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Energy - Nutrition Labelling - Codex Alimentarius

 Updated 2015-10-14

 Codex Alimentarius Guidelines on Nutrition Labelling

Codex Alimentarius Commission’s Guidelines for Nutrition Labelling (CAC/GL 2-1985, revised 2015) sets the general principles for nutrition labelling, i.e. a description intended to inform the consumer of nutritional properties of a food, and describes the components of nutrition labelling, nutrient declaration and supplementary nutrition information.

In the Codex Guidelines’ definitions the following components are defined:

 Sugarsall mono-saccharides and di-saccharides present in food.

 Dietary fibre

carbohydrate polymers2 with ten or more monomeric units3 , which are not hydrolysed by the endogenous enzymes in the small intestine of humans and belong to the following categories:

  • Edible carbohydrate polymers naturally occurring in the food as consumed,
  • carbohydrate polymers, which have been obtained from food raw material by physical, enzymatic or chemical means and which have been shown to have a physiological effect of benefit to health as demonstrated by generally accepted scientific evidence to competent authorities,
  • synthetic carbohydrate polymers which have been shown to have a physiological effect of benefit to health as demonstrated by generally accepted scientific evidence to competent authorities.
 Polyunsaturated fatty acidsfatty acids with cis-cis methylene interrupted double bonds.
 Trans fatty acids  all the geometrical isomers of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids having non-conjugated, interrupted by at least one methylene group, carbon-carbon double bonds in the trans configuration.

2 When derived from a plant origin, dietary fibre may include fractions of lignin and/or other compounds associated with polysaccharides in the plant cell walls. These compounds also may be measured by certain analytical method(s) for dietary fibre. However, such compounds are not included in the definition of dietary fibre if extracted and re-introduced into a food.
3 Decision on whether to include carbohydrates from 3 to 9 monomeric units should be left to national authorities. 


In the further description of the listing of the nutrients appears a definition of available carbohydrate and in calculation procedures the derivation of protein values is defined:

 Available carbohydratecarbohydrate excluding dietary fibre (and available carbohydrate should be referred to as carbohydrate).
 ProteinTotal Kjeldahl Nitrogen x 6.25
unless a different factor is given in a Codex standard or in the Codex method of analysis for that food.

The comment for the nitrogen-to-protein factor means that the factor for milk and dairy products is 6.38 (the factor used in the method of analysis).

For the energy, the amount of energy to be listed should be calculated using the following conversion factors:

  Carbohydrates 4 kcal/g17 kJ/g
  Protein 4 kcal/g17 kJ/g
  Fat 9 kcal/g37 kJ/g
  Alcohol (ethanol) 7 kcal/g29 kJ/g
  Organic acid 3 kcal/g13 kJ/g

The Codex Guidelines state that the values used in a nutrient declaration should be weighted average values from data specifically obtained from analyses of products which are representative of the product being labelled. This opens the possibility of using food composition data from official databases/tables as the basis of nutrition labelling.

In previous versions of the Codex Guidelines it was mentioned that these definitions may be subject to changes as the Codex Guidelines emphasise that the present definitions of sugars and dietary fibre as well as the declaration (calculation) of energy should be reviewed in the light of newer developments, but no changes have been applied in the 2013 version of the Guidelines.

Already in 2000, the Australian delegation produced a discussion paper on energy conversion factors for the Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses. In this discussion paper it is indicated that in the Codex Guidelines some energy factors for macronutrients are included but no factors are assigned to other food components, such as dietary fibre, polyols (sugar alcohols), other unavailable carbohydrates and novel food ingredients, which might be fermented in the lower intestines and release some energy. Furthermore, the Codex Guidelines do not give any indication of how energy factors for these food components should be derived. The questions raised in the Australian discussion paper are considered important because the assignment of energy factors underpins nutrition labelling of the energy content of whole foods and low joules claims.

The Australian initiative was supported by several Member countries and the Member governments are requested to by means of a Circular Letter to provide their comments on national practices of assignment of energy conversion factors to food components, fats and sugars and derivation of energy conversion factors for novel food ingredients.

TThe Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Carbohydrates in Human Nutrition indirectly supports the Australian initiative as the consultation has recommended reassessment of the energy value for carbohydrate, and for carbohydrates, which reach the colon, the energy value be set at 2 kcal/g (8 kJ/g) for nutritional and labelling purposes.


  • Codex Alimentarius Commission:
    Codex Guidelines for Nutritional Labelling. CAC/GL 2 – 1985 (Adopted 1985. Revisions 1993 and 2011. Amendment 2003, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2013. Annex adopted 2011 and revised 2013 and 2015).
    Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme, FAO, Rome 2015
  • Codex Alimentarius Commission: Codex Committee on Nutrition and Foods for Special Dietary Uses. Twenty-second Session, Berlin, Germany, 19-23 June 2000. Discussion Paper on Energy Conversion Factors (Prepared by Australia), CX/NFSDU 00/11, Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme, FAO, Rome, March 2000
  • Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Carbohydrates in Human Nutrition:
    Carbohydrates in human nutrition.
    FAO Food and Nutrition Paper - 66.
    FAO, Rome, 1998


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