If you read food labels, you have noticed that Nutrition Facts label got an update. This is the first major change since 1994. Larger food manufactures have already rolled out the updated Nutrition Facts label. All food products should have the new label by January 2021.
It’s essential for people with diabetes to read labels and understand what’s in the food you eat. The Nutrition Facts label gives you information to compare products and decide what’s right for you. When reading the Nutrition Facts label, start at the top with information about servings.
The new food label starts with “servings per container” followed by “serving size” which is now easy to spot thanks to the bold larger type. The serving size has been updated to reflect what people really consume at one sitting. For example, the serving size increased for ice cream, cereal, bagels, and soft drinks. Remember, serving size is not a recommendation of how much you should eat. A big change to serving information is if the package can be consumed as one meal or snack, the label must include nutrition facts for the entire package. For example, if a bag of chips is 3 servings, there will be a column of nutrition facts for one serving and a column for the whole package. This makes it easy to understand how much is in the whole package.
The new label makes calories the focus with the larger and bold type. Calories are energy for our body, but excess calories get stored as fat. While it’s good to be aware and compare calories, remember that not all calories are equal. There is a big difference between 200 calories from 16 ounces of soda and 200 calories from 1 ounce of nuts. Soda is just added sugar, but for the same calories, nuts provide protein, healthy fat, fiber, and other nutrients which will help you to feel more satisfied and can help to balance glucose. Read the number of calories, but also consider the source of the calories.
Fat is an essential nutrient that gives our body energy and doesn’t raise glucose. Total fat includes saturated, trans, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fats. Knowing the type of fat is important. Trans fat should be avoided, and saturated fat minimized. Look for more unsaturated fats which are a healthy fat and when replacing saturated fat have been found to lower LDL or bad cholesterol, triglycerides, and risk of heart disease.
Cholesterol is only found in food and beverages from animals. Dietary cholesterol doesn’t always equal a rise in blood cholesterol. It is true that high levels of cholesterol can be dangerous for people with diabetes. Consider including more plant foods that are naturally cholesterol free.
People with diabetes are at a higher risk for developing high blood pressure. A high sodium intake can increase blood pressure. Recommendations from the American Diabetes Association (ADA) are to keep sodium intake <2,300 mg/day.
Carbohydrates raise blood glucose, so this part of the food label is most familiar to people with diabetes. Total carbohydrates include starches, fiber, sugars, and sugar alcohols. If you are counting carbohydrates, count total carbohydrates in grams. Look for foods with fiber which helps to slow the rise in glucose. ADA recommends 25 grams of fiber per day for women and 38 grams per day for men.
On the previous food label, only total sugars were listed. Total sugars included natural sugar from milk and/or fruit and added sugars. There was no way to tell if sugars were natural or added unless you read the ingredient list. On the new label, added sugars are listed under total sugars. The word “includes” is used before added sugars to indicate they are already included the grams of total sugars. Added sugars are from table sugar, syrups and honey, and sugars from concentrated fruit or vegetable juices. Keep added sugars as low as possible.
Protein provides energy and helps to stabilize glucose. Protein also helps you feel full longer. Protein comes from both animal and plant-based foods. Try a variety of protein sources and spreading protein throughout the day in meals and snacks to meet your needs.
Vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium are the vitamins/minerals that are required on the new food label. Vitamins A and C are no longer required because the risk of deficiency is low. Higher amounts of potassium can be beneficial to help lower blood pressure. People with kidney disease may need to monitor or decrease potassium. Other vitamins and minerals may be some voluntarily listed by the manufacturer.
Percent Daily Value
The percent daily value (%DV) can be used as a quick guide to the food label. Try the 5/20 rule when reading a label. Think about 5% or less as low for any nutrient and 20% or more is high for any nutrient. The %DV is a great way to compare food products if the serving size is the same. Fiber is the nutrient on the label that you want to aim for a high %DV.
Foods with more than one ingredient must have an ingredient list. Ingredients are listed by weight, so those with the largest amount are first. The ingredient list is also helpful to determine if foods naturally contain vitamins and minerals or if they were added. If the vitamins and minerals are on the ingredient list, they were added to that food. In general, a shorter ingredient list is a better choice.
Read the new food label and learn about what’s in the food you eat. If you are buying online or using your grocery store app, you can compare labels without being at the store. Remember single ingredient foods and fresh produce which doesn’t have a food label are some of the best foods you can eat.
by Christine McKinney, RD LDN CDE