Nutrient Profiling aka HFSS – How Does it Work in Practice?

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High fat, sugars and salt (HFSS) foods are under fire from the Government.  Marketing of these so-called ‘less healthy’ or even ‘junk’ products, according to your slant, is being curtailed.

There are three main areas for retail that this affects:

1) product placement

2) product advertising and

3) product offers.

Foods that score 4 or more points and drinks that score one or more points are categorised as HFSS.

NutriCalc® nutrition software will calculate the HFSS score for your recipes. 

This is an exercise aimed at product placement, advertising and promotion.  It isn’t required to be published as part of nutrition labelling.

The October ’22 deadline for enforcement of advertising and offers that the government previously set has been deferred until further notice. Product placement restrictions, however, have not been deferred and the larger retailers have already started requesting the HFSS information in order to apply it to their product placements.

So, in practice then, how does the Nutrient Profile look?  Products are allocated points for the so called ‘bad’ nutrients:  energy, saturated fat, sugars and sodium.  Points are then deducted for so called ‘good’ nutrients:  protein and fibre.  And finally, there is a points deduction for the quantity of fruit, vegetables and nuts that the product contains.

In essence, the higher the points, the less healthy your product is classified to be.  Values used are ‘per 100g’ or ‘per 100mls’, and not ‘per serving’.

Let’s take a look at each of these parameters for six different products and see how it benefits or hurts the product’s Nutrient Profile.

HFSS scores given below for typical examples of certain products have been obtained from NutriCalc®.


Values in kilojoules (not kilocalories) are used in the calculations.  Energy scores are between 0 and 10. 

Total fats do affect the energy score though because for every 1g of fat in 100g of the product, the energy increases by 37kJ whereas for protein and carbohydrate, it’s only 17kJ.  And for fibre, it’s 8kJ. 

Because of the concentration, products containing substantial amounts of moisture are going to fare better than something that’s quite dry, even though you probably wouldn’t eat as much of the dried product or would rehydrate it before eating.

Here are some examples of energy values and their scores for energy:

Corn Flakes                     1604kJ        4 points

Fruit pie                           1491kJ         4 points

Croissant                          1757kJ         5 points

Snack bar                         1985kJ         5 points

Lasagne ready meal       587kJ           1 point

Milk chocolate                 2232kJ        6 points

Pretzels                             1535kJ        4 points

Saturated fat

As mentioned above, there is no scoring for overall fat levels, only saturated fat.  And saturated fat varies widely across different types of fat.  Coconut contains probably the highest proportion of saturates in its fat.  Palm oil also has quite high saturates.  But there is comparatively little in sunflower oil and similar oils.

People have been advised against consuming saturated fats for some time.  However, a lot of recent studies have called this into question.  Nonetheless, labelling for saturates will inevitably remain mandatory for a considerable length of time.

Here are some examples of saturated fat values and their scores:

Corn Flakes                     0.2g              0 points

Fruit pie                            4.5g             4 points

Croissant                         16.5g             10 points

Snack bar                        18.8g            10 points

Lasagne ready meal       3.4g             3 point

Milk chocolate               18.1g            10 points

Pretzels                            0.8g             0 points


Total sugars

There is no attempt to separate natural sugars, such as found in fruit or milk, from added sugars, such as sucrose or glucose syrup added to fizzy drinks or cakes.

Here are some examples of total sugars values and their scores:

Corn Flakes                      8.1g            1 point

Fruit pie                             23.0g         5 points

Croissant                            5.8g           1 point

Snack bar                           31.2g         7 points

Lasagne ready meal         2.4g           0 points

Milk chocolate                  56.2g         10 points

Pretzels                               2.1g            0 points


The Nutrient Profile uses sodium, not salt which is the stated value in the HFSS rules.  In nutrition labelling, salt is normally taken to mean ‘salt-equivalent’, with a salt value calculated from the total sodium content.  This is reasonable since sodium from all sources may cause ill-effects if consumed in excess.

Values for sodium must be expressed in milligrams.

Here are some examples of sodium values and their scores:

Corn Flakes                      45mg          0 points

Fruit pie                            124mg        1 point

Croissant                           292mg        3 points

Snack bar                           24mg         0 points

Lasagne ready meal        188mg        2 points

Milk chocolate                   96mg         1 point

Pretzels                             1720mg       10 points


The Nutrient Profile has limits for two types of fibre, NSP and AOAC.  The AOAC limits are about a third higher than those for NSP.  As AOAC Values are used for nutrition calculation and labelling throughout the UK, these values will normally be used in the Profile calculation.

Here are some examples of fibre values and their scores:

Corn Flakes                      3.2g            -3 points

Fruit pie                            1.4g            -1 point

Croissant                          3.3g            -3 points

Snack bar                          5.0g           -5 points

Lasagne ready meal        1.0g           -1 point

Milk chocolate                  2.1g           -2 points

Pretzels                              3.4g            -3 points


Points for protein values may only be used if the total score for energy + saturates, sugars + salt is no more than ten, except if its score for fruit, veg and nuts (see below) is the maximum, five.

Here are some examples of protein values and their scores:

Corn Flakes                    7.0g            -4 points

Fruit pie                          3.4g            -2 points [but not eligible]

Croissant                         7.9g            -4 points [but not eligible]

Snack bar                         6.6g           -4 points [but not eligible]

Lasagne ready meal       8.3g           -5 points

Milk chocolate                 7.3g           -4 points [but not eligible]

Pretzels                             9.1g            -5 points [but not eligible]

Fruit, veg and nuts

The definition of fruit, veg and nuts includes most vegetables, but not potatoes or other starchy vegetables.  For nuts, coconut counts, but seeds do not.

Dried fruits and vegetables score more points than fresh ones and the calculation is slightly complicated.

Here are some examples of fruit, veg and nuts values and their scores:

Corn Flakes                      0g               0 points

Fruit pie                            15g             0 points

Croissant                           0g               0 points

Snack bar                          55g            -1 point

Lasagne ready meal        40g            -1 point

Milk chocolate                  0g              0 points

Pretzels                              0g               0 points

Final scores

Here are the Nutrient Profile scores for the example foods:

Corn Flakes                      -2 points

Fruit pie                            13 points

Croissant                          16 points

Snack bar                         16 points

Lasagne ready meal       -1 point

Milk chocolate                 25 points

Pretzels                             11 points

Overall then, using the scoring system, only the corn flakes and the lasagne would be classified as ‘healthy’.  The others would be classified as ‘less healthy’.

As with everything, there are trends and fashions with foods as much as anything else and these are often transient.  Butter, which has previously been declared a ‘baddy’ has since been vilified as it isn’t over processed like some other fats which may be considered to be carcinogenic.

It’s clear that the government feel the need to address the obesity crisis.  They clearly feel that reducing the prominent advertising and display of so called ‘unhealthy’ foods will reduce consumption and therefore obesity, however whether this is the right approach and will make any significant difference, remains to be seen. 

Visit this page for more information on our NutriCalc HFSS Score Calculator.  

David F. Bartley PhD

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