Does your head spin when trying to make healthy and diabetes-friendly (i.e., won’t spike your blood sugar) food choices in the grocery store? Well, let’s put an end to your confusion now. Get all the knowledge you need to make sense of the numbers, ingredients, and nutritional information on nutritional facts in this article.
Different Countries, Different Nutrition Labeling Approach
Food labels could look somewhat different in every country. For brevity’s sake, here’s a list of key differences between food labels in the US, UK, and EU:
- Unit of measurement: Calories and other nutritional information are broken down based on a per-serving portion in the US. On the other hand, in the EU and UK, all calorie and nutritional listings are based on a 100 grams or millimeters basis. So essentially, it’s a matter of portions versus grams.
- The % Daily Value (%DV): Only found on US food labels. The %DV shows how much a particular nutrient in a food serving contributes to a total daily diet. For example, if a packet of potato chips indicates 37% DV of sodium per serving, you’d have hit 74% of your DV for sodium (i.e., nearly three-quarters of an entire day’s worth) by consuming two servings.
How to Read Food Labels on Packaged Foods
All nutritional facts should contain the following information—and, for the most part, they’re adequate for providing a good overall sense of a product’s nutritional profile:
- Calories: The number of calories, or energy, provided by a single serving (in the US) or 100 grams/millimeters (in the EU and UK).
- Total fat: Indicates how much fat is in a single serving or 100 grams/millimeters of food. Further broken down into saturated fat, trans fat, and unsaturated fat.
- Cholesterol: Research shows that individuals with diabetes should continue to avoid cholesterol-rich foods.
- Sodium (in the US) / salt (in the UK and EU): As shocking as it may be to hear, sodium isn’t synonymous with salt (or “table salt”). Instead, table salt is about 40% sodium and 60% chloride. To convert sodium to salt, multiply the sodium figure in milligrams by 2.5, then divide by 1,000.
- Total carbohydrates: Indicates how much carbohydrates are in a single serving or 100 grams/millimeters of food. Further broken down into dietary fiber, total sugars (including naturally present sugars and added sugars), and sugar alcohols.
- Proteins: Indicates how much protein is in a single serving or 100 grams/millimeters of food.
- Vitamins and minerals: Common micronutrients listed on food labels include vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium.
What do Healthy Food Choices for People with Diabetes Look Like?
Generally, when comparing similar food products, you should scrutinize their ingredients list and nutrition labels, then pick one that contains more of the following per 100 grams:
- Complex carbohydrates
- Dietary fiber
And you should pick one that contains less of the following per 100 grams:
- Saturated fats
- Trans fats
- Added sugars
But wait: why 100 grams, especially if you live in the US and receive “per serving” nutritional information? That’s because serving size can vary wildly between food brands. For example, one company could define 150 grams of potato chips, while another could say 250 grams make one serving.
Decoding Label Claims
Sometimes, you may see terms like “low-calorie”, “zero sugar”, or “reduced fat”—but what do all these nutrition claims mean? Well, the FDA regulates the usage of these terms in the US; here are their definitions:
- Free (or “without”, “no”, and “zero”): This means no or insignificant amounts—less than half a gram—of the stated nutrient.
- Low: A food company can add “low” in front of a nutrient if it doesn’t exceed a certain level per serving. The requirements to use “low” vary across nutrients; you can find more information here.
- Reduced: Foods that are not naturally low in a particular nutrient can be labeled “reduced” if it has been altered to have 25% less of the said nutrient.
Read Nutrition Labels, Make Healthier Choices
Bottom line? Knowing how to read food labels helps you make healthier dietary choices.
And for those interested in visualizing the difference it makes on your blood sugar levels, why not download Diabetes:M? Get a detailed graph of your blood sugar entries; identify patterns in your glucose levels in response to your diet, and optimize your nutrition for optimal diabetes control.
Moreover, did you know that the Glycemic Index (the speed at which sugar enters the bloodstream) and the Glycemic Load (how much the food will raise a person’s blood glucose level after eating it) are also key components to understanding food’s effect on your blood sugar levels? Find out more on the topic by downloading our free whitepaper called “Food Factsheet for People with Diabetes” which explores over 200 foods and gives useful tips and advice about eating.
Having witnessed first-hand the debilitating effects uncontrolled diabetes can have on family members, Gene Lim is passionate about using the knowledge she has on the chronic condition to help people with diabetes learn how to best take care of their health while living a full, vibrant life.