How to Read Nutritional Labels in Chinese



One of the biggest road blocks in my adventure to figure out what I've been eating here in Taiwan is nutrition labels. The labels offer similar nutritional information as the USA but not identically, and not in the same order, in Traditional Chinese, and serving sizes are metric. There are a few conversations on the age-old Formosa boards that offer some non-helpful tips, and some tips that are totally wrong. No, 7-11 does not list nutritional information in English, *sigh. I also ran across this very detailed but also confusing pamphlet from Hong Kong.

The nutrition labels usually offer the following facts, and typically in this order:

熱量 (Re4 Liang4) Energy (units = 大卡 / da1 ka3 / Kcal) 
蛋白質 (Dan4 Bai2 Zhi4) Protein (unit =  公克 / gong1ke4 / gram)
脂肪 (Zhi1 Fang2) Total Fat (unit =  公克 / gong1ke4 / gram)
  飽和脂肪 (Bao3 He2 Zhi1 Fang2) Saturated Fat (unit =  公克 / gong1ke4 / gram)
  反式脂肪 (Fan3 Shi4 Zhi1 Fang2) Trans Fat (still legal?) (unit =  公克 / gong1ke4 / gram)
碳水化合物 (Tan4 Shui3 Hua4 He2 Wu4) Carbohydrates (unit =  公克 / gong1ke4 / gram)
鈉 (Na4) Sodium (unit =  毫克/ hao2ke4 / milligram)
糖 (Tang2) Sugar Not always listed (unit =  公克 / gong1ke4 / gram)

A less than complete list compared to the USA standard. I am not sure why sugar is broken out of the carbohydrate category. I guess you could figure out which fats are unsaturated by subtracting the two listed fats (saturated and trans) from total fat. Noticeably the vitamins and minerals are usually absent. I find foods marketing themselves as nutritious list that out. 


Above you can see the nutrition label for lemon tea, a very common drink in Taiwan. It does not list sugar as a nutritional item, which is a little dodgy in my opinion. Instead it lists total carbohydrates. Knowing that 1 gram of sugar contributes 4 calories we can guess that most of the calories are coming from sugars. Most sweet teas do not contain fiber! 

What is very different if you are coming from the states in serving size. Most often in Taiwan a serving is 100 milliliters (毫升/ hao2sheng1 /.42 cups) or 100 grams (公克 / gong1ke4 /3.5 oz) whether you should actually be consuming that quantity in a sitting or not. For example you would probably not be interested in eating 100 grams of the gooey thick bitter black sesame paste I am using as example here. Alternatively, you would be likely to chug a whole over sized tea carton on a hot day, and may be shocked to realize you drank 6.5 servings. You will probably need to do some additional math as to how much a "you-sized" serving or portion will be. 

Serving size and servings per container are usually not listed above the nutritional facts. Often they are found next door along with ingredients, country of origin, and other details I can't read. Above you can see that the container has 250 公克 (grams) of sesame paste. If you aren't confident in recognizing your Traditional Chinese characters go ahead and assume the biggest number is the total grams or milliliter. A container's total weight or volume is also not always listed on the front of the package. Looking to this area pretty much tells you everything  else you need to know. 


A final scenario exists, on occasion food nutrition IS offered in a suggested portion. Here is a can of good ole Quaker oats. It lists 37.5 grams of oats as a portion which would make about 1 cup cooked. You can read up top in Chinese: 每一份量 (mei3 yi2 fen4 liang / every serving) and 本包裝含 (ben3 bao1 zhuang1 han2 / servings per container). 

Anyone other special knowledge out there on Taiwanese food labeling? Please share any comments or criticisms. 

Comments

  1. This was very helpful. Thank you! :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Extremely helpful. I am studying in Taiwan this summer, and I'm freaking out about all the seemingly delicious but probably really unhealthy packaged stuff from the 7-11's and other convenience stores. Thank you so much for this!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    ReplyDelete

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