Nutrition News: How to Decipher a Food Label

Long gone are the days when people with diabetes were told, “You can’t eat sugar.” Now we know that all carbohydrates—sugars and starches—can affect blood sugar levels. Sounds simple enough…until you look at a food label. Here are some helpful hints:

1.   Total carbohydrate. The total combined grams of sugar, starch, and fiber in one serving of a product. This is the most important number to look at if you have diabetes.

2.   Dietary Fiber.  The portion of the total carbohydrate that is not digested and therefore does not affect your blood glucose levels. Foods high in fiber can help control diabetes and lower your risk for heart disease and even some types of cancer.

3.   Sugars. How much of the total carbohydrate in a product comes from sugar. This includes natural sugars such as fructose in fruit or lactose in milk as well as sugars that are “added” to a product.

4.   Sugar alcohols. Sorbitol, mannitol and other “-ol” ingredients are found in many low carbohydrate products. In general, sugar alcohols contain about half the amount of carbs per gram as other sugars. Caution: Large doses of sugar alcohols can cause diarrhea.

5.   “Net carbs” is a term not defined or approved by the US Food and Drug Administration—the agency that oversees the Nutrition Facts label. Some food manufacturers have arrived at this arbitrary term by subtracting out the grams of fiber and sugar alcohols from the total carbohydrates.

6.   Saturated fat. In the frenzy to remove carbohydrates from foods, many products contain more than a fair share of “bad” saturated fat—a known heart stopper. Look for products with no more than 1 or 2 grams of saturated fat per serving.