be given: by weight (per 100g), by volume (per 100ml) and/or by portion.
When percentage RIs are provided on a "per 100g/ml" basis, food manufacturers are obliged by law to include the statement "Reference intake of an average adult (8400kJ/2000kcal)" alongside.
Change in guidelines for levels of fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt
There are guidelines in place that elucidate if a food is high or low in fat, saturated fat ("saturates"), sugars or salt. These guidelines were reviewed and in some cases changed by the Department of Health (UK) in 2013. The updated figures are as follows:
High in fat: more than 17.5g of fat per 100g
Low in fat: 3g of fat or less per 100g
Saturated fat ("saturates")
High in saturated fat: more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g
Low in saturated fat: 1.5g of saturated fat or less per 100g
High in sugars: more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g
Low in sugars: 5g of total sugars or less per 100g
The term "salt" is now used on food labels, rather than "sodium". The amount of salt is calculated by determining the total sodium in a product (both naturally occurring and from additives) and multiplying it by 2.5.
High in salt: more than 1.5g of salt per 100g
Low in salt: 0.3g of salt or less per 100g
If you are aiming to lose weight, your average daily energy requirement will be lower than if you want your weight to remain stable. The calorie checker tool embedded on the NHS website (a UK-based platform) is an excellent way to track how many calories there are in thousands of different foods and drinks. MyFitnessPal is also a very handy way to track food consumed over the course of the day and the attributed energy and nutrient contribution.
Sophie Bruno is a Registered Dietitian living and working in Brussels (Belgium). Read Sophie's foodie blog which will enable you to learn, increase your knowledge & cultivate yourself in the field of nutrition & health directly from Brussels