You’ve seen nutrition labels on food packages. They can help you manage your weight and conditions like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
You just have to know what to look for and what all those numbers mean. Get started with this quick and easy guide to knowing what’s what.
All the information listed on a nutrition label is based on the listed serving size. Don’t assume one box, carton, or bottle equals one serving, even if it seems small. If you eat or drink more than the serving size, you'll need to recalculate.
Always check the calories to make sure you're keeping to your daily calorie budget. That will depend upon whether you're trying to lose, gain, or maintain weight; how active you are; and other factors. If you're not sure how many calories you should get per day, ask your doctor or a dietitian.
Carbs give your body energy faster than protein or fat does.
If you have type 2 diabetes, you need to know the amount of carbs in a food so you can manage your blood sugar level. Ask your doctor how much you need per meal. The number depends on your age, how active you are, how many calories you get, and any medications you’re taking.
Most people get too much sugar, so just about everyone should cut back. If you're on a special diet because of a health condition, follow the guidelines your doctor gave you.
The "Total Carbohydrate” amount includes sugar, even though sugars are also broken out separately. If you’re counting carbs because you have type 2 diabetes, you don't need to count the grams of sugar separately. You will need to check the ingredients list to see what types of sugars are in the food.
The American Heart Association recommends that everyone limit sugar to no more than 6 teaspoons or 100 calories a day for women, and no more than 9 teaspoons or 150 calories per day for men. Those numbers include sugar from all sources, not just what you add to your meal.
You may see these reduced-calorie sweeteners (which include sorbitol, xylitol, and erythritol) in products labeled “no sugar added” or “sugar free.” They have fewer calories than “real” sugars, and they don't contain the kind of alcohol you drink.
Your body doesn't absorb sugar alcohols completely. If you’re sticking to a certain amount of carbs each day, you can estimate that you'll absorb half of the sugar alcohol grams.
You get fiber from whole grains, beans and other legumes, nuts, fruits and vegetables, and other plant foods. It helps you feel full and slows down the rise of blood sugar. If you have diabetes and are counting carbs, you can subtract this number from the “Total Carbohydrate.”