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How Nutrition Facts Labels Can Help Manage Your Diabetes

Understanding nutrition facts labels for diabetes meal planning and nutrition starts with ignoring some of the information. In the United States as well as in many other countries, nutrition facts labels are required on all packaged foods, and this is a good thing. The information included on the nutrition facts labels tells you everything you need to know about the labeled food product.

To be honest, the label also tells you a lot that you don’t really need to worry about too much. In fact, the information you don’t really need to worry over can look so complicated that it may scare you away from using this valuable resource altogether.

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For starters, don’t worry too much about those values with a percent (%) mark, which are all related to the percentage of daily recommended values for certain nutrients in a 2,000 calories per day diet. (On some labels this becomes even more complicated than on the label illustrated.)

Generalities are always too broad, but the issue here is that each label refers to only one serving of only one food. So, unless you’re anxious to keep a detailed account of every serving of every food you eat each day (or are living on nothing but linguine salad), this information is more confusing than helpful.

There is an informal rule called the 5/20 rule which says look for less than 5 percent of nutrients you want to avoid, like sodium and cholesterol, and look for more than 20 percent of nutrients you want to find. In this case, one half cup of the linguine and tomato salad gives 60 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin C, and that’s good.

But the same salad’s 530 milligrams sodium is 22 percent of the daily 2,300 milligram sodium recommendation (it would be 35 percent of the reduced recommendation of 1,500 milligrams per day for people with diabetes), so how bad is that? It depends on how much sodium you get from other sources during a day, and that can be the confusion with the 5/20 rule.

The information most important to managing your diabetes is serving size, calories, fat (total, saturated, and trans fat especially), total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, sugar alcohols (not an ingredient in the linguine salad), and sodium. Notice sugar isn’t singled out as something that needs your special attention, even though sugar, dietary fiber, and sugar alcohols are listed as subcategories of total carbohydrate on the labels.

That’s because total carbohydrate includes carbs from sugar, carbs from fiber, and carbs from sugar alcohols. Total carbohydrate is the number that impacts blood glucose, and both fiber and sugar alcohol may deserve your attention because any time these exceed 5 grams you can subtract one half of the amount from total carbohydrate.

Both fiber and sugar alcohol digest more slowly (or not at all), so glucose absorption from those is less efficient. These adjustments are mostly important when calculating insulin doses related to foods containing a lot of fiber or sugar alcohols.

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