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Reading Food Labels When You Have Diabetes

Reading food labels can help you make better decisions about the food you eat and how you manage your diabetes.

Just about every packaged food made in the U.S. has a food label indicating serving size and other nutritional information. The "Nutrition Facts" food labels are intended to give you information about the specific packaged food in question.

Measurements of fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrate, protein, vitamins, and minerals are calculated for a typical portion. This information makes it easier for you to purchase foods that will fit into your meal plan and help control your blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight. However, reading these labels can be confusing. Below is an example of a Nutrition Facts label, along with explanations of its components.



Serving Size: Serving size is a standardized measurement based on the amount of food people typically eat at a given meal. This may or may not be the serving amount you normally eat. It is important that you pay attention to the serving size, including the number of servings in the package and compare it to how much you actually eat. The size of the serving on the food package influences all the nutrient amounts listed on the top part of the label. For example, if a package has 4 servings and you eat the entire package, you quadruple the calories, fat, etc. that are listed on the label.

Do not confuse portion size with serving size. A portion size is what you chose to eat -- there are no standard measures for this. A serving size is a standard amount used to help give advice about how much to eat. It helps you identify how many calories are in the foods you eat and what the nutritional content would be in a serving size. For example a slice of bread is a serving size of one for bread on the food pyramid. Yet if you eat a sandwich with 2 slices of bread, you would have had 2 servings of bread in your portion.

Calories and Calories From Fat: This tells you how much energy (calories) you get from a serving of the food. It also tells you how much of that energy comes from fat.

Nutrients: This section lists the daily amount of key nutrients in the food package. These daily values are the reference numbers that are set by the government and are based on current nutrition recommendations. Some labels list daily values for both 2,000 and 2,500 calorie diets.

"% Daily Value" shows how a food fits into a 2,000 calorie/day diet. That diet would be appropriate for an average- or large-size man who gets little exercise. Women or seniors with diabetes -- or those trying to lose weight -- would want to have fewer calories. For diets other than 2,000 calories, divide by 2,000 to determine the % Daily Value for nutrients. For example, if you are following a 1,500 calorie diet, your % Daily Value goal will be based on 75% for each nutrient, not 100%.

When it comes to fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, choose foods with a low % Daily Value. For total carbohydrates, dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals, try to reach your goal for each nutrient.

Ingredients: Each product should list the ingredients on the label. They are listed from largest to smallest amount (by weight). This means a food contains the largest amount of the first ingredient and the smallest amount of the last ingredient.

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