Food label is essential to read for planning a meal. Before eating any food packet a person should have the knowledge of reading food labels so that it makes it easier for them to purchase the kind of food required to control blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol and weight. Nutrition labels serves as your guide for making choices and selecting food according to your requirement. Food labels give the information of nutrient available in the particular food packet, serving size and the ingredients. When you eat sugar free chocolate, wafers have you ever paid attention to the nutritional label or anytime read the list of ingredients. I am aware that you must have never taken an effort to go into detail of reading the food label. So let’s get into the details of each and every nutrient mentioned on the label.
List of ingredients- Before buying any food packet, reading the list of ingredients is very important. The list of ingredients is arranged in descending order by weight. The main ingredient is listed first followed by other ingredients. Always check for whole wheat flour, oats, soya, olive oil, canola, and groundnut oils. Try to avoid ingredients like hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, MSG, sodium nitrite, sodium nitrate, BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) , BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene), propyl galate, sodium benzoate, potassium bromate andfood colors.
Serving sizes: A serving size is the amount of food that is used to calculate the nutritional values on a food label. It is based on the amount of food people eat in a meal. The serving size mentioned on the food label will be different from the amount you have to consume at a time. So it is important to read the serving size. If you eat twice the amount of the food?mentioned on the product then you are doubling your calories, proteins, fats, carbohydrates content. So always look into how much serving size your dietician has prescribed and according to that you can calculate by reading a food label.
Calories: If a person wants to lose weight or wants to maintain their blood sugars then it is very important to calculate calories. For how many calories are required in a day, a person can consult a dietician or diabetes educator. A serving with 20 calories or less is called a free food. If serving is more than 20 calories than calories from fat, total carbohydrates, proteins should be read further.
Carbohydrates- The total grams of carbohydrates include sugar, complex carbohydrates and fiber. Pay special attention to high fiber foods. If a food product has 5 grams of fiber or more then subtract it from total grams of carbohydrates to calculate the accurate content of carbohydrate in the product as fiber is indigestible. A sugar free product does not mean carbohydrate free products. Sugar free products do not contain high sugar ingredients and no sugar is added during processing and packaging but it can be high in carbohydrates. Diabetic products contain sugar substitutes like sorbitol, xylitol, manitol, polyols which has calories and contain carbohydrates. These sugar substitutes should be taken into account while calculating carbohydrates and calories. If on a label, it is mentioned sugar free, no sugar, sugar less then it contains less than 0.5 g of sugar. If the nutrition fact label contains the following grams of carbohydrates then count the serving according to Table 1
Grams of carbohydrate Count as
0-5 g Do not count
6-10 g 1/2 carbohydrate serving
11-20 g 1 carbohydrate serving
Fats- Check fat and cholesterol content. Calories from fat is more than carbohydrates and proteins. Food labels have total fat and further it is divided into different type of fat. Fats are listed in grams. Intake of high fatty foods can lead to cardiovascular disease risk. Diabetes increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. So try to avoid or reduce the intake of saturated fat (SFA) and trans fat and include more of Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). MUFA consumption should be 10-15% of total calories, PUFA consumption should be <10% of total calories. The ratio of SFA:MUFA: PUFA should be 1:1.5:1. The American Heart Association recommends that average cholesterol intake should be < 300 mg. If the nutrition fact label contains the following grams of fat then count the serving according to Table 2
Grams of fat Count as
0-2 g Do not count
3 g 1/2 fat serving
5g 1 fat serving
% Daily value– % Daily value is a tool to know if a specific food has little or more of nutritional value. % Daily value is based for 2000 calories/day diet. For diets other than 2000 calories, divide by 2000 to determine % daily value. It can be used to compare two different food products and make a better choice. If a food has 5 percent or less of a nutrient, it is considered to be low in nutrient and if it has 20% or more than it is considered as high in nutrient. This will be calculated more accurately by your registered dietician or diabetes educator.
Sodium: Check sodium content in the label. Sodium content does not affect blood sugar levels but it leads to high blood pressure due to which it increases the cardiovascular risk. The ADA for sodium is 2400mg/day and for people with hypertension is 1500mg/day. Eg: 1 serving of chicken soup has 950 mg of sodium and its % daily value is 39.5%. So its high in sodium content. So reduced sodium chicken soup would contain 456mg of sodium i.e. 19% of daily recommended maximum intake which is a healthier choice.
Proteins- Proteins can be calculated according to the requirement given by your dietician. The American Diabetic Association recommends 10% to 20% of daily requirement of protein for diabetics.
Vitamins and minerals- The nutrition label lists vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron. A person should try to get most of the nutrients in his/her daily diet as well as other vitamins and minerals that are not listed on the label.
List of Nutrition claims:
- High, Rich ?In, Good source, Contains, Provides, More, Fortified, Enriched, Added– all are relatively high in the particular nutrient described.
- Reduced – about 25 % fewer calories/fat per reference amount.
- Light, Lite has about 50 %? or less calories or fat and and also fat content ?reduced by 50 %? or more and sodium content reduced by 50 %? or more.
- Calorie free, Free of calories, No Calories contains less than 5 calories
- Low calorie, Fewer calories contains atleast? 25 %? fewer calories per reference amount (approx. 40 calories or less per reference amount) .
- Sugar Free, No Sugar, Sugarless contains less than 0.5 g of sugar per reference amount
- Fat free contains less than 0.5 gms fat per reference amount .
- No Added Sugar – no sugar or ingredient containing sugar is added? in processing or packaging.