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How to Use Nutrition Labels for Diabetes

By 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.


About the author

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yoyo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry?(r) Mindful Eating Workshops and Facilitator Training Program. She is the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break the Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle, winner of seven publishing awards (watch this one-minute book trailer). She has been featured on Dr. Oz, the Discovery Health Channel, and Oprah Radio, and quoted in Diabetic Living, Fitness, Parents, Self, USA Weekend, US News & World Report, Vim & Vigor, WebMD and many others. Her personal success story was published in Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul. Michelle shares her compelling message and constructive keynotes with audiences around the country, offers corporate wellness programs, and has trained and licensed over 350 health professionals to facilitate Am I Hungry?(r) Mindful Eating Workshops worldwide. Michelle cherishes her relationships with her husband Owen and children, Tyler and Elyse. She regularly enjoys hiking near her home in Phoenix, Arizona, and is a certified yoga instructor. She and Owen, a professional chef, share a passion for gourmet and healthful cooking, wine tasting, and traveling. Megrette Fletcher is a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, author, and co-founder of The Center for Mindful Eating. Megrette is the 2013-2014 president of The Center for Mindful Eating, a non-profit, organization to assist health professionals to explore the concepts of mindful eating. She has written articles for and has been quoted about mindful eating in Diabetes Self Management, Today’s Dietitian, Today’s Social Worker, Bariatric Times, Glamour, Family Circle, The Wall Street Journal, US News and World Report, Women’s Day, and Oxygen Magazine. Megrette currently works as a diabetes educator in Dover, New Hampshire.

One Comment

  1. […] milk?” The answer is generally, yes, but to find out exactly how much, you’ll need to check the nutrition label. This article provides the approximate amount of carbs in milk […]

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