Nutrients

Background information on the nutrients contained in the Swiss Food Composition Database is presented below. All references to recommendations for requirements or intake refer to healthy adults. Detailed recommendations for specific age groups can be found in the DACH reference values. For individual nutrients, the Federal Commission for Nutrition FCN has made recommendations that are specific to Switzerland.

Energy

The energy requirement of a person depends on many factors such as gender, height, weight, body composition and naturally on physical activity. A balanced, sufficient energy supply is demonstrated by a stable body weight.

According to the “DACH reference values for nutrient intake, 2017”, the daily energy requirement of a woman of average age, height and weight lies between 1800 kcal (sedentary lifestyle) and 2400 kcal (active lifestyle). A man of average age, height and weight requires between 2300 kcal (sedentary lifestyle) and 3000 kcal (active lifestyle).

The energy content of a food which can be utilised by humans cannot be determined precisely, but is calculated by means of factors. The factors take into account that the human organism can only make use of part of the energy present in a food.

In the Swiss Food Composition Database the energy content is given both in calories (kcal) and in kilojoules (kJ). The values are calculated using the conversion factors from the Swiss Ordinance on the labelling and advertising of foodstuffs (SR 817.022.21, dated 1.1.2012):

Carbohydrates 4 kcal or 17 kJ per gram
Protein (albumin) 4 kcal or 17 kJ per gram
Fat 9 kcal or 37 kJ per gram
Alcohol 7 kcal or 29 kJ per gram
Dietary fibres 2 kcal or 8 kJ per gram

Carbohydrates 

The carbohydrates are a large group of nutrients that are mainly found in plant foodstuffs, but also in dairy products. Quantitatively, plant starch is the most important carbohydrate. Other carbohydrates are glucose (dextrose, fructose), lactose, maltose and saccharose.

According to the recommendations of the Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office FSVO, 45-55% of the daily energy requirement should come from carbohydrates.

Information on the available carbohydrates and on starch and sugar* can be found in the Swiss Food Composition Database. Starch and sugar make up the major part of the available carbohydrates. The available carbohydrates are generally calculated using the following formula: Carbohydrates, available (g/100g) = 100 – protein (g/100g) – fat, total (g/100g) – water (g/100g) – ash (g/100g) – dietary fibre (g/100g)

* The term “sugar” includes all mono and disaccharides, e.g. glucose, fructose, lactose, saccharose.

Dietary fibres 

Dietary fibres (also known as roughage) are indigestible plant nutrients that inter alia have a positive effect on digestion. A distinction is drawn between soluble and insoluble dietary fibres. Soluble dietary fibres include beta-glucan (e.g. in yeast) and pectin (e.g. in apples). Nuts and wholemeal grains provide principally insoluble dietary fibres (e.g. cellulose). Refined products such as white flour contain almost no dietary fibre.

According to the recommendations of the Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office FSVO, adults should eat at least 30 g of dietary fibre per day. An adequate intake of liquid optimises the positive effect on digestion. In contrast, not enough liquid intake coupled with a high dietary fibre intake can lead to constipation.

Fat 

Fats are found in both plant and animal foodstuffs and are a nutritional source of energy and essential fatty acids*. Moreover, fat-containing foodstuffs are an important source of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K).

According to the recommendations of the Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office FSVO, the daily fat intake should represent 30-40% of the energy intake. From experience, at least half of the fat intake comes from “hidden” fats (such as dairy products, eggs, meat and nuts).

The data on fat in the Swiss Food Composition Database correspond to the total fat content (incl. triglycerides, cholesterol, phospholipids, etc.). The sum of the three fatty acid groups (saturated, mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated) is consequently less than the total fat content.

* Fatty acids are the most important components of fats. They can be subdivided into three groups: saturated, mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fatty acids. The various fatty acids and fatty acid groups exhibit different effects and functions in metabolism.

Cholesterol 

Cholesterol is a fat-related substance which is found mainly in animal foodstuffs (e.g. offal, egg yolk, butter) and can also be produced by the human organism. Cholesterol fulfils a number of important tasks, e.g. the synthesis of vitamin D and of various hormones.

Cholesterol from the diet plays only a minor role in influencing the blood cholesterol level. Cholesterol in the blood originates mainly from the body’s own production and not from the diet. From today’s scientific viewpoint, limiting the intake of cholesterol is therefore no longer justified.

