Reading Nutrition Labels – Diabetes Daily Voices

Nutrition Facts Panel for Ground Beef

It never occurred to me that I needed to be cognizant of nutrition labels, and the accompanying ingredients list, until I began to make nutrition a bigger priority in my life with type 2 diabetes. I am here to tell you that paying attention to nutrition labels and ingredient lists is crucial with this disease. It’s just as important as testing your blood sugar and taking your medications on time.

Nutrition labels can be sneaky, though. The FDA has guidelines for food manufacturers to follow (obviously, or I doubt they would go to the trouble), but there are ways for those manufacturers to fool you. Here are some tips that should help you to navigate those labels:

  • Trans Fats: We all know that trans fatty acids are bad for us. Many food producers are doing a creditable job of removing the offending ingredient from our foods, but it’s still there. The FDA has specific guidelines for what goes on those labels. We can be fooled if we see that there are 0 grams of trans fats but you should know this: “If a serving contains less than 0.5 gram, the content, when declared, must be expressed as “0 grams.” Therefore, it may say zero but there could still be trans fats in the food. How can you know? Read the ingredient label. If you see partially hydrogenated oils, then there are trans fats in the food.
  • Serving size: Every nutrition label must tell you the serving size they used to calculate the nutrition information. A problem arises when you assume that the nutrition is for the whole package when in reality it might be ½ the package or possibly less. Be sure to look at the top of the nutrition label for the serving size and number of servings in the package. Be aware of this when comparing different products as well. One jar of peanut butter might list nutrition information for 1 Tbsp. and another might be listing the nutrition for 2 Tbsp. Make sure that you’re comparing apples to apples.
  • Carbs and fiber: Intake of carbohydrates is an important thing for people with diabetes to pay attention to, regardless of your food plan or medication regimen. Total carbs are listed with sub-categories for fiber, sugars and sugar alcohols etc. below. Foods that are higher in fiber are better for us than something with no fiber. Therefore, a food that has 15 grams of carbohydrates and 3 grams of fiber is much better for you than something with 15 grams of carbohydrates and zero grams of fiber. Look for more fiber-dense foods.
  • Ingredients and health claims: Many food producers will put health claims on the front of their packages in order to lure you into thinking that the food is healthy. The FDA also has guidelines for this explained here. You may see a heart symbol on the package or claims that the food is whole grain. It’s still important for you to look at the list of ingredients to be sure you know what you’re eating. Ingredients are listed in order of content percentages, ie: highest amount first. I was fooled into thinking that the frozen waffles I was eating were healthy, but when I read the ingredients I realized I was basically eating frozen paste. Don’t trust the front of the package; look for yourself.

Shopping this way takes more time but you will be a better informed, healthier person if you just read. Eventually you will know which foods work well for you and fit into your food plan. A little time spent up front will pay off in huge dividends down the road.

Related:

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One of the biggest challenges — trying to get labels and carbs correct

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