KEEP Healthy

Understanding and Using Nutrition Food Labels

It is important to read and understand nutrition fact labels so you can make healthy food choices. For people with diabetes or high blood pressure, food labels are an important tool that can help you decide if a product is a good fit for your meal or diet plan. Whether you are trying to limit your intake of carbohydrates for better blood sugar control or trying to reduce the total number of calories and fat grams you are eating in order to lose weight, it is important that you understand what is on a food label. This information will help you to make the best choices for a balanced and nutritious diet.

Nutrition Fact labels are located on the back or side of the packaging. This label is required by the government for most foods. Raw fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, and poultry are not required to have nutrition labels, but these foods often have a voluntary label.

A few quick facts to remember when reading food labels:

  • Pay attention to serving size. Information about all of the nutrients, including the number of calories, is based on a single serving size or portion. If you eat a larger or smaller amount of the food, you will need to figure out how many calories and how much of the other nutrients are in the amount you eat. All ingredients are listed in order by weight, with the item of the most weight listed first. If an ingredient is listed first, second, or third on the label, it means there’s a larger amount of that ingredient in the product. Depending on your dietary needs, you may need to limit different ingredients.
  • “Sugar Free” does not mean carbohydrate free! Carbohydrates include starch, sugar and fiber, so be careful to read about other nutrients too. If you look only at the sugar content, you may be consuming large amounts of carbohydrates in the form of starch or fiber. For example, pasta usually has no sugar but can be high in starch. “Sugar Free” foods can still affect your blood sugar levels.
  • “Fat free” foods can actually have more carbohydrates and nearly the same amount of calories as the standard version. Compare the food labels and make the best decision!
  • Claims outside of the nutrition facts panel and ingredient list are often advertisements, and you should not rely on these statements when making food choices. These advertisements may be found on the front and back of the packaging. Make sure you are reading the Nutrition Fact label for accurate information.

For a detailed explanation of how to understand and use the nutrition facts label, click on the link below.

Before you make any dietary changes, be sure to consult a physician. In addition, if you have diabetes or chronic kidney disease, ask your clinician if you are eligible for Medical Nutrition Therapy consultation with a dietitian.

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