Protein 

Protein, also known as albumin, supplies the body with amino acids* that are required for the synthesis of the body’s own proteins (e.g. muscle protein, hormones, etc.). Proteins from animal foodstuffs such as meat, fish, eggs, milk and dairy products tend to be of higher value than plant proteins (e.g. from cereals, potatoes, nuts), as they contain a more optimal spectrum of amino acids. However, plant proteins can be greatly enhanced by combining them or in combination with animal proteins.

According to the recommendations of the Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office FSVO, the protein intake should contribute 10-20% of the total energy. The minimum daily protein requirement is 0.8 g per kilogram of body weight. The intake should not exceed 2 g per kilogram per day because health disadvantages cannot be ruled out at a higher protein intake.

Pursuant to the FDHA Ordinance on Information on Foodstuffs FoodO (Annex 12 Art. 26 para. 1) (817.022.16, status 12.6.2018), the protein content is calculated in the Swiss Food Composition Database by using the formula “nitrogen content x 6.25”. The use of a uniform factor of 6.25, however, means that for some foodstuffs the actual protein content is either overestimated or underestimated. Data on the specific conversion factors of nitrogen to protein can be found i.a. in publications of the FAO/WHO, e.g. FAO/INFOODS, Guidelines for Converting Units, Denominators and Expressions, Version 1.0, 2012.

* Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. They are strung together into long chains. The sequence and type of amino acids determines the function of the protein.

Alcohol 

Alcohol is an energy-supplying nutrient that is present in exceedingly small amounts in natural foodstuffs. The major sources of alcohol are alcoholic drinks and products prepared from them.

There are no recommendations for alcohol intake. Acceptable daily quantities are considered to be 10 g for women and 20 g for men. Children, adolescents, pregnant women and breast-feeding women should abstain from alcohol.

The alcohol content is listed in the Swiss Food Composition Database in grams per 100 ml or 100 g. These values are lower than the volume per cent figures for alcoholic drinks. A schnapps with 40 vol % contains about 32 g of alcohol per decilitre.

Water 

Water is present not only in drinks and soups but also in most foodstuffs. Fruit and vegetables in particular have a high liquid content (up to 95%).

Water makes up more than half of the human body and the daily losses of water (mainly from the kidneys, skin, lungs) have to be regularly replenished. An inadequate supply of liquid can lead to reduced physical and mental capacity as well as to constipation.

Daily requirements for water are around 2.5 litres. However, according to the Swiss food pyramid, 1 to 2 litres per day of fluid intake suffice. The remainder comes from food.

Vitamin A 

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin which is present only in animal foodstuffs. Plant foodstuffs contain vitamin A precursors (provitamins A) such as beta carotene that the body can partially convert into vitamin A.

According to the “DACH reference values for nutrient intake, 2017”, women require 0.8 mg and men 1.0 mg of vitamin A per day. The tolerable upper intake level is considered to be 3 mg per day.

In the Swiss Food Composition Database the retinol content and two calculated values of vitamin A activity are listed taking into account retinol, beta carotene and other carotenoids when present.

Retinol: the retinol content is given in micrograms retinol equivalent as it includes the content of all-trans retinol and other retinoids with vitamin A activity (when present). The retinol content is listed as μg-RE.

Vitamin A activity, RE (retinol equivalent, given in μg-RE) = 1 x all-trans retinol equivalent + 1/6 x beta carotene equivalent. This formula (FAO/WHO, 1967) probably overestimates the vitamin activity of beta carotene and other carotenoids, but it is that recognised for the publication of the DACH and EFSA nutritional recommendations.

Vitamin A activity, RAE (retinol activity equivalent, given in μg-RE) = 1 x retinol + 1/12 x beta carotene + 1/24 other provitamin A carotenoids (μg) equivalents. This formula was published by the US Institute of Medicine in 2001.
Vitamin A values are occasionally also listed in International Units (IU). The following conversion factors then apply: 1 IU ≙ 0.3 μg-RE or 1 μg-RE ≙ 3.3 IU

Beta carotene 

Beta carotene is a fat-soluble provitamin which is found in almost all plants, principally in yellow, orange and green fruits and vegetables. In the body it can be converted into vitamin A.

According to the “DACH reference values for nutrient intake, 2017”, the daily requirement is estimated to be 2 to 4 mg. The tolerable upper intake level is considered by EFSA to be 15 mg per day.

The Swiss Food Composition Database lists the content of beta carotene as well as the beta carotene activity in beta carotene equivalents. As data on the various carotenoids is often absent, the equivalent beta carotene content is often underestimated and is identical to the effective beta carotene content.

