Checking Nutrition Labels
It’s very important to carefully check all the labels on the packaging of the foods we want to eat. This will allow us to get the information to know if they are more or less favorable, and to decide on whether or not we should consume and include them in our nutritional plan.
In a food product label, we can review a lot of information which will be very important when it’s time to decide if we consume them or not. For example: expiration date, nutritional information (serving size, number of servings, calories, amount and type of carbohydrates, amount of protein, amount and type of fat, amount of sodium, amount of fiber), other nutrients (calcium, zinc, iron), and ingredients (lactobacilli, sweeteners and preservatives), among others.
What is the most important thing people with Diabetes should look out for, and why?
For people with Diabetes, not only sugar is important as several foods contain different types of sugar. Currently, in a nutritional program for people with Diabetes, the method of Counting Carbohydrates is being used, which is nothing more than counting, in the adequate portions, the carbohydrates from the different food groups that provide them. Foods that provide carbohydrates are: fruits, legumes (beans, lentils, broad beans, soy), cereals, and milk.
The most important thing a person with Diabetes needs to keep in mind when choosing a certain type of food, is the total amount of carbohydrates it contains, because these will be converted into glucose in the bloodstream. Fruits, legumes, cereals, and milk, give us enough daily carbohydrates to be able to divide it into servings.
A serving of carbohydrates equals 15 grams of carbohydrates. 15 grams of carbohydrates equals:
- Fruit – 1 piece or 1 cup
- Legume – 1/2 cup of cooked beans
- Cereals – 1/2 cup of oats, rice, pasta or spaghetti – 1 piece of bread, (1 mexican tortilla, 5 Maria cookies)
- Milk – 1 cup of milk, 1 cup of yogurt
Based on a meal plan, we need to eat certain portions of carbohydrates at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Women should eat about 2 to 3 servings of carbohydrates in each meal (between 30 and 45 grams of carbohydrates), while men need 3 to 4 servings of carbohydrate (45 to 60 grams).
What steps should we follow to read a nutritional label or nutritional information?
The questions we need to ask ourselves when reading a label are:
- What is the serving size of this food?
- How many servings does the package contain?
- How many grams of carbohydrates does this food contain?
We need to know how many carbohydrates portions are there in a single serving of the food contained in the package in question.
One serving of this food counts as _______ servings of carbohydrates.
As an example we will analyze LABEL 1:
Serving size: 2 slices
Carbohydrates: 26.7 g.
- First thing is to check the serving size, because each product could use different portions (these aren’t always the same as your eating plan). In this case, the serving size you’re nutritionally analyzing is 2 slices.
- Look for the total amount of carbohydrates.
- Calculate the grams of nutrients per slice (or whatever you’re going to eat), in this case divide it by 2.
|Grams of carbohydrates in a serving||Grams of carbohydrates in a slice|
|27 g / 2||13.5 grams|
- The carbohydrates are counted, based on the rule that 15 grams of carbohydrates are one portion. The grams are divided by 15.
13.5 divided by 15 = 0.9 = 1 serving of carbohydrates.
That means that one slice is almost 1 portion of carbohydrates.
Besides from the total carbohydrate content, what other ingredients are important for people with Diabetes to look for on the labels?
People with Diabetes should look out for their fat intake, because by having Diabetes, they have a higher risk of suffering from cardiovascular or heart disease, which is why another thing to look out for is the type of fat; just like carbohydrates are counted, they also have to count the fat.
A portion of fat equals 5 grams of fat.
A portion of fat equals one teaspoon of oil, 2 tablespoons of avocado, 1 teaspoon of butter, 2 tablespoons of walnuts, almonds or pistachios, etc. A general recommendation is to not eat more than one serving of fat in each meal (breakfast, lunch, and dinner). People with Diabetes need to look out for the amount and quality of fat they ingest, as it’s been found that the type of fat ingested will determine the state of balance between lipids, glucose, and nutrition. Fats have to be differentiated, choosing monounsaturated fats and avoiding saturated fats.
