What should I look for on food labels if I have diabetes?

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It is very important to read food labels if you have diabetes. The most critical aspect for you and your diabetes is the serving size and the total carbohydrates (or carbs), as the amount of carbs you eat will affect your blood glucose.

Here are some important tips to remember when checking food labels:
  • Always check the serving size and number of servings per container. The nutrition facts are based on a single serving -- not the whole container -- so pay close attention.
  • The total carbohydrate is the number you should use to tell how many grams of carbs you’re eating. So remember to multiply the carbs by the number of servings you eat and to choose foods higher in dietary fiber. These carbs are healthier and have a less dramatic effect on your blood glucose.
  • Also note that the total carbohydrate includes fiber. If a food contains five or more grams of fiber in a serving, you can subtract the fiber amount from the total carbohydrate amount. For example, if a slice of whole-wheat bread has 20 grams (g) of total carbohydrate and 5 g of fiber, subtract 5 g from the total carbohydrate amount to get 15 g of total carbohydrate per serving.
Food labels give lots of other facts to help you with a healthy meal plan. In general, aim for lower values for total fat, saturated fat, trans fat and sodium (salt). It would be a good idea to practice reading labels with your dietitian/diabetes educator.
Here’s what to look for on food labels if you have diabetes:
  • Serving size. This can hold some surprises. Be sure you’re not pouring a cup or two of cereal when the serving size is only one-half cup.
  • Carbohydrates. One method of meal planning for people with diabetes is to count carbohydrates. Look for the total number of carbohydrates in the foods you eat.
  • Fiber. This can help lower cholesterol and aid in digestion. Bonus: If there are 5 grams or more of fiber in a product, subtract half of the fiber grams from the total carbohydrate grams to get a more accurate carb count.
  • Total fat. Try to avoid saturated and trans fat. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats help reduce cholesterol. Remember that a gram of fat has more than twice as many calories as a gram of carbohydrate, even if it’s a “healthy” fat.
  • Sodium. Sodium, or salt, has nothing to do with blood sugar levels, but it may raise blood pressure. Keep your daily intake under 2,300 milligrams or less.
  • Calories. Check this number if you want to lose or maintain your weight.
The information on the left side of food labels 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
  • list of ingredients
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. Use the label to compare labels of similar foods. For example, choose the product with a smaller amount of saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium and try to select foods with more fiber.

Continue Learning about Diabetes

Diabetes

Diabetes mellitus (MEL-ih-tus), often referred to as diabetes, is characterized by high blood glucose (sugar) levels that result from the body’s inability to produce enough insulin and/or effectively utilize the insulin. Diabetes ...

is a serious, life-long condition and the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Diabetes is a disorder of metabolism (the body's way of digesting food and converting it into energy). There are three forms of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that accounts for five- to 10-percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes may account for 90- to 95-percent of all diagnosed cases. The third type of diabetes occurs in pregnancy and is referred to as gestational diabetes. Left untreated, gestational diabetes can cause health issues for pregnant women and their babies. People with diabetes can take preventive steps to control this disease and decrease the risk of further complications.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.