Mastering Nutrition Labels and Diabetes
Mastering Nutrition Labels
Nutrition labels are one tool a person with Diabetes,
or some-one trying to prevent the onset of Type 2 Diabetes, can use to
make healthy food choices. To bring more balance to the meals prepared
at home or how you purchase your foods and snacks, you can gain a lot
of help from the food nutrition labels on most packaging.
Read the nutrition labels as you shop and pay
attention to food serving size and servings per container. Compare the
total calories in similar products and choose the lowest calorie items.
Let us try to break it down and make using the food nutrition label
more easily understood and a constant part of our shopping experience.
The serving size
is the amount of food in one serving or one portion. It is important to
note that all of the information on the food label is for one serving. The portion
a person eats may not be the same as the serving size listed on the
label. If it is not, you will need to adjust the numbers accordingly
(up or down) to make them more relevant.
Here are some tips to help you visualize government-recommended serving / portion sizes:
3 oz fish = a checkbook
1 oz cheese = 4 stacked dice or 2 slices
1/2 cup pasta or vegetables = ½ baseball
¼ cup of dried fruit = a golf ball
1 teaspoon butter or margarine = the tip of your thumb
2 tablespoons of mayonnaise, oil or dip = a ping-pong ball
The number of servings is listed next to the Servings per Container on the food label. Most food packages contain more than one serving.
Calories are a measure of how much energy a food
provides a person. The food label shows the number of total calories
and how many calories come from fat for one serving.
Nutrients are things we get from food. These are the nutrients listed on the food label:
vitamins A and C
Here are some nutrition guidelines to pay attention to:
- Total Fat one fat serving is about 5 grams
(g). Most people need about 50-65 grams (g) of fat a day. One teaspoon
of butter or oil has about 5 grams (g) of fat. Limit saturated fat to
less than 7% of your total daily calories. Eliminate/minimize foods
with Trans fat from your diet, studies have shown that Trans fat can
raise LDL (lousy or bad cholesterol) which is associated with heart
Some examples of foods with Trans fat include vegetable shortenings
(lard), stick margarine, commercially baked foods, such as pastries,
donuts, cookies and deep fried foods and snacks.
Cholesterol A low-cholesterol food has 20
milligrams (mg) or less of cholesterol per serving. Try to eat less
than 300 mg of cholesterol each day. Less than 200 mg is recommended
for people with diabetes or high cholesterol. A quarter pound
hamburger has about 70 mg of cholesterol.
Fiber Choose foods that have 3 or more grams (g) of fiber per serving. Most people need about 25 35 g of fiber each day.
Sodium Choose foods that have less than 400
milligrams (mg) of sodium per serving. Most people need 2,400 mg or
less of sodium each day. One teaspoon of salt has 2300 mg of sodium.
Total Carbohydrate includes dietary fiber,
sugar and sugar alcohols. A carbohydrate serving is about 15 grams (g).
Most people need about 300 g of carbohydrate each day. Get your
carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and
low-fat milk. A slice of store bought bread (1 ounce) has about 15
grams (g) of carbohydrate.
Protein Most people need about 50 80 grams (g) of protein each day. Try to eat 2 or more servings of fish each week (not fried). One ounce of meat has about 7 grams (g) of protein.
Ingredients are the things that make up the food.
Ingredients are listed on food labels in the order of their amount in
the food from the greatest to the least. For example, if water is the
first ingredient listed, there is more water in that food than anything
else. The next ingredient is listed is the thing that is in the food
the next greatest amount. The last ingredient listed is the thing that
is in the food the least.
Reading health claims on the label such as fat free or reduced fat
can also add to the confusion of interpreting labels. Know that all
claims must meet the nutrient criteria set by the government. These
claims can be used in addition to the information above to make your
Truth is, if you follow the above guidelines, you do not need these
claims to help you. These are primarily marketing words to give you a
quick sound bite about the product; it provides short hand speak. We
recommend always going through the label facts and then you will not
need to rely on the sound bites for your healthy eating choices. Become
an expert at reading the labels and making your own decisions. A quick
break down of the government guidelines:
calorie-free means less than 5 calories per serving
fat-free means less than ½ gram of fat per serving and no added fat or oil
sodium-free means less than 5 mg of sodium per serving
low-calorie means 40 calories or less per serving
low fat means 3 grams or less of fat per serving
low sodium means less than 140 mg of sodium per serving
low cholesterol means less than 20 mg of cholesterol per serving
reduced/less calories means at least 25% fewer calories than the usual product
reduced/less fat means at least 25% less fat per serving than the usual product
reduced/less sodium means at least 25% less sodium per serving than the usual product
light/lite calories means at least 1/3 fewer calories than the usual product
light/lite fat means at least 50% less fat than the usual product
light/lite sodium means at least 50% less sodium than the usual product.
In summary, if you are diabetic or trying to prevent diabetes, the nutrition food label is your friend. Take the time to read through it, line by line, and become comfortable using it for everything you buy where the label exists.
fruit and vegetables are the most obvious categories where the label
mostly does not exist. Sometimes if the product is pre-packaged you
might find a label.
The good news is that it is hard to go wrong with fresh fruits and
vegetables. The biggest loss is in understanding what a recommended
serving size is. I sometimes eat too much fruit and for a diabetic it
is important to keep track of the sugar contribution of these fresh
foods. However, for every other food that is purchased to eat from the
supermarket, stop, stare at the food label and start at the top.
What is the serving size?
How many servings in this package (and so on)?
Compare it to other brands and use the above guidelines and make
your decision. After some practice, this will become second nature and
you will do it automatically (embarrassingly, even at other peoples
houses!). So use the food label to:
learn how much of a food is a serving (portion)
learn what is in the food
choose food and drinks that best fit your meal plan
A registered dietitian can also help you learn how to use food
labels as well as a certified diabetes educator. Just remember,
nutrition food labels are your friend.
Use Smaller Plates – Eat Less