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Making sense of reference intakes and food labels

The Healthy EmployeeFamily health Making sense of reference intakes and food labels
food label example

Making sense of reference intakes and food labels

What are the Reference Intakes (RIs) based on?

There are no RI’s for children or separate RI’s for gender. There is only one set of RI’s based on the requirements for an average female with no special dietary requirements and an assumed energy intake of 2000 kcal. The aim is to reduce the risk of adults with lower energy requirements eating too much and to provide clear and consistent information on labels.


Below is the RI which is present on European food labels:

RI for energy and selected nutrients (adults)

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How is the RI presented?

Nutritional information on packaged foods will normally be provided as a percentage of the RI and as a portion size or unit. However, when percentage RI’s are provided on a ‘per 100g/ml’ basis, food manufacturers have to include the statement “Reference intake of an average adult (8400kJ/2000kcal)” alongside. Some labels also continue to have the traffic light colour (red, amber and/or green) overlaid on top of the nutrition information, along with the RI information. The colour coding is a UK-wide government scheme and provides an indication of whether there is a high, medium or low amount of the nutrient per 100 grams/ml.


Other Nutrient Information

The ‘back of pack’ labelling continues to provides detailed information on other nutrients. These are expressed in per 100g so that people can easily compare two similar products. In many products, the nutrient contents is expressed in per portion also.

Although the label can help people observe portion size and nutrient content, it is a guide and does not substitute information on how to achieve a healthy, balanced diet. For example, by including whole grains, oily fish and at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.


This factsheet is intended for adults as a general guide only and not a substitute for professional advice or a diagnosis. If you are on certain medication or suffer from a medical condition, seek individual advice from your health care professional.

The Healthy Employee
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