The beta carotene equivalents are calculated as follows: Beta carotene-Equivalent (μg-BCE) = 1 x beta carotene (µg) + 0.5 x other provitamin A carotenoids with vitamin A activity (µg)

Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) 

Vitamin B2 is a water-soluble vitamin and is found in both animal and plant foodstuffs. As a result of its intense colour, Riboflavin is added to many foodstuffs as a colorant – declared as E101 colorant.

According to the “DACH reference values for nutrient intake, 2017”, women require 1.0 to 1.1 mg, men 1.3 to 1.4 mg per day. There are no known risks of overdose.

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) 

Vitamin B2 is a water-soluble vitamin and is found in both animal and plant foodstuffs. As a result of its intense colour, Riboflavin is added to many foodstuffs as a colorant – declared as E101 colorant.

According to the “DACH reference values for nutrient intake, 2017”, women require 1.0 to 1.1 mg, men 1.3 to 1.4 mg per day. There are no known risks of overdose.

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) 

Vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin and is found in both animal and plant foodstuffs.

According to the “DACH reference values for nutrient intake, 2017”, women require 1.2 mg, men 1.5 mg per day. The tolerable upper intake level is considered to be 25 mg per day.

Vitamin B12 (Cobalamine) 

Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin and is found only in animal foodstuffs. A specific glycoprotein of the stomach, the “Intrinsic Factor” is required for its absorption in the intestines.

According to the “DACH reference values for nutrient intake, 2019”, the daily requirement is 4 μg for both men and women. There are no known risks of overdose.

Niacin 

Niacin (previously also known as vitamin B3 or PP) includes nicotinic acid and nicotinamide. Niacin is a water-soluble vitamin of the B-group and is found in both plant and animal foodstuffs.

According to the “DACH reference values for nutrient intake, 2017”, women require 11 to 13 mg, men 15 to 16 mg per day. The tolerable upper intake level for adults is 35 mg.

The niacin requirement is supplied not only from the intake of niacin but also from the body’s own synthesis (in the liver and kidneys) from the essential amino acid tryptophan. 1 mg of niacin can be formed from approx. 60 mg tryptophan (= 1 mg Niacin Equivalent). The contribution from the amino acid tryptophan to meet the niacin requirement is not considered in the Swiss Food Composition Database.

Folate 

Folate is a water-soluble vitamin of the B-group and is found in both plant and animal foodstuffs. Folate is ingested considerably better from animal foodstuffs than from plant sources.

Folic acid is the name for the synthetic form of this vitamin, which is used for manufacturing fortified foodstuffs or for vitamin supplements.

According to the “DACH reference values for nutrient intake, 2017”, both women and men require 300 μg per day. There are no known risks of overdose.

Pantothenic acid 

Pantothenic acid (previously known as B5) is a water-soluble vitamin of the B-group and exists in virtually all foodstuffs.

According to the “DACH reference values for nutrient intake, 2017”, women as well as men require 6 mg per day. There are no known risks of an overdose.

Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid) 

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin and is found exclusively in plant foodstuffs.

According to the “DACH reference values for nutrient intake, 2017”, women require 95 mg, men 110 mg per day. The safe upper intake level is considered to be 1000 mg per day.

Vitamin D (Calciferol) 

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and includes the forms vitamin D2, vitamin D3, 25(OH) vitamin D3 and 1,25(OH)2 vitamin D3. The most important representative is vitamin D3 (= cholecalciferol) that is found only in animal foods. Humans are able to synthesise vitamin D3 themselves with the aid of UV-B light.

According to the “DACH reference values for nutrient intake, 2017”, both women and men require 15-20 μg (600-800 IU) per day (from food, supplements and/or endogenous production). The safe upper intake level for adults is 100 μg (4000 IU) per day.

In the Swiss Food Composition Database the total value for vitamin D activity is listed, wherein the fraction originating from the 25(OH) vitamin D3 is not taken into account in practice due to lack of data. This leads to an underestimation of total vitamin D activity, in particular because 25(OH) vitamin D3 is five times more active than vitamin D3.

1 μg Vitamin D = 1 μg Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol)
1 μg Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol)
0.2 μg 25(OH) Vitamin D3

Vitamin D values are occasionally also listed in International Units (IU). The following conversion factors then apply: 1 IU ≙ 0.025 μg or 1 μg ≙ 40 IU

Vitamin E 

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin which is mainly found in foods of plant origin.

According to the “DACH reference values for nutrient intake, 2017”, women require 12 mg, men 13 to 15 mg per day. The safe upper intake level for adults is 300 mg per day.

Vitamin E includes eight forms: alpha-, beta-, gamma- and delta-tocopherol, and alpha-, beta-, gamma- and delta-tocotrienol. The activity of the various forms is set as a ratio to the activity of alpha-tocopherol and expressed as alpha-Tocopherol Equivalents (aTE). The activity of the individual forms has not yet been conclusively researched, particularly in the case of the tocotrienols.

The values for vitamin E are listed in the Swiss Food Composition Database as mg aTE. However, which of the eight forms were used to calculate the aTE is not known for all foodstuffs. Consequently, it is possible that the total vitamin E activity may be underestimated.

Vitamin E values are occasionally also listed in International Units (IU). The following conversion factors then apply: 1 IU ≙ 0.67 mg or 1 mg ≙ 1.49 IU

Sodium (Na) 

Sodium is a mineral substance. Sodium occurs naturally in almost all foods and is frequently added – mainly through the addition of sodium chloride (table salt or cooking salt).

According to the “DACH reference values for nutrient intake, 2017”, an adequate intake of sodium for both men and women is 1500 mg per day. This corresponds to about 3.8 g of salt and could easily be met without the use of table salt. No advantages are expected from an intake exceeding 2300 mg (equivalent to 5.8 g of salt), which could possibly even lead to disadvantages.

Salt (Sodium chloride, NaCl)

The Ordinance on Information on Foodstuffs (FoodO, SR 817.022.16, status: 12.06.2018) requires the salt content to be indicated on the nutritional label. Consequently, the salt content of foodstuffs is also shown in the Swiss Food Composition database. It is calculated on the basis of the sodium content according to the following formula: salt content (g) = sodium content (g) x 2.5.

Potassium (K) 

Potassium is a mineral substance. Foods of plant origin are the main sources.

According to the “DACH reference values for nutrient intake, 2017”, an adequate intake of potassium for both men and women is 4000 mg per day.

Chloride (Cl) 

Chloride is a mineral substance which is a constituent of table salt or cooking salt (= sodium chloride).

According to the “DACH reference values for nutrient intake, 2017”, an adequate intake of chloride for both men and women is 2300 mg per day.

Calcium (Ca) 

Calcium is a mineral substance. Prevalent sources in our cultural area are dairy products and some mineral waters.

According to the “DACH reference values for nutrient intake, 2017”, women, like men, require 1000 mg per day. The tolerable upper intake level is considered to be 2.5 g per day.

Magnesium (Mg) 

Magnesium is a mineral substance.

According to the “DACH reference values for nutrient intake, 2017”, women require 300 to 310 mg, men 350 to 400 mg per day. The tolerable upper intake level from supplements or fortified foodstuffs is considered to be 250 mg per day (in addition to the natural magnesium levels from food).

Phosphorus (P) 

Phosphorus is a mineral substance.

According to the “DACH reference values for nutrient intake, 2017”, women, like men, require 700 mg per day. The tolerable upper intake level is considered to be 3.5 g per day.

Iron (Fe) 

Iron is a trace element and exists in two forms: haeme-iron and non-haeme-iron, wherein haeme-iron can be more efficiently assimilated. The principal sources of haeme-iron are meat and fish. Eggs and dairy products contain mainly non-haeme-iron, and vegetal foodstuffs contain exclusively non-haeme-iron.

According to the “DACH reference values for nutrient intake, 2017”, women require 10 to 15 mg, men 10 mg per day.

Iodine (I) 

Iodine is a trace element that is present only in very minor quantities in the majority of foodstuffs. The supply of iodine for the Swiss population cannot be ensured through nutrition, which is why the use of iodised table salt (25 mg/kg) is recommended.

According to the “DACH reference values for nutrient intake, 2017”, both women and men require 150 μg per day. The safe upper intake level is considered to be 500 μg per day.

The iodine content of a processed foodstuff such as cheese, bread, sausages or cold meat depends strongly on whether or not iodised table salt has been added. The individual iodine content of a salted product may therefore differ from the indications in this database.

Zinc (Zn) 

Zinc is a trace element.

According to the “DACH reference values for nutrient intake, 2017”, women require 7 mg, men 10 mg per day. The safe upper intake level is considered to be 25 mg per day.

Selenium (Se) 

Selenium is a trace element and is mainly supplied nutritionally by seleno amino acids or their derivatives.

According to the “DACH reference values for nutrient intake, 2017”, women require an estimated intake of 60 μg per day, men 70 μg per day. The EFSA considers the safe upper intake level to be 2.5 g per day.

The selenium content of plant-based foodstuffs differs from region to region and depends on the selenium content of the soil. Swiss soils are poor in selenium. The selenium content of food of animal origin is influenced by the animal feed.