Taking a Closer Look at the Label
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:
* total fat
* saturated fat
* total carbohydrate
Using the information found in total amounts
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. 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.
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.
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. Mono and polyunsaturated fats can help to lower your blood
cholesterol and protect your heart. Saturated and trans fat can
raise your blood cholesterol and increase your risk of heart
disease. The cholesterol in food may also increase your blood
cholesterol. Learn more about specific types of fat.
Fat is calorie-dense. Per gram, it has more than twice the calories
of carbohydrate or protein. Although some types of fats, such as
mono and polyunsaturated fats, are healthy, it is still important
to pay attention to the overall number of calories that you consume
to maintain a healthy weight. If you are trying to lose weight,
you'll still want to limit the amount of fat you eat. That's
where the food label comes in handy.
Sodium does not affect blood glucose levels. However, many people
eat much more sodium than they need. Table salt is very high in
sodium. You might hear people use "sodium" in lieu of "table salt,"
or vice versa.
With many foods, you can taste how salty they are, such as pickles
or bacon. But there is also hidden salt in many foods, like cheeses,
salad dressings, canned soups and other packaged foods. Reading
labels can help you compare the sodium in different foods. You can
also try using herbs and spices in your cooking instead of adding
salt. Adults should aim for less than 2400 mg per day. If you
have high blood pressure, it may be helpful to eat less.
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 the fiber grams from the total grams of
carbohydrate for a more accurate estimate of the carbohydrate
Fiber is part of plant foods that is not digested. Dried beans
such as kidney or pinto beans, fruits, vegetables and grains are
all good sources of fiber. The recommendation is to eat 25-30 grams
of fiber per day. People with diabetes need the same amount of
fiber as everyone else.
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. Always remember to check the
label for the grams of carbohydrate and calories.
List of Ingredients
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. Also try
to avoid hydrogenated oils that are high in trans fat. They are not
listed by total amount on the label, but you can choose foods that
don't list hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil in the
The ingredient list is also a good place to look for heart-healthy
ingredients such as soy; monounsaturated fats such as olive, canola
or peanut oils; or whole grains, like whole wheat flour and oats.
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