Mastering Nutrition Labels
Nutrition labels are one tool a person with Diabetes, or some-one trying to prevent the onset of Type 2 Diabetes, can use to make healthy food choices. To bring more balance to the diabetic meals prepared at home or how you purchase your delivered prepared meals and snacks, you can gain a lot of help from the food nutrition labels on most packaging.
Read the nutrition labels as you shop and pay attention to food serving size and servings per container. Compare the total calories in similar products and choose the lowest calorie items. Let us try to break it down and make using the food nutrition label more easily understood and a constant part of our shopping experience.
The serving size is the amount of food in one serving or one portion. It is important to note that all of the information on the food label is for one serving. The portion a person eats may not be the same as the serving size listed on the label. If it is not, you will need to adjust the numbers accordingly (up or down) to make them more relevant.
Here are some tips to help you visualize government-recommended serving / portion sizes:
• 3 oz meat or poultry = a deck of cards
• 3 oz fish = a checkbook
• 1 oz cheese = 4 stacked dice or 2 slices
• 1/2 cup pasta or vegetables = ½ baseball
• ¼ cup of dried fruit = a golf ball
• 1 teaspoon butter or margarine = the tip of your thumb
• 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise, oil or dip = a ping-pong ball
The number of servings is listed next to the Servings per Container on the food label. Most food packages contain more than one serving.
Calories are a measure of how much energy a food provides a person. The food label shows the number of total calories and how many calories come from fat for one serving.
Here are some nutrition guidelines to pay attention to:
Total Fat – one fat serving is about 5 grams (g). Most people need about 50-65 grams (g) of fat a day. One teaspoon of butter or oil has about 5 grams (g) of fat. Limit saturated fat to less than 7% of your total daily calories. Eliminate/minimize foods with Trans fat from your diet, studies have shown that Trans fat can raise LDL (lousy or bad cholesterol) which is associated with heart disease.Some examples of foods with Trans fat include vegetable shortenings (lard), stick margarine, commercially baked foods, such as pastries, donuts, cookies and deep fried foods and snacks.
Cholesterol – A low-cholesterol food has 20 milligrams (mg) or less of cholesterol per serving. Try to eat less than 300 mg of cholesterol each day. Less than 200 mg is recommended for people with diabetes or high cholesterol. A “quarter pound” hamburger has about 70 mg of cholesterol.
Fiber – Choose foods that have 3 or more grams (g) of fiber per serving. Most people need about 25 – 35 g of fiber each day.
Sodium – Choose foods that have less than 400 milligrams (mg) of sodium per serving. Most people need 2,400 mg or less of sodium each day. One teaspoon of salt has 2300 mg of sodium.
Total Diabetes Carbohydrates – includes dietary fiber, sugar and sugar alcohols. A carbohydrate serving is about 15 grams (g). Most people need about 300 g of carbohydrate each day. Get your carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and low-fat milk. A slice of store bought bread (1 ounce) has about 15 grams (g) of carbohydrate.
Protein – Most people need about 50 – 80 grams (g) of protein each day. Try to eat 2 or more servings of fish each week (not fried). One ounce of meat has about 7 grams (g) of protein.
Ingredients are the things that make up the food. Ingredients are listed on food labels in the order of their amount in the food from the greatest to the least. For example, if water is the first ingredient listed, there is more water in that food than anything else. The next ingredient is listed is the thing that is in the food the next greatest amount. The last ingredient listed is the thing that is in the food the least.
Reading health claims on the label such as “fat free” or “reduced fat” can also add to the confusion of interpreting labels. Know that all claims must meet the nutrient criteria set by the government. These claims can be used in addition to the information above to make your final decisions.
Truth is, if you follow the above guidelines, you do not need these claims to help you. These are primarily marketing words to give you a quick sound bite about the product; it provides “short hand speak”. We recommend always going through the label facts and then you will not need to rely on the sound bites for your healthy eating choices like healthy snacks for diabetics and diabetic diet and meal plans. Become an expert at reading the labels and making your own decisions.
Fruits in a Market
Fresh fruit and vegetables are the most obvious categories where the label mostly does not exist. Sometimes if the product is pre-packaged you might find a label.
The good news is that it is hard to go wrong with fresh fruits and vegetables. The biggest loss is in understanding what a recommended food for diabetes is. I sometimes eat too much fruit and for a diabetic it is important to keep track of the sugar contribution of these fresh foods. However, for every other food that is purchased to eat from the supermarket, stop, stare at the food label and start at the top.
What is the serving size?
How many servings in this package (and so on)?
Compare it to other brands and use the above guidelines and make your decision. After some practice, this will become second nature and you will do it automatically (embarrassingly, even at other people’s houses!). So use the food label to:
• learn how much of a food is a serving (portion)
• learn what is in the food
• choose food and drinks that best fit your diabetes meal plans
A registered dietitian can also help you learn how to use diabetes diet plan labels as well as a certified diabetes educator. Just remember, nutrition food labels are your friend.
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