NIPs - where to go for the lowdown
Updated: Oct 11, 2018
The Nutrition Information Panel (NIP) is that table on the back of most packaged foods - the place where you'll find the deets on the energy and nutrient content of the food inside - and the part of the label you really need to know your way around.
Yes, OK, I'm one of those people who will read the back of a food packet before I put it in my trolley. I will also mutter to myself that food manufacturers seem to be printing them smaller and smaller every year... But really, the NIP is where the good stuff is. The front of the packet may be all "Hey, look at the colourful picture, doesn't this look healthy and delicious?", but the NIP is saying "Well, actually this bread only has 2.1 grams of fibre per 100 grams, and a fairly hefty 520 milligrams of sodium, just saying..." The NIP is where consumers can go to get behind the marketing hype.
I noticed a really interesting example of this when I purchased some wraps recently.
I like eating as many wholegrain products as I can (for additional fibre and micronutrients), so generally gravitate towards products that say "wholegrain" or "multigrain" in their description. But I always check the NIP to make sure. So I grabbed the multigrain wraps and the wholemeal wraps, and flipped them over to check out the NIP. The fibre content seemed pretty low, and the sodium way too high, so I looked at some other flavours for comparison. This is what I found:
per 100g per wrap per 100g per wrap
Wholemeal 4.3g 2.6g 600mg 360mg
Multigrain 2.9g 1.9g 550mg 352mg
Chia & Quinoa 8.6g 4.9g 120mg 68mg
Sprouted Grain & Seed 10.7g 6.3g 100mg 59mg
The multigrain and wholemeal wraps are not only low in fibre relative to the other two options, but much higher in sodium. In fact, you would have to eat two wholemeal wraps (5.2g of fibre) to get even close to the fibre content of one Sprouted Grain & Seed wrap (6.3g of fibre), but in doing so you would consume 720mg of sodium, compared to the 59mg in the one Sprouted Grain & Seed wrap. Current recommendations are that an adult should consume between 920 - 2300mg of sodium a day. However, the estimated sodium intake for New Zealanders is well above that at 3500mg a day, mostly coming from processed foods. You can use this table to identify which category each wrap would fall into:
Low salt foods are those which contain less than 120mg of sodium per 100g of food
Medium salt foods contain between 120 and 600mg of sodium per 100g of food
High salt foods contain more than 600mg of sodium per 100g of food
Conversely, most New Zealander's intake of fibre is on the low side. Figures from the New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey 2008/09 show that the average male is consuming 22.1g of fibre a day, and the average female 17.5g a day. The recommendation is 30g/day for males, and 25g/day for females. Adequate dietary fibre is important for bowel health (maintaining gut motility, preventing constipation, providing food for beneficial gut flora), and in reducing the risk of many diseases including heart disease, various cancers and Type 2 diabetes (through lowering cholesterol, helping with blood glucose control, and aiding weight management).
Due to New Zealand food labelling recommendations, foods needs to meet certain criteria for their packaging to declare "a good source of fibre" (a serving of the food must contain at least 4g of fibre), or "an excellent source of fibre" (a serving of the food must contain at least 7g of fibre). These are meaningful (and legally defined) statements to look out for on the front of the package. Generally any food that contains 6g or more of fibre per 100g is a good place to start!
Food Standards Australia New Zealand. (2015). Nutrition, health and related claims. [Website]. Retrieved March 18, 2018, from https://gazette.govt.nz/notice/id/2015-gs1929
Ministry of Health. (2011). A focus on nutrition: Key findings of the 2008/09 New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey. Retrieved from http://www.health.govt.nz/publication/focus-nutrition-key-findings-2008-09-nz-adult-nutrition-survey
National Health and Medical Research Council & Ministry of Health. (2006). Nutrient reference values for Australia and New Zealand: Including recommended dietary intakes. Retrieved from https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines-publications/
New Zealand Nutrition Foundation. (2013). Sodium. [Website]. Retrieved March 18, 2018, from https://www.nutritionfoundation.org.nz/nutrition-facts/minerals/sodium