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Reading Food Labels When You Have Diabetes

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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.

Understanding Label Claims

Another aspect of food labeling is label claims. Some food labels make claims such as "low cholesterol" or "low fat." These claims can only be used if a food meets strict government definitions. Here are some of the meanings:

LABEL CLAIM DEFINITION
(per standard serving size)
Fat-free* or sugar-free Less than 0.5 gram (g) of fat or sugar
Low fat 3 g of fat or less
Reduced fat or reduced sugar At least 25% less fat or sugar than the regular product.
Cholesterol free Less than 2 milligrams (mg) cholesterol and 2 g or less of saturated fat
Reduced cholesterol At least 25% less cholesterol and 2 g or less of saturated fat
Calorie free Less than 5 calories
Low calorie 40 calories or less
Light or lite 1/3 fewer calories or 50% less fat

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