Making healthy food choices is such an important factor for managing diabetes, but without knowing what to look for this can be quite confusing. Today we are breaking down how to properly read food labels with a focus on eating healthy for diabetes. Many packaged foods are marketed with eye catching tag lines, such as “Fat Free!” or “No Sugar Added!” and these marketing tools are not very well regulated. Nutrition labels, however, are required on packaged foods, and strictly regulated by the FDA and USDA. Nutrition labels are the best way to truly understand what is in your food so you can make better choices.
This is the portion on which the rest of the label is based, so pay attention! Often even if the package looks like it would be one serving, the servings per container might be more. With our example label, the serving size is 1 cup, and the servings per container are about 8. So if you eat 2 cups, you must double all other values (2 x 1 cup serving size.)
Try to keep this value low if you are focusing on weight loss.
Most of the calories in food come from the fat content, and it is good to keep this value low.
Saturated & Trans Fats
These are the bad fats, raising cholesterol levels. Saturated fats mainly come from animal origins, full-fat diary, and coconut oils. It is recommended that you consume no more than 10% of your daily calories from saturated fat. Trans fats primarily come from partially hydrogenated oils found in fried and packaged foods. It is best to avoid trans fats as much as possible, if not entirely.
Polyunsaturated & Monounsaturated Fats
These are the good fats, both for the heart and cholesterol levels. Polyunsaturated fats are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, often coming from fatty fish such as salmon and plant based oils. Monounsaturated fats come from nuts, olives, avocados, and oils such as canola, olive and peanut.
For people with diabetes, this can be the most important value to pay attention to. This value includes fiber, sugars, and sugar alcohols.
These are carbohydrates that are not digested by the body, and will not affect your blood sugar. Fiber is most predominant in raw, non-starchy vegetables and is very good for your digestive system.
This value is included in the total carbohydrate count, and includes natural and added sugars. Natural sugars include fruit and dairy products like milk and cheese. Added sugars can often be disguised in the ingredients list; some of the main hidden sugars are sucrose, honey, molasses, fructose, syrup, agave nectar, and high fructose corn syrup. This value will most affect blood sugar levels.
Sugar alcohols are organic compounds that are typically derived from sugars. They are added into products that are claiming to be sugar free or no sugar added, and they affect blood sugar levels at about half the intensity of standard sugars. This value is not always included in nutrition labels, but is required when the package makes a claim (like sugar free) that can be misleading to people who need to track carbs. Common examples of sugar alcohols include xylitol, mannitol, and sorbitol.