3 Questions on Food Label Reading for Diabetes

Confused about food label reading for diabetes?

Well considering the large number of products out there how could you NOT be confused?  Plus there is so much information on the packages, it’s hard to know what you should look at.

My answer to three questions below on food label reading for diabetes will hopefully clear up some of the confusion and help save you time when grocery shopping.

Quiz yourself on these 3 questions. 

  1. What’s the one place on the Nutrition Facts box you should always check?
  2. What is the most important thing to check on the label if you have diabetes?
  3. What information do most people never read that can really tell you how healthy the food is?

And my answers are . . . . 

food label

Answer to Question 1: Always check the serving size.

Why? Because all of the nutrition information in the Nutrition Facts is based on that serving size. So if you eat 3 of those servings you need to triple the calories, carbs, etc. And looking at the serving size gives a good guide for how much you should actually eat.

For example, if you get in the habit of checking the serving size on snack foods before you eat and only have that one serving, you could very easily start losing weight.

Answer to Question 2: Stop trying to check everything on the label, like calories, fat, cholesterol, etc. You’ll be at the store for hours.

Most people with diabetes will get the most benefit out of focusing on how much total carbohydrate they are eating.  The amount and type of carb foods we eat will affect our blood sugar, our weight and our cholesterol numbers.  And that’s mainly what we are overeating . . . carbs.

So should you only buy low carb foods?

No. That’s a common misunderstanding. If you follow that rule, you would avoid alot of healthy foods such as canned beans, and miss out on good nutrition.

Instead, just try to follow this simple rule of thumb . . . .

If you are buying packaged foods buy it based on what’s in it by checking the ingredient list.

When you get it home and are going to eat it, THEN you check the serving size and Total Carbohydrate grams and decide based on that how much you will eat.

For example, if I am buying barbecue sauce I will check the ingredient list and compare brands because I do NOT want high fructose corn syrup or even fructose. So the one I buy has cane sugar as the main sweetener. But if I am going to add it to my plate for say a dipping sauce for my meat, I need to check the portion size and carb grams to know how much carbohydrate I am getting and see what fits into my goal for the meal.

Answer to Question 3: Most people never look at the ingredient list. Why should you?

Well if you want to know if there are a lot of mystery ingredients in the food or if it actually is as healthy as it claims that is an important place to look. This is where I look to check for any version of fructose in sauces, dressings, ice cream and other sweets.

Another example:  if you want to choose whole grain foods for more nutrition and fiber, you need to make sure the word “whole” is actually in the ingredients.

And just as a reminder, the first ingredient is what is in largest amount in that food, and then they list in order from most to least.  Fewer ingredients is usually better, especially fewer ingredients that look like chemicals, additives or preservatives. Some foods have to have preservatives to extend shelf life but you can at least compare different brands and try to keep it to a minimum.


A few more basic guidelines I use in my food shopping. 

• The number 1 thing you can do to manage diabetes and other chronic disease is to eat less processed foods and gradually replace them with more whole foods. You get better nutrition, create less inflammation, and simplify shopping because you have no food labels to read on fresh foods!

• Do I need to check the grams of sugars? It’s really not helpful to look at the sugars listing under the Total Carbohydrates. They are already counted into Total Carbohydrates.

• What about sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners? Sugar alcohols are ingredients like sorbitol, xylitol and maltitol. The body cannot absorb much of those, so they won’t have much, if any effect on your blood sugar.  My advice however is to keep intake of sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners to a minimum. Eating too much of a food containing sugar alcohols may can have a laxative effect and some are sensitive to artificial sweeteners and get body aches and headaches.

If you are looking for more help with meal planning, shopping, or cooking to get blood sugars or weight in target, contact me!