A diabetic’s guide to reading food labels

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Reading between the lines: Diabetes patients need to vigilent about reading nutrtition labels. | File photo

Did You Know?

Total amounts are shown in grams, abbreviated as g, or in milligrams, shown as mg. A gram is a very small amount and a milligram is one-thousandth of that. For example, a nickel weighs about 5 grams. So does a teaspoonful of margarine.

Proper monitoring of nutrition is essential to diabetes patients. A person’s ability to interpret nutrition labels is key to their success. Here’s what you should look for.

1. Total nutrients

The information on the left side of the label provides total amounts of different nutrients per serving. To make wise food choices, check the total amounts for calories, total fat, sodium, total carbohydrate, fiber, sugar alcohol and list of ingredients.

2. Calories

If you are trying to lose or maintain your weight, the number of calories you eat counts. To lose weight you need to eat fewer calories than your body burns. You can use the labels to compare similar products and determine which contains fewer calories. To find out how many calories you need each day, talk with your dietitian or certified diabetes educator.

3. Total fat

Total fat tells you how much fat is in a food per serving. It includes fats that are good for you such as mono and polyunsaturated fats, and fats that are not so good such as saturated and trans fats. Fat is calorie-dense. Per gram, it has more than twice the calories of carbohydrate or protein.

4. Sodium

Sodium does not affect blood glucose levels. However, many people eat much more sodium than they need. Table salt is very high in sodium.

5. Total carbohydrate

If you are carbohydrate counting, the food label can provide you with the information you need for meal planning. Look at the grams of total carbohydrate, rather than the grams of sugar. Total carbohydrate on the label includes sugar, complex carbohydrate, and fiber. If you look only at the sugar number, you may end up excluding nutritious foods such as fruits and milks thinking they are too high in sugar. You might also overeat foods such as cereals and grains that have no natural or added sugar, but do contain a lot of carbohydrate.

The grams of sugar and fiber are counted as part of the grams of total carbohydrate. If a food has 5 grams or more fiber in a serving, subtract half the fiber grams from the total grams of carbohydrate for a more accurate estimate of the carbohydrate content.

6. Fiber

Fiber is part of plant foods that is not digested — or for some types, only partially digested. Dried beans such as kidney or pinto beans, fruits, vegetables and grains are all good sources of fiber. The recommendation is to eat 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day. People with diabetes need the same amount of fiber as everyone else for good health.

7. Sugar alcohols

Sugar alcohols (also known as polyols) include sorbitol, xylitol and mannitol, and have fewer calories than sugars and starches. Use of sugar alcohols in a product does not necessarily mean the product is low in carbohydrate or calories. And, just because a package says “sugar-free” on the outside, that does not mean that it is calorie or carbohydrate-free.

8. Ingredients list

Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight, meaning the first ingredient makes up the largest proportion of the food. Check the ingredient list to spot things you’d like to avoid, such as coconut oil or palm oil, which are high in saturated fat.

— The American Diabetes Association, www.diabetes.org