As an example we will now analyze LABEL 2:
One 25 grams serving provides
Carbohydrates: 10.0 g.
Fat: 9.0 g.
- Start by looking at the serving size, in this case, the portion being nutritionally analyzed is 25 grams, and the total content of the bag is 35 g. Usually, we eat the entire contents of a bag, so we will need to convert the portion’s nutritional content to the total content of the bag.
- The total amount of carbohydrates in each gram of serving is multiplied by 35 grams:
10.0 g divided by 25 g = 0.40 g; 0.40 g x 35g = 14 grams
|Grams of carbohydrates in a serving (25 g)||Grams of carbohydrates in a bag (35 g)|
|If 25 g make 10 grams of carbohydrates, then how many grams will 35g make?||14 grams|
- Do the same with the fats.
9.0 g divided by 25 g = 0.36 g; 0.36 g x 35g = 12. 6 grams
|Grams of fat in a serving (25 g)||Grams of fat in a bag (35 g)|
|If 25g make 9 grams of fat, then how many grams will 35g make?||12.6 grams|
- Count the carbohydrates and fats applying the rule:
15 grams of carbohydrates equals 1 serving of carbohydrates and 5 grams of fat equals 1 serving of fat.
A bag of this product equals nearly 1 serving of carbohydrates (14 grams) and 2 ½ servings of fat (12.6 grams).
What other ingredients are important when we check the labels?
Returning to the famous carbohydrates, it’s also important to know the type of carbohydrates or added sugars. Sometimes these are broken down, and other times, they are in the ingredients and need to be recognized:
Fiber content is a type of non-digestible carbohydrates, that is, it has no calories and is very important due to its FUNCTION; there are different types of fiber, and we need two. Insoluble fiber, which retains liquid, accelerates intestinal passage, limits absorption and damage, softens stools and helps digestion, and soluble fiber which form gels, slows down cholesterol and glucose absorption, is digested by the intestinal flora, and have protective effects. Generally both types of fiber can be found in the same food. Fiber is found in the shell and germ of cereals, in fruits, beans, lentils, broad beans, vegetables, peanuts, nuts, etc.
So the more fiber a food contains, the BETTER! Because it delays carbohydrate absorption and passage into our bloodstream; which means that it helps us have better blood glucose levels after each meal.
For a food to be considered high in fiber, it needs to have more than 5 grams per serving. More than 1.5 grams per serving already has a significant effect on our body and when it has more than 2.5 grams per serving is considered a good source of fiber. Natural foods tend to have more fiber than almost any other products.
The sweeteners used in any product will also indicate the effect the total of carbohydrates will have in our body. Those that will have a major impact on our glucose must be differentiated from those which won’t, and pay attention to the name.
Sweeteners that DO have an effect on our blood glucose level are: sugar, sucrose, glucose, fructose, starch, honey, flour, oligosaccharides.
Sweeteners that DON’T have an effect on our blood glucose level are: sorbitol, mannitol, xinitol, sucralose (which ISN’T the same as sucrose or sugar), saccharin, aspartame, isomalt, acesulfame K.
Sodium content is another important nutrient we need to look closely, as we should all pay close attention to our sodium intake, especially if we have high blood pressure and risk or predisposition to cardiovascular or kidney disease. And those with renal failure need to have a specific count of their sodium needs. Is important to highlight that 75% of the sodium or salt we eat comes from what we add and from processed foods. And, in this case, we’re reading labels from foods that, obviously, have been processed or industrialized. The recommendation is 2400 to 3000 mg/day; or 2 to 3 grams per day.
One teaspoon of salt has more than 2 grams of sodium. All foods have sodium, which is why we need to be careful with the industrialized foods we eat, because these usually have way more sodium than the serving size we need, and given that sodium is considered a conservative, this is even more justified. A low sodium food has 35 mg per serving and low sodium products have less than 140 mg per serving.
Lic. Rosa Elena Yáñez García
Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator
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