Reading Food Labels When You Have Diabetes

Food Labels can be confusing and aren’t easy to understand which makes it hard to pick out the best items. You have to know what you’re reading, what you’re looking for and why. Don’t let this frustrate you.

Food labels can be a valuable tool in helping you make better decisions about what you eat and how you manage your diabetes.

So today, I want to share some basic tips on how to crack the code on reading food labels.

Start with the Serving Size

  • Look here for both the serving size (the amount for one serving) and the number of servings in the package. Compare your portion size (the amount you actually eat) to the serving size listed on the label. If the serving size is one cup and you eat two cups, you are getting twice the calories, fat and other nutrients listed on the label.


Check Out the Total Fat

  • Saturated fats and hydrogenated oils are two major sources of heart-harming trans fats, which raise dangerous LDL cholesterol
  •  It’s smart to cut back on calories and fat if you are watching your weight.
  • Trans fat should be zero. Also be aware that manufactures can list zero grams, if the grams of trans fat is less than ½ gram. Read ingredients and avoid products with partially hydrogenated oil. U.S. food manufacturers must remove partially hydrogenated oil from their products by June 18, 2018.


Limit Fat, Cholesterol and Sodium

Eating less fat, cholesterol and sodium may help reduce your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer.

  • Total fat includes saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and trans fat. Limit to 100 percent DV or less per day.
  • Saturated fat and trans fat are linked to an increased risk of heart disease. On average I would suggest you aim for less than 15 grams of saturated fat per day.
  • High levels of sodium can add up to high blood pressure. Keep sodium to less than 2300 mg per day. If you have high blood pressure it’s best to keep your sodium intake <2000 mg per day or as recommended by your doctor.

Get Enough Vitamins, Minerals and Fiber

  • Eat more fiber, vitamins A and C, calcium and iron to maintain good health and help reduce your risk of certain health problems
  • Choose more fruits and vegetables to get more of these nutrients
  • Remember to aim high for percentage DV of these nutrients

Additional Nutrients

You know about fat and calories, but it is important to also know the additional nutrients on the Nutrition Facts Panel.

  • Protein – Most Americans eat more protein than they need, so a percentage Daily Value is not required on the label. It’s best to get more protein from natural sources such as chicken, fish, meat, eggs, peanut butter, beans and lentils.

— Basic protein needs are 0.8 grams/kilogram of body weight. Needs vary based on nutritional needs, exercise needs and age. Comment below if you have a question. To get your weight converted into kilo’s simply divide pounds of weight by 2.2 = kg.

Ex: 150 lbs / 2.2 = 68 kg x 0.8 = 55 grams protein per day.

  • Carbohydrates – There are three types of carbohydrates: sugars, starches and fiber. Eat whole-grain breads, cereals, rice and pasta plus fruits and vegetables.

— Look at total carbohydrates – this includes sugars and dietary fiber. If you have diabetes remember the “rule of 15” (15 grams of carb = 1 carb serving).

  • Sugars – Simple carbohydrates or sugars occur naturally in foods such as fruit juice (fructose) or come from refined sources such as table sugar (sucrose) or corn syrup. If you’re eating a granola bar or a protein bar on the go it should contain <10 grams of sugar per serving.

Check the Ingredient List

Foods with more than one ingredient must have an ingredient list on the label. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. Those in the largest amounts are listed first. This information is key! Watch out for words such as “hydrogenated oil”, “partially hydrogenated oil”, “high fructose corn syrup” and “bleached flour”. These are only a few of the harmful ingredients that offer no nutritional value.

Ever wonder if you should choose “multigrain” or “whole wheat”? Well, “multigrain” may sound earthy and full of grains, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the grains are whole and contain all of the essential parts and nutrients of the original kernel. The only way to ensure that you are getting whole grains is to look at the ingredients – the first one should read WHOLE (whole wheat, whole grain, whole oat…etc).

It seems overwhelming, but it’s just another lifestyle, and most likely different than what you were used to. It will soon become second nature to read food labels and this is successfully followed by many people in order to better control and start healing) diabetes, heart rate diseases, cancers, etc.

For further guidance please feel free to ask questions and leave comments.

Author: Katie

Hi! I'm Katie, Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. This website it dedicated to those looking to heal their bodies from the inside out - and it all starts with balancing out your blood sugar. Let's heal disease together one plate at a time.

4 Replies to “Reading Food Labels When You Have Diabetes”

  1. A really useful post for those that have diabetes as well as those fortunate enough not to have this horrid disease. So many of us are in a ‘diabesity’ state and I am convinced that what we consume has a profound effect on the diseases we will get. So we need to be vigilant and check what we are eating.
    I would like to add another mineral to your list. You mention calcium as a necessary nutrient. I would like to add magnesium to that list as it is an antagonist of calcium and these two vital minerals should be taken in a 1:1 ratio. Great post, keep it up! Ches

    1. Hi Ches! Great insight and yes I agree with you about the magnesium – it is a vital nutrient. I do write about the importance of magnesium in one of my product review pages. Thanks for visiting and taking the time to comment.

  2. Hi Katie,
    Thank you for a very comprehensive post on diabetes and food labels. I am type 2 diabetic and I take a med. I do watch the food I eat but most of the time I have no discipline. I have gotten used to reading labels on food products before I buy them. Your article is so helpful, it helps to reinforce the discipline that I don’t have. Thank you for providing all that information in your post.

    1. Hi Rebecca,

        I’m so happy to hear this. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about nutrition and diabetes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *