Nutritional balance graph

Nutritional balance graph

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mid p c f fb
max s sf na
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ideal % = grey cells; actual % = asterisk (*)

The graph represents a qualitative assessment of actual and ideal nutritional composition. The graph is made out of seven or eight columns (eight columns when water is also represented) protruding from a horizontal line (the horizon). Each column is subdivided in equal-sized boxes, each accounting for 5% increase in nutrient contribution the farther they are from the horizon. The ideal profile (the RDIs) is represented as grey-filled boxes, the actual profile is represented by asterisks. Ideal and actual profiles overlap, thus helping compare each other.

The interpretation of results is, basically, as follows: boxes filled with an asterisk represent the actual contribution of each nutrient to 100g of the food product. Blank boxes within the perimeter of the ideal profile indicate that the actual nutrient is in deficiency. Asterisk-filled boxes beyond the perimeter of the ideal profile indicate that the actual nutrient is in excess. Whenever asterisk boxes just fill up the ideal profile, it indicates that the actual nutrient is [approximately] in balance.

The following considerations will further help interpret the graph:

  • Firstly, the graph is divided by the horizon (ie, a horizontal line). Above the horizon are the main nutritional categories (ie, protein, carbohydrate and fat), fiber and, when appropriate, water. Below the horizon are specific nutritional subcategories (ie, sugars and saturated fat), and sodium. Sugars are a subcategory of carbohydrate, while saturated fat is a subcategory of fat. Thus, to facilitate identification, they continue their respective categories below the horizon. Sodium, however, is in its own column below the horizon.
  • Secondly, the column (total) carbohydrate already counts sugars. Thus, sugars are represented below the horizon to describe the percentage of carbohydrate that is in the form of sugars, but also to help identify whether the actual sugar content is within recommended maximum limits. A similar thing happens with saturated fat.
  • Thirdly, the graph is also divided into two parts (notice the gap in the horizon). The left-hand side represents energy contribution by protein, carbohydrate and fat (% kcal). The right-hand side represents weight contribution by fiber, sodium and, when appropriate, water (% intake). This is so because the use of the energy-based representation allows for keeping constant the ideal profile for protein, carbohydrate, sugars, fat and saturated fat across food products (eg, ideal energy from protein is always 20%, independently of how much energy 100g of the product provides). By keeping the profile constant, comparison across different products is simplified. However, the intake-based representation of fiber, sodium and water will change from food product to food product as the ideal profile needs to be adjusted according to total weight contribution to 100g of the product.
  • Fourthly, notice that all nutrients with maximum recommended limits are below the horizon, while all nutrients with mid-points recommended limits are above the horizon.
  • Fifthly, sometimes the actual content for a nutrient (namely fiber) is not provided by the manufacturer. In these cases, the ideal profile is represented, but not so the actual one.
  • Sixthly, some other times the ideal percentage for intake-based nutrients is too low to be graphically represented (ie, below 2.5%). To know the ideal percentage, you need to look it up on the nutrition information table.
  • Seventhly, water will only be represented when it is relevant doing so.

Other interesting sites
Journal KAI
Wiki of Science
The Balanced Nutrition Index