By APD. Holly Baxter
Accredited Practicing Dietitian, MS Dietetics, Bch Food Science and Nutrition, Online Physique Coach.
Written Oct 1st 2017


I am frequently asked what should I be looking at on the nutrition information label when it comes to maintaining a lean physique.

How are the calories on food products determined, how accurate are they and what about dietary fiber and net carbohydrate.


How are calories calculated? 

Calories are listed at the top of the products nutrition information panel right next to the serving size. With the updated nutrition labelling laws almost in effect, these will be much larger and more easily identifiable. I can’t recall the number of times I have eaten a packaged protein bar or some other new and exciting protein based treat, only to realize after eating the whole thing there are actually 2.5 servings in a pack, so I have effectively taken in double the amount of calories I thought I was consuming. Macro remorse I know!  The revised labelling regulations set by the FDA will now reflect a serving size that is more commonly consumed, rather than an amount that should be consumed.



In USA, calories are expressed to the nearest 5 calorie increment in products containing up to and including 50 calories.

For foods containing above 50 calories, calories are expressed to the nearest 10-calorie increment.

Products with caloric amounts less than 5 calories may be expressed as zero.


Facts about calories

Calories are determined from calculating total fat, total protein, total carbohydrate, minus the amount of non-digestible carbohydrates (dietary fiber, as well as the calories from sugar alcohols.


What is the caloric value given to dietary fiber?

2.0 – 2.5g calories per gram is the energy value given to soluble non-digestible carbohydrates.


What is the caloric value given to sugar alcohols?

When a sugar alcohol is listed on a product, the caloric value is as follows;

Isomalt—                                         2.0 calories per gram

Lactitol—                                          2.0 calories per gram

Xylitol—                                            2.4 calories per gram

Maltitol—                                          2.1 calories per gram

Sorbitol—                                         2.6 calories per gram

Hydrogenated starch hydrolysates 3.0 calories per gram

Mannitol—                                       1.6 calories per gram

Erythritol—                                       0 calories per gram


Net carbohydrates

Though I make mention of this in my previous articles, I am frequently asked about net carbohydrates and how they should be tracked.

This is best explained by way of an example.

If you look at the nutrition information panel of your favorite ice cream,

It reads 60 calories per 66g serve. 2g are from fat, 5g are from protein and 14g are from carbohydrates.

14 calories are from fat                             ( 2.0 g x 7 cal/g fat)

20 calories are from protein                      ( 5.0 g x 4 cal/g pro)

56 calories are from carbohydrate           (14.0 g x 4 cal/g carb)


If we add these up the total is 90calories. We then need to consider they have subtracted the calories from fiber and sugar alcohols.

7.5 calories are from fiber                         (3.0 g x 2.5 cal/g fiber)

15 calories are from sugar alcohol           (5.0g x  3.0 cal/g sugar alcohol)


If we subtract 22.5 calories from our calculated 90g we are still left with 67.5 calories. So where does this discrepancy come from? Firstly, the caloric value will vary depending which sugar alcohol used in the ice cream. In this case it appears they have used a value of 3 calories per gram used. Some stabilizers used in ice creams i.e. glycerol has the same caloric value as carbohydrate and not listed in the caloric value!

Also, remember that for products with greater than 50 calories per serve, they are permitted to list the total calorie content to the nearest 10 calorie increment.


What other changes are being made to nutrition labels?

Vitamin D and Potassium are nutrients Americans don’t always consume in sufficient amounts, and are associated with increased risk of chronic disease. Vitamin D is important for its role in bone health, and potassium helps to lower blood pressure. For the same reason Iron and Calcium are listed on the food labels and will continue to be listed.


Vitamins A and C no longer required to be listed

Dating back to the early 1990’s, American diets  were lacking in both vitamins A and C. Now however, Vitamins A and C deficiencies in westernized populations are rare. While it is no longer mandatory for manufacturers to include these on the nutrition information panel of foods, manufacturers are still able to list these vitamins voluntarily.


Some serving sizes will actually be bigger

Some serving sizes will increase and others will decrease because. FDA are now ensuring that the serving sizes listed on the packaging must be based on the amounts of food and drink that people typically consume, rather than how much they should consume.

Recent food consumption data show that some serving sizes need to be revised. For example, the reference amount used to set a serving of ice cream was previously ½ cup and now is changing to 1 cup.

The reference amount used to set a serving size of soft drink was previously 8 ounces and now is changing to 12 ounces. The reference amount for yogurt is decreasing from 8 ounces to 6 ounces.

Not only do these laws apply to foods produced in USA, they will also apply to all foods imported to the United States.


If you would like to learn more about nutrition, or you have a nutrition coaching enquiry, please feel free to contact me via my website