Understanding Food Labels

Deciphering a nutrition label

Understanding the nutritional information of what you’re eating is crucial to successfully managing diabetes. But nutrition labels can sometimes seem like gibberish. But don’t fear because we’re here to help. We’re going to breakdown each section of the nutrition label so you can make the right choices for your diet.

Serving size
The serving size is the standard amount of a particular food, such as a cup, and is what all the nutritional information on the label is based on. It’s a good way to compare the nutritional value of different foods. Keep in mind, that this is not a suggestion on how much you should eat. That would be a suggested portion. For more information on portion control, read our blog on the plate method.

Calories are the amount of energy that food provides your body to function. Getting with your doctor or nutritionist will help you determine the appropriate amount of calories for you to eat a day.

Total carbohydrate
Total carbohydrates are the total amount of sugar, starch, and fiber in what you’re eating. Below is a breakdown of each individual carb count. For carb counting, it is important to use the total grams. More information on the basics of carbs can be found here.

Added Sugar
Added sugar is a newly required section on nutrition labels. This lets you know how much sugar is added during processing versus sugar that occurs naturally in your food. To maintain a healthy diet, you will want to avoid foods high in sugar and highly processed foods, as well as adding foods that can help lower your blood sugar levels. Learn more about foods that help lower blood sugar levels.

This is the part of plant-based foods that your body doesn’t digest, or only partially digests. Fiber helps to regulate appetite and can help you maintain a healthy blood sugar level. Fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains are all a good source of fiber. The amount of fiber you need is based on your age and gender, with healthy adults needing an average of 25 to 38 grams of fiber a day.

Total fat tells you how much fat is in one serving of the food. With fats, there is a difference between healthy and unhealthy fats. In general, you want to avoid trans fats, reduce your saturated fats, and eat foods rich in unsaturated fats. We have a two-part series on fats that will educate you further on the subject. Start with part 1 to learn about the types of fat to avoid.

Sodium, better known as salt, tells you how much salt can be found in your food. Although salt doesn’t affect blood sugar, it can cause high blood pressure and heart disease if you consume too much of it. With sodium, you have to be careful and understand that you cannot always taste how salty something is. Some foods, like salad dressings and processed foods, have hidden salt or masked the taste. The general recommendation for daily sodium intake is 2,300 milligrams (mg). If you have high blood pressure, or at risk, speak to your doctor to find out what is the right amount for you.

List of ingredients
Knowing what ingredients are in your food can be helpful for your overall health management. The ingredients list is ordered by weight, with the first ingredient being the highest amount in the food.

Percent Daily Values (%DV)
The Percent Daily Values of each nutrient provides you with the daily percent of each nutrient the food provides you based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet.