Mindful Eating Programs and Training

Mindful Eating Programs and Training

How to Use Nutrition Labels for Diabetes

Michelle May, M.D. & Megrette Fletcher, M.Ed., R.D., C.D.E

nutrition labelDetailed nutrition labels, called “Nutrition Facts,” provide information about portion size, nutrient content, ingredients, and other details. When learning how to use nutrition labels for diabetes, there are two important things to keep in mind:

  1. First, even when you have diabetes, use the nutrition label to educate yourself about the nutrient content of food, not to label food as “good” or “bad.”
  2. Second, although a nutrition label has a lot of information, don’t let it overwhelm you. Instead focus on the key information you’re interested in. In this post, we are going to focus on serving size and total carbohydrates.

Serving Size 

Remember, hunger and fullness levels should determine how much you eat, not the amount listed on the food label. Food manufacturers don’t know how hungry you are so you need to check in with your hunger to determine how much to eat. Once you have a sense of your hunger, check the serving size of the package. Keep in mind that if the serving size is one cup and you consume two cups, multiply all of the numbers by two. Additionally, the portions listed are not necessarily recommended amounts and may not represent what most people eat. If you aren’t sure how much you usually eat, set up an experiment to figure it out. Using cereal as an example, pour your usual amount into your bowl and then pour it into a measuring cup to see how much you typically serve yourself.

Total Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates have the single greatest effect on your blood glucose level. The nutrition label provides the carbohydrate content based on one serving. Learning where carbohydrates are in your diet and eating a moderate amount – 45-60 grams per meal for a woman, 60-75 grams per meal for a man – are very helpful steps in changing your diet. (Refer to chapter 11 of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes.)

Carbohydrates are listed as “Total” (in grams and %DV or Daily Value), “Dietary Fiber” (in grams and %DV based on 25 grams per day), and “Sugars” (in grams only). If you subtract “Dietary Fiber” and “Sugars” from the “Total” grams, the remaining number is the grams of starch per serving that food contains. A food with 5 grams or more of fiber is considered high fiber. Choosing foods that are high in fiber may blunt blood glucose rise and improve your overall blood glucose readings.

You’re in Charge

Here are a few tips for using nutrition labels as you learn more about mindful eating.

  • When necessary, remind yourself that nutrition information is used most effectively as a tool, not a weapon.
  • Being in charge gives you the flexibility to select foods that will be most satisfying while keeping your blood glucose levels in the target range.
  • Create experiments to understand how serving sizes, carbohydrate content, and other factors affect your blood glucose level.
  • Simplify your life by checking the nutrition labels of the foods you commonly eat to learn how many carbohydrates they contain.
  • Awareness of the nutrient content of your food will help you make decisions about balance, variety, and moderation.
  • Other tools including exchange lists and websites like www.eatright.org can also help you learn more about the food you eat.

Remember, there’s no right or wrong foods to eat. The point of reading labels is to educate yourself about what your food choices contain.

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