Sunday, September 2, 2012

Nutrition Label World Tour: Japan

The information found on the Japanese nutrition facts panel is often different from what is found in the United States of America or countries with a tightly regulated Nutrition/Food Labelling sector. Reason being, food manufacturers are not compelled to put a nutrition label on a food product. In fact, it is voluntary and left up to the sole discretion of the manufacturer. A label is only compelled when the product makes a nutritional claim "e.g, High in vitamin C or calcium". However imported food products generally require a nutrition label.
Here are some facts regarding the Japanese food label when it is present:

It provides vague nutrition and sometimes misleading information
(e.g) it will show Total Fat but does not breakdown the components of the fat - Trans Fat, Cholesterol or even Saturated Fat amongst others.
(e.g) it will claim to be high in a particular vitamin or another nutrient, but this claim is only validated if the entire package is consumed.

Determining the serving size and nutritional content per size is a challenge. 
The Japanese food label often provides the nutrition information per 100 grams (100 g) or 100 millilitres (100 ml). This does not translate into helpful information especially, if a food product has a net weight of 350 g or 540 ml. Can you estimate how much is 100 g of potato chips or cooked rice? For the calorie concerned person, the use of a calculator and or food scale is required to determine how much the recommended serving (100 g) translates into first. From there, determining whether a 100 g of the product is sufficient for their needs-food or diet.
Label found on a Box Soup (image source)
Total Calories are listed in Kilocalories (Kcal) and not calories. This is not a bad thing but the issue arises in the way the total calories is presented; often times it is presented in a misleading format. (See the first point and image)

Information regarding the primary ingredients & additives (dyes/flavourings etc) does not need to be listed.

The 'Best before date' is commonly used (year, day, month)

Allergy information regarding wheat, buckwheat, egg, milk and peanut is mandatory.

Genetically Modified (GM) food information is only listed, once the GM  item exceeds 5% of the product's net weight.

 Japanese Nutrition Facts Guide
If a product contains alcohol, the label needs to put a disclaimer. This a precautionary measure, to prevent the ingestion of alcohol by minors or to alert persons with religious restrictions about its presence.

Collagen and Polyphenols notices are often found on the label. Both are believed to help persons achieve and maintain beautiful skin.

Side note: Collagen is one protein compound that is widely sought after hence the reason collagen facials are very prevalent, in Japan. read more
This table should be helpful in deciphering the Japanese food label.

In all fairness food labels vary from country to country, but nevertheless they  provide information that appears to be culturally significant to that region/country.

For more information regarding Japan's food labelling visit

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